There was a lively meeting with women from a range of ages and backgrounds on a woman’s right to choose at the Respect women’s day school.
Jan Nielsen, a Respect member from south London, led off the discussion.
She said, “There are two main arguments. There has been a celebration running through this conference of the active role that women have today, politically and in society as a whole.
“It is role that I think is impossible if you don’t have control of your reproduction. In every society throughout history women have attempted to take control of their reproduction – and abortion has always been with us even though it has often been dangerous.
“And it is a class issue. Where there are restrictions, it is always possible to access abortion if you have enough money.
“So why is it being debated now? There are a minority of MPs who want to reduce the 24 week time limit on abortions. It’s important to understand that there are a layer of people who are opposed to abortion on any grounds – but they know that this is an argument they can’t win.
“All the polls show that the majority of people in Britain support legalised abortion. Around 95 percent of abortions happen before 16 weeks – and just because we can see a picture of a foetus in the womb doesn’t mean that it is viable.
“The conservative religious right are trying to use the issue of viability as a smoke screen to attack rights that we have won.
“Across the world 25 percent of women don’t have access to legal safe abortion. There are an estimated 90 million illegal abortions carried out each year – and 70,000 women die each year because of this.
“It is still the case that where you live is a very big factor in whether you have access to an abortion. We have to continue to fight for better education, for better contraception, and for the right of women to choose.
“It’s not about advocating abortion but supporting choice.”
The first speaker in the discussion told the meeting, “I think that while we don’t want to go back to a point where women are forced to have unsafe and illegal abortions, you do have to look at the time limit.
“I think that it has become far too easy in our culture to think of abortion as a form of contraception.”
A Respect member from north London replied, “I have yet to meet the woman who has used an abortion as a form of contraception.
“The agitation over time limits is an attempt to rehabilitate an unpopular anti-abortion cause. It is another way to attack young and poor women.”
Another speaker said, “I think that we must fight for women’s right to education and to a decent job – but it’s very difficult to take advantage of those rights if you don’t have control over your fertility.
“Before the 1967 abortion act if you got pregnant without wanting to, the choice was to have a dangerous procedure or submit to a life that you didn’t want.
“I think that the emphasis on the time limit shifts the focus away from the question of women, women’s bodies and a woman’s right to choose. It’s important that we don’t allow the debate to be shifted.”