Pro-choice activists won a significant victory on Tuesday last week when amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill that sought to lower the legal time limit for abortion were defeated.
All proposals that aimed to restrict access to abortion were voted down, including one that wanted to force pregnant women to undergo compulsory counselling before they could terminate a pregnancy.
Outside the House of Commons up to 1,000 pro-choice activists held a loud and upbeat protest – the vibrancy of which contrasted with the tiny lobby of anti-abortionists, overwhelmingly made up of ageing male bigots who had gathered to sing hymns.
Louise Hutchins, co-ordinator of the Abortion Rights campaign, told Socialist Worker, “The votes were a huge victory for women’s rights and for the pro-choice movement. Over the last few months Abortion Rights has worked hard to defend a woman’s right to choose.”
Trade unionists, students and campaigners joined the protest, bringing banners from the RMT, Unison, the NUT, the PCS and Bectu unions and Goldsmiths student union.
Pat Campbell, head of equality for the PCS, attended the protest with a delegation from her union.
She told Socialist Worker, “Our delegation represents the 180,000 women in the PCS. Unions are Britain’s biggest voluntary organisations – they must be at the heart of the fight for abortion rights.”
Amran Hassan is a student at Goldsmiths college in London. She told Socialist Worker, “I came today to defend women’s rights. As a Muslim my religion doesn’t allow abortion. But I don’t think I have a right to impose my views on other people.”
Many demonstrators were angry that the government had allowed a “free vote” on the issue. Jon Rogers, from the Labour Representation Committee, was one of them. He said, “Votes on abortion amendments should be whipped votes.
“The trade union and Labour movement has a history of supporting a woman’s right to choose. MPs are entitled to their ‘consciences’ but they are not entitled to vote with them when they’ve been elected on the basis of pro-choice policy.”
Demonstrators also saw through the arguments over foetal viability and foetal pain that anti-choice MPs have peddled.
“The anti-abortionists have run a campaign based on propaganda,” said Emma Healey, an art gallery worker who joined the protest.
“There is no scientific evidence to justify any cut in the time limit. But even if there was, this is still about a woman’s right to control her body.”
The Abortion Rights campaign will now focus on pushing for improvements to the law to widen access to abortion for women. It will also prepare to fight any future attacks.
For more information go to » www.abortionrights.org.uk