By Sadie Robinson
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2101

Beat back right’s attack on abortion

This article is over 16 years, 2 months old
Abortion rights in Britain are facing a serious attack over the next week and we have to defend them.
Issue 2101
Pro-choice campaigners lobbied parliament on Wednesday of last week (Pic:» Guy Smallman )
Pro-choice campaigners lobbied parliament on Wednesday of last week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Abortion rights in Britain are facing a serious attack over the next week and we have to defend them.

MPs will vote on abortion law for the first time in 18 years on Tuesday of next week.

Anti-abortionists are trying to hijack the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill with amendments that attack a woman’s right to choose.

In particular, they want to cut the current 24-week time limit for abortion. This would be a step on the road to reversing the gains of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Less than 2 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks.

But these are needed by women in the most desperate situations – those with mental health problems, the very young or those who experience unexpected changes in their circumstances, such as the breakdown of a relationship.

People in favour of choice need to act urgently to defeat this attack.

They need to mobilise to lobby their MPs to make sure that they are in parliament next Tuesday to vote to defend a woman’s right to choose.

The Abortion Rights lobby of parliament before the vote takes place on Tuesday will be a key opportunity to show the strength of pro-choice feeling.

The bigots focus on later abortions because they realise that they are in a minority over the issue in general.


Some 83 percent of people in Britain support a woman’s right to choose and medical opinion is united in opposing any cut to the current 24-week limit.

Because of this, anti-abortionists are unable to push their real agenda – to criminalise abortion altogether. So they use pseudo-science to try and chip away at the law, knowing that if they are successful this time they can go for more attacks in the future.

The right wing media has done all it can to back up the attack. The Daily Mail went on the offensive last week with articles raging against women having “social abortions” and “using abortion as contraception”.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries is leading the attack in parliament with her “20 reasons for 20 weeks” campaign.

One of her most ludicrous reasons is that “leading public figures such as Tory leader David Cameron are calling for a cut to at least 20 weeks”.

Other reasons are that foetuses can feel pain before 24 weeks and that survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks are improving. But these claims are false.

The government’s science and technology committee heard evidence relating to abortion law from medical experts last October. It rejected all of the “scientific” reasons against abortion in Dorries’ campaign.

The committee found that there have been no significant advances in foetal viability – the chance a foetus has of surviving outside the womb – earlier than 24 weeks.


It also concluded that there is no evidence to indicate that a foetus can feel pain at 24 weeks.

A wide-ranging study published in the British Medical Journal last week found “no improvement” in the survival of babies born before 24 weeks.

Anti-abortionists have no valid argument to justify cutting the time limit, and it is important to refute their lies.

But abortion rights should not just be defended on the basis of science. They are a fundamental human right.

The 1967 Abortion Act has made a huge improvement to women’s lives. Prior to 1967 around 100,000 illegal abortions took place every year, and 35,000 women were hospitalised each year as a result.

The act does have limitations, such as the requirement for two doctors’ signatures to access abortion and the fact that it does not extend to Northern Ireland.

But it meant that women with unwanted pregnancies no longer faced the “choice” of backstreet abortion or raising an unwanted child. It gave women more control over their bodies and lives.

There is a class nature to these amendments – which if passed would overwhelmingly hit working class women’s access to abortion. Those arguing for them are hypocrites.

Better sex education, and better access to contraception and abortion would lower the number of later abortions. But the same people who argue to cut the time limit oppose these measures.

They support benefit cuts, scapegoat single parents and want to criminalise young people. They are not “pro-life” – they are against working class people having control over their lives.

The Labour Party, which has pro-choice policy, has pandered to the right by allowing its MPs a free vote on abortion amendments. The pro-choice majority must hold them to account.

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