Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Lady [Tonia Antoniazzi ]is incredibly generous in giving way. I applaud the tone in which she is presenting this case. The problem that some of us are grappling with is that, in America, what appears to have happened is that the Supreme Court had its political complexion changed and therefore came to a different decision. I, for one, regret the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Having said that, it therefore seems strange, as my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), has said, to suggest that we should move away from the system that we have where Parliament decides what should and should not happen on a matter of policy of this sort, and hand it over to judges for whatever interpretation of the law they may choose to come up with.
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Dr Lewis: I have been listening to both sides here and I am not hearing an answer to one question that seems to me fundamental: at what point does a fertilised egg become a viable human being with rights? From one side, I am not hearing any recognition that a baby about to be born is actually viable and has rights; and from the other side, I am not hearing that a newly fertilised egg is not yet a viable human being and therefore does not have the same rights as a human being. It is going to be a dialogue of the deaf until both sides recognise that this is a spectrum and not an either/or.
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Dr Lewis: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman [Ian Paisley], but he is not going to carry the House with an argument that says that the number of abortions is equivalent to the human population of a city when a vast proportion of those abortions will have been at a very early stage – barely fertilised eggs. Although I see Members on the Opposition Benches nodding in agreement with me, I say to them that the demand for an absolute right to abortion similarly but in reverse fails to recognise that a very late-term abortion is killing an embryo that is viable. That is why this is a dialogue of the deaf.
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Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg: ... My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) said that we cannot look at it in terms of numbers of cities and people like that, but we can. There are more than 100,000 people in Northern Ireland who are alive today who would not be alive had Northern Ireland had the abortion rules that we have in England, Wales and Scotland. That seems to be a modern tragedy: this number of people had no opportunity for a life because they were ripped untimely from their mother’s womb. Think of that number: 214,869. In a four-year period, the destruction of life is as a great as it was in the four-year period of the first world war. Those are the numbers we are dealing with. That is the tragedy of abortion.
Dr Lewis: May I slightly correct what my right hon. Friend has just said? It is not the destruction of life, in many cases, but the destruction of potential life – unless one agrees, as I think my right hon. Friend would, with our hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), that life begins at the moment of conception. However, most people do not agree with that: they believe that life develops during the course of gestation. That is why my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), is right when he says that the embryo acquires rights along the way, not from the outset.
Mr Rees-Mogg: My right hon. Friend raises the question of the viability of life. The viability of life – when does that start, Sir Charles [Walker in the Chair]? When do you think a life becomes a fully independent created life? Perhaps my right hon. Friend thinks we should be like the ancient Romans in their treatment of the newborn baby. St Macrina rescued newborn babies who had been exposed in ancient Rome because their life was not viable without intervention and support. They were allowed to die, until the early Christians, who were thought to be peculiar for doing so, went and saved them. It was particularly the case, as it happens, with disabled babies. We know that the abortion laws we have allow for the full-term abortion of babies with minor disabilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) pointed out. This is the tragedy of abortion and its destruction of life. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East wants to quibble about when life begins. I accept that this is perhaps more a theological question about what is the start of life, but that new embryo has the potential for life. It has been formed as a separate being that is separate and different from the parents from which it came.
Dr Lewis: I will not keep intervening, but I take slight objection to the use of the word “quibble”. I readily acknowledge that there is vast uncertainty and a grey area about the point, or at least the part of the spectrum, at which potential life becomes a viable human being. Just because we cannot identify an exact point in the process does not preclude that, at the beginning of the process, the fertilised egg is only a potential human being without the same rights as the viable human being at the end of the process.
Mr Rees-Mogg: The viable point is one that my right hon. Friend admits he cannot define, but there is a clear point of conception where there is a new genetic entity. It is unbelievably clear and straightforward. To say that there is some later date – it may be 21, 22 or 24 weeks – is not the heart of the argument. The heart of the argument is actually that this new life started at the point of conception. The tragedy is the 214,869 lives lost last year.