This year's unofficial 'Won't Somebody Please Think Of The Children' week was a huge success. First up, on Sunday, the News of the World and the Home Office agreed that Britain is better off with its 'child sex beasts' out of sight and out of mind, instead of in plain sight where we can see what they're up to. Under orders from Britain's biggest selling newspaper, the Home Secretary ordered 60 of said beasts to be moved from 11 hostels adjacent to schools. Fortunately for the safety of our children, the child abuser is a naturally stupid creature and is unable to drive a car.
Next up was Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, leader of Britain's four million Roman Catholics, calling for the 24-week upper limit on abortions to be lowered. It was brave of the Cardinal to thrust himself into the news while Paedomania is sweeping the nation once more. You have to say he timed his run to perfection in a week where child abusers are being moved on to who knows where, him being something of an expert at moving paedophiles on himself. In 1985, while Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he transferred a known paedophile, Father Michael Hill, to a parish despite advice that Hill would continue to assault children. This Hill did, including altar boys and a child with learning difficulties. He was jailed in 1997 after pleading guilty to nine charges of indecent assault.
So the Cardinal popping up again this week to renew his credentials as champion of the unborn brought to mind the line from American comedian George Carlin when describing the attitudes of US pro-lifers: 'If you're pre-born, you're fine. If you're pre-school, you're fucked!' You don't have to be a foster carer beating your head against a welfare system staffed by (not exclusively, we'll admit) lazy, demotivated, incompetent and/or uncaring social workers to know that there are already an awful lot of children out there not being looked after properly before you start throwing might-be-children into the mix. The name Victoria Climbie ring a bell? To quote another US comedian, this time the missed more than ever Bill Hicks: 'If you're so pro-life and you're so pro-child, then adopt one that's already here, that's very unwanted and very alone and needs someone to take care of it to get it out of a horrible situation.'
The Catholic Church regards abortion as 'gravely immoral' and the late Pope John Paul II said the 'deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end'. That's no abortion, full stop. Sorry, rape victims. In that respect, the Cardinal's campaign for a lowering of the 24-week limit on abortion is, well, a bloody trick. He knows he can't get abortion banned completely so he's hitched his truck to the 'medical advances means foetuses are viable at 24 weeks' bandwagon in an attempt to abolish it a slice at a time. If the Cardinal truly wants the 'open debate' that he called for this week, then he should pay us the compliment of being open.
The fact that this is a religious leader trying to force his own doctrine on the whole population, Jew, Muslim, Anglican and Atheist, makes it doubly galling. He can try and control what Catholics do with their bodies (and good luck with that, Cormac) but just what arrogant jurisdiction he thinks he has over the rest of us only he can say. The Cardinal spoke of a 'moral awakening' that might 'take birth' on the issue of abortion as if the British public has been sleepwalking, coat hangers in their hands, through a Somme of aborted foetuses since the passing of the Abortion Act in 1967.
So, it goes without saying that abortion is an emotive subject on both sides. So emotive in fact that some pro-lifers in America see no moral contradiction in killing abortionists who they regard as child killers. All this talk - thanks to advances in ultrasound scanning techniques - of foetuses 'walking in the womb', smiling and yawning adds nothing but more emotional blackmail to an already volatile argument. For some mysterious reason babies lose the ability to walk the minute they're born and don't remember how to do it again until around a year later. And small babies smile involuntarily when they have wind, not because they've just remembered an amusing anecdote they heard at the golf club.
The issue of late abortion needs to be looked at with some sense of perspective. According to the Office of National Statistics, of the 185,000 abortions carried out in the UK in 2004, 124 were at 24 weeks. For all the moral panic (yes, another one), late abortions have yet to catch on as a lifestyle choice for the too-posh-to-push set. As Melissa Dear of the Family Planning Association told the BBC, there are good reasons for these abortions: 'There may be genetic abnormalities or the women may be just before menopause or in their teens when periods are irregular and they may not have realised they were pregnant.' Some of these foetuses may be viable and may survive outside the womb. Of those, however, only 39 per cent survive and many of those suffer long term health problems.
To risk sounding puritanical, there is another way of approaching the issue, one that allows everyone (except for possibly the good Cardinal, his colleagues and other self-appointed guardians of the public's moral wellbeing) to keep their tempers. Put bluntly, there wouldn't be so many abortions if so many women weren't getting knocked-up by accident. Easier access to contraception (sorry, Cormac) and information would be a start. An Ofsted study conducted last year found that many schools offered no sex or relationship education (which must, in fact, be provided by law) and many of those who did offered a 'fragmented' curriculum.
We live in a society sexualised as never before ('Every moan is real,' boasted hardcore pornstar Tera Patrick from the cover of one of the lad mags the other week). A healthier, more mature attitude to sex is long overdue in this country. But without providing young people with the emotional equipment to deal with this strange and exciting new landscape, is it any wonder some of them get into trouble? (Rocketing sexual infection rates is another indicator.) You wouldn't hand someone the keys to your car if they didn't know how to drive it, but the youth of today are sticking their keys in each other's ignitions without any real idea of what might be around the corner. Now really, seriously, won't somebody please just think of the fucking children?