What happened before the Abortion Act 1967?

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For the twelve years before the Act, abortion was the leading cause of maternal mortality in England and Wales.

Fifty one years ago, M, a 14y old schoolgirl was told that she was 8 weeks pregnant.  The woman consultant at the hospital declared that M would make a wonderful little mother and sent her home to tell her parents that they were about to become grandparents.

But, M had no intention of continuing with a pregnancy at 14y old … and like women all over the world, throughout the generations, she set about finding an illegal termination.  It wasn’t difficult.  She sourced pills from the bloke down the road who knew someone who could get them.  I don’t think he even charged her for them because like most people with any common, he didn’t think that 14y olds should be having babies that they didn’t want or feel ready to look after.

That night, she went to her friend’s house…. another 14y old… and took the pills.  Neither of them had the faintest idea what the pills were or what to expect next.  The friend’s parents went to bed … and then the pains started.

M tried not to make too much noise, moaning as quietly as she could.  The friend made hot water bottles and hot milk.  Both were terrified.

Now at this point, I could say that everything went wrong.  That M haemorrhaged and was rushed to hospital too late to save her …. But the truth is that after a few frightening hours she miscarried.  The friend’s parents accepted that M had just vomited when they questioned her being in the bath at 3am … and eventually life returned to normal for M.  None of the grown-ups ever knew.

I always think of this story when I read about pro-lifers picketing abortion clinics or the far right in the US defunding charities.  No-one can be in favour of abortion but we should all be in favour of every child being a wanted child.

M was lucky.  But the point, is that like it or not, there will always be women prepared to stop a pregnancy, regardless of risk.  Making abortion legal was, and is, the only way to keep those women safe from physical harm.

So we should celebrate that 50 years on, 14y olds in England, Wales and Scotland don’t have to make the same choice between motherhood or a potentially fatal illegal abortion.  It’s about time that women in Northern Ireland had the same choice.

Hard facts about abortion in Britain before 1967 are few. Estimates of annual numbers varied from 14,600 (the figure given by the RCOG) to 100,000 (the Home Office estimate). In 1969, the first full year of the new law, 49,829 abortions were performed on residents of England and Wales, the total rising to 108,565 in 1972.

For the twelve years before the Act, abortion was the leading cause of maternal mortality in England and Wales. The first Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths in 1952–54 reported 153 deaths from abortion, which was “procured … by the woman herself in 58 instances.” The terminal event in 50% of illegal cases was sepsis but in 25% it was air embolus from “the injection under pressure of some fluid, nearly always soapy water, into the cervix or into the vagina.” The Report commented that most of the women were “mothers of families”. After 1968 maternal deaths from illegal abortion fell slowly but did not disappear until 1982.

RCOG opinion: The Abortion Act, 40 years on

 

Can we please drop the nonsense of ‘tax payer’s money’?

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Can we please drop the nonsense of ‘tax payer’s money’?  The phrase is just political advertising, intended to manipulate us in to accepting cuts and constraints which are not good for us or the economy.   (Christopher Bacon explains why it’s a nonsense in his article ‘The Myth of Tax Payer’s money’ which is copied below.)

However, like all successful advertising slogans, the phrase ‘tax-payer’s money’ invokes what psychologists call a schema…. a whole body of emotions, experiences and knowledge which mediate our response.

Hence, ‘Tax payer’s money’ is intended to create a direct link between government spending and the individual.  You are invited to visualise your hard-earned pennies being frittered away unwisely ……. which is hugely convenient for a politician intent on running down public services, so that they can be privatised.  Also implicit in the schema is the threat that if the government spends more, you’ll have to pay out, depleting even more of your income.

And like so much of neoliberal-speak, it is contaminated by deliberately confusing government spending with household spending.  The phrase ‘tax-payer’s money’ comes from the same stable as ‘maxing out the credit card’ or ‘mending the roof when the sun is shining’. It is bunkum.  Government is not like a household.

And of course, you know that really, when you actually think about it …. Government spending is nothing like our own.  But as Drew Weston wrote in ‘The Political Brain:  The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation’, …..‘the nature of political campaigns are where “rational minds collide with irrational thinking”

Drawing from the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience, Weston, a clinical psychologist and political strategist, demonstrated the extent to which candidates’ speeches and political ads, are emotionally laden with words and images designed to provoke strong feelings…. And by re-writing the actual speeches using alternative wording, he was able to illicit a very different set of responses.

Weston explains that these messages activate networks in the brain and become the avenues down which true or false political messages travel, connecting to the unconscious emotions of the voter in a nano-second and involuntarily triggering us to react emotionally and without ‘thinking’.

So let’s keep ‘thinking’ and not allow the Right to infect our minds with their manipulative false analogies….  and can we please drop the nonsense of ‘tax payer’s money’.

 

The Myth of tax payer money Christopher Bacon

We are told, time and time again, that the government should spend taxpayer money wisely, efficiently, and sustainably.  Often these pronouncements are followed by promises to use taxpayer money well by cutting government spending and making efficiency improvements.  There is an assumption behind these statements that is utterly inaccurate and dishonest, however.  Namely, that there is such a thing as “taxpayer money.”

Not only is there no such thing as taxpayer money, it is not the case – ipso facto – that the government spends taxpayer money.  To see how this is so, assume that taxpayer money exists and assume that the government spends it.  As we shall see, these assumptions actually lead to a paradox.

In this world, where the government spends taxpayer money, the following situation holds. The government invokes a tax on the population – say, an income tax.  This income tax takes money from the people who qualify and adds it to the Treasury account.  The Treasury, then, takes that money and spends it on whatever the government wants to buy: a new hospital, school, submarine, or whatever.

Where does this money come from, assuming God does not randomly drop it from the sky?  Well, it is “taxpayer” money.  So the money, presumably, belongs to the taxpayers – so it must come from them (i.e. the taxpayers must issue/print it).  Well, that is all well and good, but it does not represent this world.  Taxpayers, in the UK, do not print pound sterling. That would, of course, be a criminal offense.

In order to tax someone, there must be something there to tax.  Since taxpayers do not print their own money, there is nothing there to tax.  And in order for the government to spend, the government must first tax.  But since there is nothing there to tax, the government will never collect tax and so will never spend.

Clearly, this description is not one of our world.  In this world, the government does spend, and taxpayers do pay their taxes.  Something has to give – our initial assumptions must be wrong:  there is no such thing as taxpayer money and/or governments do not require taxes to spend.

If we jettison the second assumption, then it turns out that the government must spend before it collects taxes.  This is because if it does not spend, then there will be nothing to collect – remember, taxpayers do not print their own money and it does not magically fall from the sky.  Spending precedes taxation, by necessity.  Now that we can see the money in circulation is government money – money issued by the government – it follows that taxpayers do not own it; so the first assumption is jettisoned.  Therefore, the notion “taxpayer money” ceases to have any content.

Dear Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer

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A letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from Prue Plumridge

I feel I must write to you in response to your speech at the Conservative Conference in which you referred to the medium-term challenge of dealing with the public finances so as not to burden future generations.

Aside from the fact that your government has been promising to deal with the public finances for the past seven years whilst regularly moving the goal posts for achieving it, failed Tory promises show astonishing ignorance about how the state finances work in practice.

Or, is it, perhaps, that you do know but prefer to keep the public in the dark with fake messages about household budgets, living within our financial means, paying down our debts and saving for a rainy day.

You (and George Osborne before you) have abused the trust of the public with your myths and lies about maxing out the credit card and going broke.  Neither of which can happen in a sovereign currency issuing state.  I’m sure you know that really.  In truth, this has suited the pernicious ideology of the Tory government which claimed that Labour overspent and austerity was unavoidable.  Neither was true.  But, as a result, seven years of cuts to public spending have led to rising poverty and inequality through the redrawing of welfare provision and the decimation of public services not to mention the on-going attacks on employment rights and the rise of insecure working and the gig economy.

And, all the time, while you tell us that there is no money for those services upon which we all depend from the NHS, to public infrastructure and services and local government we are witnessing the ongoing transfer of wealth into ever fewer hands and public money being poured into corporate pockets.

Admit it, Chancellor, this exercise has never been about necessity.  It has always been about ideology which can be best expressed in the words of the former head of John Lewis who said recently ‘the only way to provide good public services is to ensure a vibrant business economy’ …… which is not only neoliberal bunkum trading on the lie of discredited ‘trickle down’ but shows how this false narrative dominates the mainstream and infects public understanding.  To quote Richard Murphy from Tax Research on the NHS  (and whilst he doesn’t mention it, public services too)

there is no reason why we should not have health care in thirty years’ time, whatever that care might be…… All we have to do is decide we want it. Then we can pay for it. It will not be a matter of not affording it. It’s just a matter of setting priorities. “

Moving on to your claim that borrowing takes money from the pockets of future tax payers is plain wrong to put it bluntly.

As the economist Professor Bill Mitchell notes “Each generation chooses its own tax rates and that means that the mix of public and private sector involvement in the economy is a political choice”

In this case yours.  Government spending in the form of deficits (assuming of course a government that takes seriously its responsibility for the well-being of the nation) can work on behalf of citizens to create a healthy economy and a fairer distribution of wealth.  This not only helps today’s citizens but also creates investment in public education, public health and other infrastructure which benefits both current and future generations.  Or, of course, it can, as in the case of the Tories and already noted, represent wealth transfer to the already rich and public money leaching into private corporate pockets.  And just to be clear as I can hear you whispering but what about the printing presses, inflation and Zimbabwe I am not suggesting that deficits don’t matter – they do but not in the way you tell us they do.  The fact is that whilst governments are never revenue constrained spending will always be limited by available productive capacity and resources.  And that is what has to be managed.  It should never be about balanced budgets rather it should be about creating a balanced economy.

So, Chancellor, in conclusion, I will finish by saying that a time is coming when you will no longer be able to fool the public into believing your household budget version of the state finances which has claimed that we can’t afford public services, the NHS and the welfare safety net.  They will then understand that you made a choice to deny them the public infrastructure that ensures a healthy economy and the well-being of their families.  They will understand that you played with their lives and their survival.

It is to be hoped that in the near future you will indeed have plenty of time as a shadow minister in her majesty’s government to reflect on where the Tory party went wrong but then again you probably won’t.

Regards

Prue Plumridge

What does Inequality Look Like? 

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Bryan Gould, was a Labour  MP, and now lives in New Zealand.

What does inequality look like? In a society where the gap between rich and poor has widened significantly, what evidence of that gap would one expect to see?
A dramatic and painful answer to that question was provided to us this week with the shocking image of the burning London tower block. If we ever wanted evidence of how – even in a society that is relatively affluent – the poor can be disregarded while the rich pursue their own interests, this was it.
The “towering inferno” occurred in one of London’s most affluent boroughs. While around 120 poor families were crammed into Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block, most of the borough comprises leafy suburbs and million-pound houses.
The borough’s elected local authority apparently saw it as its first priority to lift property values in the borough and, as a necessary step to that end, to corral the poor into limited locations, getting them off the streets, out of sight and out of mind. The residents of Grenfell Tower, it seems, sensed that this was the case – a perception borne out when the concerns they repeatedly expressed about the safety of the tower block were ignored.
We all saw the consequence of that neglect. It is already clear, even before the necessary inquiries into the tragedy have been set up, that the building was unsafe and had been from the moment that the first tenants had taken up residence.
There were, it seems, no fires sprinklers. The fire alarms were inadequate. The building design made no attempt to inhibit an outbreak of fire and on the contrary ensured that flames would spread rapidly. Worst of all, it seems that the cladding attached to the building when it was refurbished a little time ago was of “limited combustibility” – and we now know that any degree of combustibility was too much.
These manifestations – literally of “care-lessness” – reflect an order of priorities that should have no place in a civilised society. The local authority seems to have been more concerned with saving the ratepayers money, avoiding “unnecessary” regulation, and promoting the interest of the wealthy in seeing property values rise, rather than in providing a safe living environment for those who could not afford to buy their own homes.
We might have hoped that the democratic process would have ensured that the interests of the poor could not have been so easily swept under the carpet. But, sadly, the western world offers many instances of how democracy can be diverted to serve the interests of the already powerful. In Donald Trump’s America, for example, the President is celebrating his “achievement” in denying health care to 23 million Americans so that he can deliver billions of dollars in tax relief to big corporates.
In New Zealand, we like to think that we are spared such excesses. We know, because we read about it, that there are people who are homeless – living in cars and garages – and that there are many children growing up in poverty, suffering ill-health and inadequate education as a result.
We read about it, but it fails to make an impact on us, because our own lives are relatively comfortable. It is someone else’s problem – the government’s – and when we cast our votes to elect a government, we are more concerned with how much tax we pay than about the cold, damp rooms, the overcrowding, the wheezing lungs and the empty tummies.
Thankfully, these attitudes do not produce by way of consequence – or have not done so far – anything remotely as dramatic as a flaming tower block. We do not, after all, have many tower blocks available to test out degrees of combustibility – or culpability.
But the damage we do to ourselves – as a society and to its individual members – can be just as serious as the fire at Grenfell Tower. The flames that engulfed so many were a demonstration – cinematic in its power and intensity – of what inequality can mean. We have persuaded ourselves that we can live with the less dramatic but no less lasting penalties that we choose in effect to impose on our fellow citizens.
We may not force them to jump out of burning windows. We simply condemn them to a lifetime of disadvantage.
Bryan Gould 16 June 2017