Following the Queen’s speech on 6th November the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is speeding through the Lords. Although the Bill itself does not address abortion, it is expected that anti-abortion Peers and/or MPs will table a number of damaging amendments to restrict women’s rights to abortion. In addition pro-choice MPs are expected to table amendments to improve the law for women.
The Bill has already had its First and Second Readings in the House of Lords on 7th and 19th November respectively.
A stream of anti-abortion Peers took part in the debate and attacked current rights with pro-choice Peers speaking in defence of the 1967 Abortion Act. Pro-choice MPs are planning to table amendments to improve the law during the course of the Bill in the Commons.
Amendments in the Lords
Anti-abortion amendments that are anticipated are likely to include:
· Reducing the abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 22, 20 or even 13 weeks. Any such measures would have appalling consequences for the women who need later abortion. Particularly over 20 weeks this is a small number of women but each faces difficult and individual circumstances. Women would be forced against their will to carry on with a pregnancy. Or, if they can afford to, women will travel abroad. Some may try more desperate measures.
· Imposing a ‘cooling off’ period and compulsory counselling for all women seeking abortion. Both measures assume women are not capable of making their own careful decision, creating further distressing delays and adding pressure at what can be a difficult time. We believe women should be trusted with this personal decision.
Amendments in the Lords can be tabled at the Committee stage, which can begin as soon as the second week in December, and also at the Report stage and Third Reading which is expected to take place in January 2008.
Pro-choice Amendments in the Commons
After the House of Lords, the Bill will go the House of Commons around February 2008 where amendments to restrict rights are expected again as well as a number of positive amendments to reform the law and improve abortion access for women These are likely to include:
· Abortion to be available at the request of the pregnant woman within existing legal time limits by removing the need of two doctors’ signatures.
· Abortion services to be subject to the same statutory regulations as other medical services (i.e. ending the need for detailed notification to the Department of Health and certification by doctors of all abortions; and removing the need for premises to be specially licensed by the DOH to carry out abortions).
· Suitably trained nurse practitioners to be allowed to carry out early medical and surgical abortions, in both the NHS and non-NHS sector.
· Ensuring accurate information and non-directive support be available for all women facing an unintended pregnancy.
· The law in Northern Ireland to allow access to abortion commensurate with rights in the rest of the UK.
More detailed information on timetabling and amendments will be known as we go along.
The anti-choice lobby has called upon its supporters to lobby Peers and MPs. They are arranging for a briefing of Peers where Professor Stuart Campbell will show his emotive ‘4D’ scan images. Many Peers and MPs have not yet decided how to vote. They need to hear from pro-choice supporters URGENTLY.
Abortion Rights is lobbying Peers and MPs directly and in alliance with other pro-choice organisations. We will be organising a public initiative for pro-choice supporters to make their voices heard during the course of the Bill’s passage in the Lords. Details to follow.
We are also planning a series of public initiatives during the Bill’s passage in the Commons, including a lobby of Parliament and public meeting. You can help by writing directly to your MP TODAY.
The Bill is expected to take only six months to pass through Parliament. This provides a relatively short window of opportunity to mobilise the pro-choice majority and ensure we are successful in opposing any restrictions to the 1967 Abortion Act and extending women’s reproductive rights.
Please speak to your trade union branch, student group, colleagues and friends to ask them to get involved, pass a resolution or organise a discussion or event. Everyone can sign up for updates and action alerts on the Abortion Rights website or by joining the Facebook group Abortion Rights UK.