Tory MP Fiona Bruce’s attempt to criminalise some women seeking abortions was defeated in parliament this week by 292 votes to 201.
Bruce tacked her “sex selection” amendment onto the Serious Crime Bill to target women suspected of wanting to abort a foetus because of its sex.
This was the latest attempt by anti-abortionists to try and limit women’s abortion rights through the back door.
An amendment to review the extent of sex selection abortion was passed by 491 to 2. This means the issue has not gone away and the campaign to expose the reality behind the bigots’ lies must continue.
The relatively close vote shows how important the pro-choice campaign was.
The Daily Mail newspaper denounced the TUC union federation for briefing MPs to oppose Bruce. It said union leaders were interfering in something “wildly outside their normal remit”.
But women’s rights are very much a trade union issue. The TUC organised the biggest ever pro-choice demonstration of 80,000 people in 1979.
Workers saw abortion as a class issue. Rich women could get safe abortions while other women were forced to the back street.
The Abortion Rights campaign coined Bruce’s amendment a “Trojan horse”. Anti-abortionists know that the right to legal and safe abortion has solid and widespread public support. So they try to attack and limit it in different ways.
Bruce’s amendment threatened to whip up racism against Asian and Muslim women as anti-abortionists claim sex selection is “prevalent in some minority communities”.
This attack was especially dangerous as it was being framed as helping women who Bruce claims are being forced to abort if they find out their foetus is female.
But Bruce does not care about women. Her amendment would have led to doctors racially profiling women and reporting them if they suspected their motives for wanting an abortion.
Asian women might worry that doctors might question their motives for an abortion more than someone else.
There is no evidence that sex selection abortion is happening in Britain. In 2013 the Department of Health studied sex ratios and found “no group is statistically different from the range that we would expect to see naturally occurring”.
Yet spinning this legislation as progressive won it some support, even initially from some pro-choice politicians.
If a woman is facing pressure to have an abortion, making her a criminal won’t help her. Forcing women to carry a pregnancy is not fighting women’s oppression.
For the first time since the 1967 Abortion Act, the amendment used language that shifts the law away from the woman and her rights.
Currently doctors just need to consider a pregnant woman’s “physical or mental health”. The amendment posed abortions as a crime against the “unborn child” or “girl”.
This would have been a very dangerous precedent. It would treat women as walking incubators.
Women will have different reasons for seeking abortions, all should be respected. The law is already hugely restrictive—abortion is the only procedure requiring the approval of two doctors.
Any attack on abortion rights must be opposed. Criminalising abortion does not stop it—it pushes it back to the back streets.
The Tory government has given renewed confidence to anti-abortion bigots. We need to mobilise to stop them, because they will be back.