Each week's Hackney Gazette asks a random selection of residents their views on a particular question. In the last-but-one issue, it was "Should the time limits for abortion be reduced?".
As everyone knows, Hackney residents are left-leaning, tolerant, liberal sorts, and almost always give left-leaning, tolerant, liberal sort of answers to the Gazette's vox-pops. Yet pretty much all of them said they would support a cut to 20 weeks.
At this point in time, it seems to me that the anti-choice right is winning the public argument about this, even amongst the big majority of the public that supports women's right to choose abortion. Pro-choice campaigners, and the labour movement, need to get out and be more proactive.
Last year at TUC Congress, I asked the General Council whether it would take a lead in opposing a cut in time limits. Yes, said Brendan Barber. But I have seen very little from the TUC since. Perhaps they are waiting for the right wing to attack the time limit. But by then, with public opinion running the way it is, that could be too late.
Here's the letter I wrote to the Gazette, which was published in Thursday's edition ...
I am concerned by the people who told your interviewer last week that they feel that the abortion time limit should be cut. Most said that 20 weeks was easily long enough for woman to make her mind up whether to continue a pregnancy. For most women, they are right - which is why the vast majority of abortions are carried out before 20 weeks.
But for some of the most vulnerable women, making an early decision can be very hard. A teenager may not realise she is pregnant, and when she does, may be terrified to confide in anyone or even to accept it herself. An older woman may mistake the signs of pregnancy for the menopause. A woman's relationship may turn abusive after the early days of pregnancy. She may go to the doctor early, but if that doctor is anti-abortion, s/he may try to delay or dissuade her until after the legal deadline. A woman may have social or emotional problems which make her choice even harder.
Everyone would prefer abortions to take place as early as possible - except for anti-abortionists would want them banned altogether regardless of the consequences for women and children. Every woman who chooses an abortion makes a difficult choice. But it is her choice.
The existing 24-week time limit should not be lowered.
Hackney Socialist Unity
you may have solved the NHS funding crisis, since I assume you would have it not provide medical treatments to people whose injuries or illnesses are caused by, say, smoking, drinking, drug-taking, addictions, crossing the road, leaving the kettle too close to the edge of the worktop, DIY accidents, sports, driving vehicles, eating the wrong food, not getting enough exercise, getting hurt at work, not getting enough sleep, worrying too much, going out of the house on fireworks night, ...
As part of their "health reforms", the German government seriously considered doing roughly this. They put out the news during the world cup, so hardly anyone would notice. The previous government (the SPD-Green coalition) considered the same thing in 2003, but abandoned the plans. Those who get their health insurance through the "public" scheme would then be forced ("voluntarily", of course) to take out additional private health insurance. Much of dentistry in Germany has gone down this road already.
It looks like - for the time being at least - as it is difficult to decide what is a "private accident" - the plans have been shelved, if only to protect the government from collapsing. The private health companies are rubbing their hands already and are looking to get involved majorly in the state scheme (seems familiar?).
Strangely, before Schröder resigned and called a snap election, it looked as if health service reform - in patients' interests - would be a central part of the next general election campaign. Even abolishing private health funds was on the cards - or at least, introducing a system funded in a similar way to the NHS where everyone pays, regardless if they "go private" or not (a "citizens' insurance scheme" as suggested by the Greens, sections of the SPD, and the PDS).
Bizarrely, as well as top civil servants, the rich are excluded from using state health insurance in Germany, for the reason that the contributions (so many % of income) would be too high and "unconstituional". They have to insure themselves with a (often much cheaper, if you are healthy) private scheme. This rule applies to all MPs - those who decide the fate of the state health scheme.
So Martina's "suggestion" is, sadly, not as strange as you might think, Janine.
I'll just correct myself: top civil servants (this includes some postal workers, teachers, train drivers, etc.: the word is "Beamten", who cannot get sacked, but cannot strike) do not have to pay for health insurance, but get it without having to pay contributions, unlike everyone else who works. The rich are excluded from the state scheme and have to go private.