Yesterday was the International Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion. Whilst abortion is legal in the UK, it is not available on demand.* Abortion can only be carried out in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors agree that “abortion would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy”. That’s only if you’re lucky enough to live on the mainland. Abortion isn’t available in Northern Ireland. There are some obvious exceptions to the 24 week rule involving saving the life of the mother or preventing grave or serious injury to her; as well as the more difficult issue of aborting a fetus due to disability.**
I find any limits on abortion problematic. I think all women should have access to abortion when they want it without having to faff about finding two doctors who agree to the procedure. Having to find two doctors just extends the unwanted pregnancy unnecessarily causing added stress. The right to decide what does and does not happen to one’s own body is a fundamental issue of self-determination. I believe that women have the right to abortion at any point in their pregnancy; after all 91% of abortions in 2011 were before 13 weeks. There are very, very few abortions after the 24 week point and, no, the Sarah Catt case isn’t representative of anything. She was denied an abortion and therefore chose to self-abort. Catt was also not convicted under the abortion laws; instead she was found guilty of an archaic law from the mid 19th century. Women are perfectly capable of deciding if and when they need an abortion without having to discuss it with two doctors; doctors who may or may not be anti-choicers.
The language around accessing abortion itself infantilises women. We can only have an abortion if someone else tells us we can. Not because we want one. Not because we need one. But, because someone else deems it medically necessary. Abortion should be available to women at any point in the pregnancy because the woman deems it necessary and not because someone else gave her permission to do so. I also dislike the rhetoric around “good” abortions for victims of rape versus “bad” abortions for women who have had the temerity to have consensual sex without wanting to get pregnant. Any attempts to create a hierarchy of acceptable reasons for women to have abortions just limits women’s choices. It is the heart of woman-hating. This is without getting into the fact that many women have to access abortions for financial reasons. It’s hardly a choice if you are having an abortion because you can not afford to feed a child. That is why we
Whilst the anti-abortion movement in the US is far more frightening than in the UK, we are at a point where our reproductive rights are under attack. Jeremy Hunt, the new Secretary of State for Health, has voted to decrease the abortion limit from 24 to 12 weeks [and not actually explained how this will work whilst still requiring two doctors to sign off on the abortion]. Several members of the anti-abortion group Abort67 have been found not guilty of public order offences in Brighton despite their clear tactics of harassment and intimidation of women entering the BUPAS clinic. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have been holding protests across the UK [and roundly counter-protested under the banner SPUC OFF]. This is nothing more than a War on Women.
Today, there are rolling protests across the UK demanding:
- The right to abortion on demand
- The decriminalisation of abortion
- Access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland
- The global decriminalisation of abortion
- Dundee from 2-4 pm on Reform Street
- Dublin: 2 pm on O’Connell Street
- London: 2 pm at Old Palace Yard opposite Parliament
* This bit is fairly obvious if you live in the UK so feel free to skip it.
** Access to abortion on demand needs to be accompanied by real sexual health education in schools, increased availability of birth control and a welfare state to assist those who choose to continue with their pregnancy.