A time limit debate signals a renewed attack on abortion rights. Maria Caulfield, vice-chair for women, is using the upcoming Irish abortion referendum as a hook to push for dramatically restricting the right to choose by slashing the limit from 12 to 24 weeks.
Women need extension not further restriction of rights. April 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of enactment of safe, legal abortion in Britain as a result of the Abortion Act 1967, when doctors and healthcare professionals could start practicing abortions. The passage of the Act saved the lives and health of thousands of women and to this day remains fundamental to women’s autonomy and equality. 2018 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage. Yet our reproductive rights are under threat yet again.
Is anyone is feeling an eerie sense of déjà vu? That’s because we have been here before; in 2008 Abortion Rights defeated a sensationalist and misleading campaign by the anti-abortion lobby, who failed in their attempt to silence women’s voices, the wealth of medical evidence and the views of the majority of the population.
Very few women need later abortion. Those who do face difficult, unforeseeable and always individual circumstances and must be allowed to make their own careful decision.
The damage this could potentially inflict on pro-choice causes is immense. And in any situation in which abortion rights are restricted, it is women who will bear the hugely disproportionate share of the harm that will inevitably ensue.
The upcoming referendum should be a cause for celebration and it’s frankly disgusting that Caulfield is so opportunistic seizing upon it to roll back the clock on our current abortion access.
Anti-choice myths are dangerously influential so here are the facts - just 1% of terminations are carried out post-20 weeks. 81% of abortions take place in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Abortion Rights calls for advancement, not restriction, with improvements to the law, this figure can be improved on and more women might have access to early, abortion.
Women need the 24-week time limit also deserve empathy and understanding. Does Caulfield even begin to understand how difficult this can be for the woman involved, or why she might come to decide that this is the best course of action for herself and the foetus?
Let’s be clear, survival rates for babies born around and just before the 24-week mark have stayed more or less static in recent years, despite advances in other areas of prenatal care.
In fact, anti-choice arguments about both public and medical opinion and medical advances are far from convincing, most of them are from those whose views are straightforwardly anti-abortion and are simply being opportunistic about raising the time limit issue. On closer inspection, the YouGov poll shows that 6% of respondents favoured increasing the current 24 week abortion time limit, bringing the ‘pro-choice’ figure to 40% of the total. Only 7% of respondents favoured banning abortion altogether.
There is a lot of evidence showing that many women seeking early abortion face delays and obstruction. The cross-party Commons Science and Technology Committee, professional medical bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nursing and family planning groups have all argued that changes to the law are now required to improve access to abortion, which is a basic healthcare right not something to play politics with.
Abortion Rights has a public event coming up on Saturday 10 March, screening the powerful documentary ‘How the 1967 Abortion Act changed our lives’ followed by a Q&A panel of healthcare providers featured in the film. You can register for free tickets here: www.bit.ly/ARPUBLIC18