Aborting progress on women’s rights

I feel compelled to write a blog post on this topic because it is, for me, one of the core tenets of women’s rights. And I genuinely believe that there is a large and organised campaign to erode those rights by religious groups.

In Britain it is legal to have an abortion up to 28 weeks. From 24 weeks it is only allowed to save the life or protect the mental and physical health of the woman, or in cases of extreme abnormality of the baby.  I think it important to note that the law passed in 1967 to give women this right of choice over her own body and life did not apply to Northern Ireland – part of our state where abortion is still illegal at *any* stage of pregnancy (unless saving the life of the mother or to prevent the mother becoming a “mental wreck”).  This creates an incredible imbalance of abortion access for Northern Irish women, where those with money can hop on a flight and head to a British clinic, and those without remain vulnerable to back room illegal abortions.  But that’s one for another post, because here I want to focus on the slow erosion to the right of choice for women in the rest of the UK.

In 2008 there was a parliamentary debate about whether the legal limit for abortion should be reduced to 20 or 22 weeks.  In a vote, the amendments were thrown out.

But today there is a group of cross party MPs (notably Nadine Dorries and Louise Mensch (cons) and Frank Field (lab) – see my previous post about why it’s irrelevant that many of them are women) who are reigniting this battle against choice, and this time they are being more subtle in their attack.

Hand in hand (for me), with a right to abort an alien collection of cells from a woman’s own body, goes her right to impartial advice and counselling when making the decision whether or not to abort (and afterwards, whatever her decision).

In 2011 Nadine Dorries’ bill which would strip abortion providers of their counselling role lost in parliament by a strong 250 votes. The idea behind the bill was to stop the highly reputable and supportive work of Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in giving impartial advice to pregnant women.  Cleverly for the pro-life folks it opened the door to other advisory groups stepping into the process, including those who have an openly stated pro-life stance (and those with a less open pro-life stance).

Her argument that any clinic that charges women to carry out abortions cannot possibly provide impartial advice, falls flat on its face when you consider the opinionated bunch who will arrive to take over the role.    There is no evidence of anyone acting inappropriately in these counselling services – and the proponents of this policy amendment refuse to conduct an investigation which, if inappropriate methods were discovered, would hand them the key to unlocking the votes for their bill.  Does that imply an acknowledgement that the investigation would find no such thing? That’s how I see it. And on the point around “evil commercial baby killers”, let’s not forget that BPAS is a not-for-profit charity.

For a more eloquent and intelligent protest on Dorries’ 2011 bill, I recommend Zoe Williams’ Guardian article.

And yet today she and her cronies are back, with revised policy options (a waste of the tax payers time when it’s already been so clearly opposed?). This new approach has 3 options;

  1. Nadine Dorries’ original idea, to remove counselling roles from organisations which carry out abortions
  2. No change to current process (Yes please Nadine, and I believe that’s what our elected members have already chosen…)
  3. Abortion organisations would still be allowed to provide counselling, but other independent groups would now be licensed (and eligible for NHS funding I believe) to provide abortion counselling. (Picture your GP handing you a list of options – some are pro-choice, some anti-choice. Or perhaps in your postcode they are all anti-choice….).

I’ve stolen the quote below from the excellent article in the Guardian on the latest shinanigans.

Tracey McNeill, director of UK and Europe at Marie Stopes commented that the current system offers women “access to impartial, non-directive and expert support from trained counsellors, if they decide they want it. We simply don’t believe that organisations whose own publications describe abortion as ‘a most grievous sin’ can provide impartial pregnancy counselling to women. “

Well said.

This whole move is just another attempt to complicate and slow down the abortion process, and to make women feel bad about their decision to take control over their bodies and their lives.

And in the last few days, traditionalist and right-wing paper The Telegraph has had a string of front page investigations (when was the last time it did any investigations??) about improper behaviour by abortion clinics. Notably not ones associated with Marie Stopes or BPAS.  They very cleverly focused on the discovery that these clinics were allowing abortions to be carried out when the woman’s stated reason for the decision was because the foetus was female.  Because that makes even the most convinced pro-choice feminist have to chose between two lesser evils.  Coincidental timing? Any benefit of the doubt I may have given Dorries about her lack of involvement in this particular scoop was jettisoned when I saw her perfectly prepared response and subsequent coverage in the Telegraph.

It’s imperative that we all keep abreast of this wrangling and oppose Dorries’ efforts to get us all to take a step back in the womens’ rights that were so hard fought for in the 60s.


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