Disability, abortion and UKIP

What must life be like for UKIP’s press officers? Just as the party’s support is rising, their candidates keep expressing views that are even farther to the right than UKIP’s official policies. Last month, UKIP’s culture spokesperson described adoption by same-sex couples as “child abuse”. Now one of their local government candidates in Kent has suggested that disabled children should face compulsory abortion.

Geoffrey Clark, who is contesting a council by-election in Gravesham, believes that the NHS should (you might have to brace yourself before reading this) “consider compulsory abortion when the foetus is detected as having Down’s, spina bifida or similar syndrome which, if it is born, will render the child a burden on the state as well as the family”.

He also wants the NHS to offer “free euthanasia advice to all folk over eighty” because their treatment is “extremely costly”.

Clark has chosen a bizarre moment to make these disgusting suggestions. He’s not even standing for Parliament but for local government. Does he want the power to carry out compulsory abortions to be put into the hands of Gravesham Borough Council?

Clark’s views are too much even for some members of UKIP to stomach. He has been thrown out of the party, with a UKIP spokesman saying that “the party was not aware of these views when it allowed him to stand under our name”. The fact that someone who believes in eugenics can be selected as a UKIP candidate – even without going into his views on certain issues – says a great deal about far to the right UKIP is.

One of Clark’s oddest claims is that he wants to promote “Christian values”. Some socially conservative Christians share his view that same-sex marriage is an “abhorrence”. They might back his desire to ban the niqab. They may well applaud his attacks on the Qur’an. But they would not back compulsory abortion, or – in the cast of some of them – any abortion at all.

Nonetheless, many anti-abortionists overlook some of the concerns that Clark is exploiting. His claim that disabled people are a “burden”, implying that they only take from society and give nothing to it, is both morally repugnant and demonstrably untrue. Presumably he means that being disabled often costs more. This is true. The answer is not to abort babies but to ensure that society and the state provide adequate support so that individuals and families are not punished for something over which they have no control.

Exactly the opposite is happening. The government is cutting benefits for disabled people and local councils are cutting disability services. It is almost certain that this will lead to more parents choosing to go ahead with an abortion when they discover their child has spina bifida, Down’s syndrome or one of several other conditions. Indeed, the rise in poverty caused by the economic crisis and the government’s cuts will lead to an increase in abortions generally, as more people decide they can’t afford to bring up a child. For most of these parents, that decision will not be made lightly. It will be horribly traumatic.

But in the face of all this, debates over abortion are still conducted with little if any reference to poverty or disability. Some talk of the rights of unborn children, but condemn mothers making unimaginably horrific decisions. Others are suspicious of any talk of the rights of unborn children. This is understandable given how that rhetoric has been used to attack women, although it is possible to believe in the rights of mothers while still valuing unborn children.

Banning abortions wouldn’t stop them happening. It would simply condemn mothers already facing trauma and pain to receiving more trauma and pain at the hands of backstreet abortionists. If anti-abortion groups really want to reduce the number of abortions – or at least to stop the number increasing – they need to campaign against poverty, prejudice and the government’s cuts. Only when they do so will they have any moral claim to describe themselves as “pro-life”.

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