Sometimes, good stuff happens.
After a strong political effort by the forced-pregnancy movement, the attempts to reduce access to abortion in the UK were roundly defeated last night: the closest vote, a proposal to reduce the upper limit for abortions to 22 weeks (which would in practice have meant 18 weeks) was rejected by 304 to 233.
(In the same debate, a succession of homophobic/misogynistic attempts to stop the children of same-sex couples having the same basic rights as the children of mixed-sex couples, was also defeated: a child born to a lesbian couple via fertility treatment will now have two legal parents, just like a child born to a mixed-sex couple. This is also cause for cheering.)
When the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, though it set legal limits on abortion that appear quite restrictive (a woman must get the consent of two doctors, etc) the women’s liberation movement focussed on widening real access rather than changing the law, and in practice, providing a woman has the nous, when she wants an abortion, to react to her GP telling her “wait a few weeks” (a standard strategy for anti-choice doctors) with “Thanks, I’ll go somewhere else right now”, women who need abortions can have them – though in some parts of the UK it is problematic getting an abortion via the NHS, and in Northern Ireland a woman who needs an abortion usually needs to go to mainland UK to get one. (This has worked primarily because travel from Northern Ireland to the mainland has always been fast and cheap: but it’s certainly an added cost and trouble.) Forced-pregnancy terrorism has never taken off in this country, unlike in the US: the “pro-lifers” have stayed, in general, within the law.
But we shouldn’t have to run so fast to stay in place. This is a victory for common sense and women’s rights: but it’s a victory in a campaign we shouldn’t have to have. Cardinal O’Connor claimed to be terribly concerned about the number of abortions taking place in the UK: but his claims were bogus, since he was not attempting to encourage the widespread availability or use of contraception, nor was he advocating better sex education in Catholic schools and free availability of contraception for boys and girls via the school nurse at Catholic schools. (In fact, Cardinal O’Connor has done his little best to encourage more abortions and more late-term abortions via the hospital of which he is patron, by forbidding even the provision of advice on contraception or abortion at that hospital. His very own little gag rule!)
What we need is decriminalisation of abortion. We need to end completely the notion that a woman making medical decisions in consultation with her doctor is subject to state regulation of her uterus.
Join the Pro-Choice Majority.
(You can read all debates and see who voted which way here: TheyWorkForYou: debates 20th May 2008. I’m pleased to say my MP voted the right way every time and I’m thinking of sending him 20 Fairtrade roses.)