This is the third in a series of briefings on the situation in Parliament and the next steps in the pro-choice campaign and how you can get involved.
Parliamentarians opposed to abortion are seeking to use the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to restrict abortion access, particularly for later abortion. Key votes are expected in March or April.
Abortion Rights is campaigning to defeat any anti-abortion amendments and to maximise any opportunities for advancing the law for women. The next pro-choice mobilisation will be on International Women’s Day March 8th in Westminster. The timetable of the Bill will only be known stage by stage and Abortion Rights may have to call public initiatives at relatively short notice. To keep in touch, please sign up for regular parliamentary and campaign e-updates using the ‘action alerts’ button at www.abortionrights.org.uk
Abortion Select Committee rejected
On Monday 14th January, the Lords Liaison Committee rejected a proposal for a special Select Committee to focus on ‘moral’ arguments around abortion and the sanctity of life.
Amendment to restrict abortion rights heavily defeated in Lords
The first vote on an abortion amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill took place in the Lords on Monday 28 January, at the Report stage of the Bill. Baroness Masham of Ilton moved an amendment to outlaw abortion on the grounds of severe foetal impairment. The Bill was defeated after over an hour of debate with 22 votes to 89. The full debate can be read at www.abortionrights.org.uk
Abortion Rights opposes any restriction in women’s reproductive rights. If passed into law, Baroness Masham’s amendment would have had a devastating impact for the tiny proportion of women who need to use this clause. Restricting the rights of women, including disabled women, to make their own reproductive decisions would in no way advance the rights of disabled people.
Next steps in parliament
The Bill has now completed its stages in the House of Lords and is expected to reach the House of Commons later this spring. The exact timetabling is not yet known. After a First and Second reading, the Bill will go into Committee and then a Report stage in March or April where amendments on abortion can be moved and where the main contest is expected.
Amendment to lower abortion time limit expected
Nadine Dorries MP has announced her intention to move an amendment to lower the abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 20. Others seek a 12-week limit. Any such measure would have appalling consequences for the few women who need later abortion. Less than two per cent of abortions are carried out over 20 weeks. They are needed by women facing difficult and individual circumstances whose careful decisions should be respected. If passed, such amendments would force women against their will to carry on with a pregnancy, or travel abroad for an abortion if they can afford to. Some may try more desperate measures.
Amendments may also be moved to impose a ‘cooling off’ period and compulsory counselling for all women seeking abortion. Both measures would create further distressing delays for thousands of women and effectively lower the abortion time limit. They assume women are not capable of making their own careful decision. We believe women should be trusted with this personal decision – not obstructed.
Advancing women’s abortion rights
40 years after the 1967 Act, women still frequently face unfair and distressing obstacles to accessing services. Women face obstruction from anti-abortion GPs who, in law, have an effective veto over their decisions, and weeks of delays in accessing an NHS abortion. Abortion Rights welcomes the Department of Health pilot studies allowing abortion in local settings and supports any opportunities to advance the law for women
CAMPAIGN NEXT STEPS
The Bill is expected to last less than six months in Parliament in total. This gives only a relatively short window of opportunity for the pro-choice movement to get active and to influence parliamentarians. Abortion Rights has called a national lobby of parliament for 7th May 3-6pm followed by a large public meeting.
Supporters are encouraged to set up local groups, invite a speaker, organise a discussion meeting or an activity in support of a woman’s right to choose.
Please encourage friends and colleagues to sign up for regular email briefings on the situation in parliament and next steps in the campaign. Click on the ‘action alert’ button at www.abortionrights.org.uk
Write to your MP. Visit www.abortionrights.org.uk for model letters and details
Make the pro-choice majority view heard in the media. Please do email, text, phone or write in to respond to articles, phone ins, news reports etc on abortion. It does have an impact on editorial decisions.
Add your pro-choice message to the Pro-choice majority website www.pro-choicemajority.org.uk.