October 27, 2010 is the 43rd anniversary of the UK’s groundbreaking Abortion Act, which finally made abortion a safe, legal option for most British women.
Recognised as a victory for women’s rights, the 1967 Abortion Act made way for one of this century’s most important advances in public health, saving the lives of countless women and providing them with reproductive freedom and the ability to make their own choices about their fertility.
However, the stigma and culture of silence surrounding abortion lends credence to much of the misinformation disseminated about the topic today. Consistently, three-quarters of British people support a right to choose and it is one of the most common medical procedures performed in this country. But the public, especially young people are unaware of how vital choice is to guaranteeing fundamental human rights in the UK. Indeed, for many students, the only information they receive about abortion in schools is highly subjective and provided by well-funded anti-choice organisations.
We should use this year’s Abortion Act anniversary as an opportunity to campaign for the improvement of both the quantity and quality of abortion and sexual health education in the UK. Reducing the stigma by elevating the public debate and developing a more comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education curriculum—compulsory inclusion of SRE in state-funded schools was dropped from legislation earlier this year—is certainly the way forward.
Anti-choice groups will also be marking the anniversary: Christian Concern for our Nation is planning a vigil outside parliament, a ‘Service of Lament’ in Westminster and will place ads on buses in central London. And for the past month a Texas-based religious group has been protesting outside Marie Stopes House in London, one of Britain’s first abortion clinics.
The organisation, called 40 Days for Life, has support and funding from hundreds of American churches and employs tactics used by hardcore anti-abortionists in the US. They are holding a planned 40 days of protests, picketing clinics and handing out misleading, medically inaccurate leaflets in 218 US cities, as well as in Australia, Denmark, Canada and Northern Ireland. Commenting in The Independent, Abortion Rights Campaign Co-ordinator Darinka Aleksic said “We are strongly in favour of women receiving as much support, counselling and information about abortion as possible. But we’re worried about the tenor of a lot of the advice being given out by these pickets. There’s a lot of emphasis on guilt and misleading scientific information.”
Not only must we defend against the activities of anti-choice religious groups, but Abortion Rights and other pro-choice campaigns must pay close attention to legal and legislative challenges to reproductive freedoms. New Conservative MP Therese Coffey may have only garnered support from seven of her parliamentary colleagues, but her early day motion, “EDM834 – Informed Consent Abortion”, is certainly a concerning assault on Britain’s abortion law. Tabled earlier this month, EDM834 would require women seeking an abortion on mental health grounds to receive counselling and be warned of possible risks to their mental health.
It is a tragedy that after 43 years of safe and legal abortion access, we are still forced to defend our rights against anti-choice propaganda and socially conservative parliamentary opposition.
On the anniversary of the revolutionary Abortion Act that ushered in medical advances and improved the lives and personal freedoms of Great Britain’s women, we should do more than just recognise and revere past victories. We should use this moment as a chance to renew our commitment to the cause and to gain inspiration and energy, no matter what the opposition or social climate may be.