Abortion: If we’re not pushing forward, we’re going backwards
If I needed one, I’d get an abortion in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even have to pause or reflect on it. There is no space in my life for a child. I’ve never wanted kids and don’t see myself wanting them in the future. And while I have been on some form of contraception since I was a teenager, I’ve also always taken solace in knowing that, should that for some reason fail, abortion services exist as a backstop.
That backstop has now been removed for many women across America. It has also never existed for millions around the world. I feel lucky to be living in a country that acknowledges and respects my right to choose what happens to not just my body, but my entire life.
But amid all the clamour to set the UK apart of the US, all the it’ll-never-happen-heres, it’s worth pausing to reflect on what, exactly, the situation is here.
Abortion has been decriminalised in the UK for decades, but technically it is still illegal. The 1967 Abortion Act only set out the circumstances in which it was permissible to have an abortion, but an older law dating back to the 1860s is still on the statute books and refers to legal protections for the “unborn child”.
As such, it remains an anomaly in healthcare terms. The two-doctor rule means for an abortion to go ahead, two doctors must agree that the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination. For most other medical or surgical procedures in the UK, only one doctor’s signature is required. And that doesn’t require an assessment on whether, for example, a hip replacement is less of a risk to the patient’s mental health than not having that hip replacement. It’s just assumed it is.
Meanwhile, NHS services in Scotland fail to deliver this healthcare up until the legal limit of 24 weeks. Women (and others requiring them) are forced to travel to England for abortions because no health board in Scotland will provide one beyond 20 weeks (and many have lower time limits than that).
On top of that, it took a pandemic to allow women access to early medical abortion in their own homes. Previously, women had to take medication in a healthcare setting – which meant that many women actually started to abort on their way home.
And then we still have the Scottish Government dilly-dallying over whether to ban angry men from trying to scare women out of having an abortion through protests outside clinics, and elected officials saying women are put on a “conveyor belt” or claiming to be the voice of a bunch of cells in a uterus.
The striking down of Roe v Wade may not affect UK services in practice, but what it does do is reopen the debate that many had thought was won decades ago.
We must be careful to guard against healthcare disinformation and continue to push the government to go further and make abortion access easier.
Campaigns to fully decriminalise abortion, to abolish the two-doctor rule, to create buffer zones to prevent protests at clinics and to ensure equal access across the country to this vital healthcare have been long running. It is only to our cost if we continue to ignore them now – because if we aren’t moving forward on matters of equality, we are at risk of going backwards.
And for any readers in the States, all I can say is this: I’m sorry. I hope you can take some solace in knowing that there are sisters around the world fully behind you.