By Kate Ahrens
Abortion “rights” are under attack. Over recent months there have been several attempts to get parliamentary discussion of proposals to reduce the upper time limit when abortions can legally be obtained from 24 weeks down to 21 or 20 weeks, as well as more subtle moves to attack the current abortion rules by calling for a “review” of whether recent medical development have reduced age at which foetuses might become viable.
Of course abortion in Britain is not a right at all and is not freely available to all women — two doctors must give consent that the termination is necessary because of one of a small number of possible reasons. Inevitably this leads to a wide variation in the decisions by doctors about what is a necessary reason and what isn’t. In some parts of the country, notably Birmingham, this has meant that it’s very difficult to obtain an NHS abortion.
This parliamentary attack coincides with an increase in the media scare stories about abortion being used as the primary method of birth control — particularly by young women — and a general increase in the kind of anti-youth and anti-sexual freedom sniping epitomised by the Daily Mail and Daily Express.
It was revealed in January that the crisis in the NHS is resulting in women having to wait up to seven weeks to obtain an abortion after first seeking help. Mostly however this was reported in the media as a scare story about the “huge” rise in abortions delivered by the private agencies like Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
Although it’s true that the attempts so far to introduce any change in the law has been firmly rebuffed in Parliament, the growing media pressure and the willingness of anti-abortion religious leaders like Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor to wade into the political arena on this issue mean that the fight is far from over and we can’t be complacent that changes won’t be made in the future.
One reason to be more worried is the almost complete absence of the organised labour movement in defence of abortion rights. Very few unions are even debating the issue and there is very little labour movement involvement in organisations like Abortion Rights.
That has to change if we are to successfully beat off attempts to change the law long term and especially if we hope to improve and extend access to abortion so that all women who require an abortion can benefit from provision of this service as early as possible in their pregnancies.
In this climate it is crucial that we begin to organise large numbers of women to defend abortion rights. The abortion rights march which has been called by the Feminist Fightback conference for 3 March 2007, in Central London will be a good start.
US right attacks abortion
By Sofie Buckland
Across the US abortion rights hang by a thread after repeated attacks by states on both abortion law and publicly-funded access to abortions. In February South Dakota’s House Committee voted 10-3 to pass a bill that would ban all abortions except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of a pregnant woman (up to 17 weeks). The bill would allow rape survivors to undergo abortions if they report the rape to authorities within 50 days. Doctors would be to take blood from aborted foetuses and give that information to police for DNA testing. In incest cases, a doctor would be required to obtain the identity of the perpetrator before an abortion could be performed. The bill carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for performing illegal abortions. The measure will be voted during the state’s next general election, and joins a number of other anti-choice initiatives including Utah’s newly-passed law banning abortion the minute the landmark Roe versus Wade decision, winning the right to abortion, is overturned.
Not content with attacking women’s right to control their bodies via manipulation of state funding, exceptions for anti-choice doctors and cuts in public health benefits, the US anti-choice machine got an entirely made-up procedure banned in 2003.
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban, shepherded through the then Republican-majority congress by Bush, is thought to refer to dilation and extraction, an abortion procedure, and bans abortions as early as 12 weeks. The emotive term of “partial-birth” is defined so widely it covers a range of abortions and the bill contains no exception for the health of the pregnant woman. Some states, including New York, have ruled the bill unconstitutional for this reason.