Abortion rights campaigners are mobilising to stop the continuing attacks on a woman’s right to choose in Britain. They are also fighting to get those rights extended.
Activists met at a packed meeting in London to discuss the campaign. There are just two weeks before MPs vote on amendments to abortion law.
Amendments on abortion law have been put to the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Some seek to improve women’s access to abortion – extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and removing the requirement for women seeking abortion to obtain two doctors’ signatures, for example.
But others try to turn the clock back on women’s rights. Some amendments try to force women seeking abortion to be offered counselling and details of “the risks” of abortion.
Another wants to introduce a compulsory seven-day “cooling off” period on women seeking abortion.
If implemented such measures would make it harder for women to access abortion and would hit poorer and more vulnerable women the hardest.
The votes on the bill and amendments are likely to take place on Wednesday 22 October. Pro-choice activists have already started the campaign to defend and extend abortion rights.
“There is overwhelming support for a woman’s right to choose in Britain – but it has to make itself heard,” said Louise Hutchins, campaign co-ordinator for Abortion Rights. “People can set up local stalls and meetings to spread the word about the votes.
“Activists need to urgently contact their MPs to make sure they vote for the pro-choice amendments and against the anti-abortion ones.”
Over 200 people packed into the Abortion Rights public meeting on Tuesday in parliament.
Women from Northern Ireland came to demand that the 1967 Act is extended to the six counties. The delegation included members of the Unison and Unite unions, who were sponsored by their unions to travel over.
The women also held a publicity stunt outside parliament on Wednesday morning.
Sharon, one of the women, told Socialist Worker, “Abortion rights are about making sure women are safe.
“I’ve been campaigning for abortion rights in Derry and have been surprised at the amount of support there is. Women in Northern Ireland are written off as not supporting abortion rights. But it’s not true.
“In cities across Northern Ireland there is lots of support. We haven’t come here in isolation – thousands of women are behind us.”
Maura McKenna, a Unison member, said, “This is an equality issue. It’s not about whether people agree with abortion or not – it’s about the right to choose.
“There’s a lot of support for women’s issues from the unions in Northern Ireland because class inequality affects their members. It is poorer women who will suffer.”
Frank Field MP has submitted an amendment requiring that, if the amendment to extend the Act to Northern Ireland is passed, it will have to be ratified by the Northern Ireland assembly. Some portray this as an issue of “democracy”, as though it is anti-democratic to “impose” abortion rights on women in Northern Ireland.
“They say that people should choose for themselves,” said Maura. “But that’s exactly what we’re saying – give women in Northern Ireland the choice.
“MPs there don’t consult their constituents about their views on abortion. And this is the one issue politicians will all agree on – in the wrong way.”
Taryn Trainor, women’s equality officer for the Unite union in Northern Ireland, agreed. “The Northern Ireland assembly will use excuses about rocking the boat with the peace process to justify not giving abortion rights to women,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They claim it’s controversial. But we’re not encouraging people to have an abortion, we’re saying people should have the right to choose. The question I’d ask is – why would you not extend the Act?”
Diane Abbott MP joined the event outside parliament on Wednesday. “Abortion rights are part of UK law and Northern Ireland is a part of the UK,” she told Socialist Worker. “We can’t have a part of the UK where people are being treated like second-class citizens.”
Abortion Rights will be organising protests at parliament to coincide with the votes. For more details, and campaigning materials, go to » www.abortionrights.org.uk