Magazine article The Spectator

Convenience Seems a Small, Mean Word - but Sometimes It's All We've Got

Magazine article The Spectator

Convenience Seems a Small, Mean Word - but Sometimes It's All We've Got

Article excerpt

The reason why everybody gets so shrill over abortion, I've often thought, is that nobody is quite prepared to admit what they are talking about. By which I don't mean 'the slaughter of babies'. I mean the pros and cons of a system of morality that is coldly utilitarian, and nothing else.

Oh God, you're probably thinking. Not abortion. We've already read a cover article about that. Can't you write about something else, with some laughs in it? British agents pretending not to realise when they hand people over to tyrants for torture, for example? And I won't lie, I thought about that, and I had a particularly nice gag lined up about a man from MI6 claiming not to realise that bears shat in the woods ('We were given assurances, by the bears, that they had invested in a chemical toilet') but, as MPs debate the Health and Social Care Bill, and the shrieking begins in earnest, it's abortion which has grasped my goat.

Thing is, everybody is winging it. I interviewed the scientist Brian Cox once, and he made the quite wise and undeniably scientific observation that if you ever come across a debate, and there appears to be an ideological or religious homogeneity to one side of it, then whatever anybody tells you, it's a reasonable assumption that this is not a debate about science. He was talking about climate change at the time (don't write in) but the point is as valid (more valid) about abortion.

Because abortion isn't a scientific debate. It's an ethical one. It's about whether it is right, for the sake of convenience, to snuff out what would otherwise become a life.

It's quite a small, mean word for what I'm talking about, 'convenience', but I'm afraid I can't think of a better one. For the sake of it, I'm of the view that abortion is a thing worth fighting for. And I'm aware that, written down, that looks terrifyingly callous, but the reason why it look that way goes right to the heart of my whole point.

I got in terrible trouble, once, when I wrote a column which suggested that people with faith (among whom I do not number) had a clearer moral code than those without.

People wrote to me, saying 'You've just called my wife and I immoral scum and we're actually lovely! I hope you die!' quite a lot. My name was dirt on one of those slavish Richard Dawkins websites, and A.C. Grayling even wrote an article about how stupid I was.

This was all frankly quite flattering, but they'd missed the point. Very possibly I hadn't made the point terribly well, but they'd missed it, all the same. …

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