Women face a new threat to their abortion rights. Jeremy Hunt, the new secretary of state for health, and Maria Miller, the new minister for women and equalities, have both declared support for cutting the abortion time limit.
Hunt says he supports a drastic cut in the limit from 24 to 12 weeks. He voted for a 12 week limit during the 2008 parliamentary debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.
Miller declares herself a “modern feminist” and says she is “driven by the practical impact that late term abortion has on women” to cut time limit to 20 weeks. She doesn’t say what the “practical impact” might be on women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
David Cameron and Theresa May both back a cut to 20 weeks. A majority of cabinet ministers now favour cutting the time limit.
All these ministers claim they have no plans to change the law. But they want to create a climate that shifts public opinion against the rights women have fought for and won. And they peddle the myth that abortion has become a “lifestyle choice” for women.
This gives confidence to anti-abortion bigots, including groups such Abort67 that organise to intimidate women and physically stop them from accessing abortion services.
They try to justify cutting time limits with talk of “scientific advances”. But a study published in April in the British Medical Journal confirms there has been no improvement in survival rates for births at 23 weeks or less.
This isn’t about science. Majority opinion in Britain defends a woman’s right to choose. Anti-abortionists don’t feel confident to launch a full frontal campaign to outlaw abortion. Instead they are trying to claw back our rights bit by bit.
Darinka Aleksic is campaign coordinator for Abortion Rights. She told Socialist Worker, “Abortion is a key part of women’s healthcare. If Hunt thinks he can get away with rolling back our right to choose without a fight, he is underestimating the strength of pro-choice feeling in this country.”
Lowering the limit to 20 weeks would affect a small but vulnerable minority of women seeking abortions. Of the 190,000 abortions carried out last year some 91 percent took place before 13 weeks. These figures cover England, Scotland and Wales only—abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland.
But women seeking abortion after 20 weeks are often in the most desperate circumstances. They may have just had a 20 week scan that revealed severe foetal abnormalities. Or sometimes very young women, women with irregular periods or women going into the menopause may not realise they are pregnant until 20 weeks.
A change in the law would not stop these abortions. It would just push women into taking desperate measures. Earlier this year a woman in Salford died after taking medication bought online to try and terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
Hunt and Miller and their anti-abortion allies have to be stopped. We have to warn people about the Tories’ latest threats—and defend the fundamental right of women to control their own bodies.
Get your trade union or student body to affiliate to Abortion Rights campaign. Go to www.abortionrights.org.uk for details.