In an article published for TUC Conference on Monday 12 September 2005, Abortion Rights explains why it is essential for trade unionists to join the fight to keep women’s right to choose to terminate their pregnancy
There is a common assumption that women’s abortion rights are a settled issue in Britain and an increasingly dangerous risk of complacency in wider society. Actually, trade unionists and readers of the Morning Star will be aware that there is a huge struggle taking place internationally, with George W Bush pushing a hard-line global anti-choice agenda, the impact of which will not evade Britain.
One of Bush’s first moves as President was to re-introduce the ‘Global Gag’ rule – withholding US funding for health centres that provide abortion services or even information, and driving reproductive rights back decades in over 60 countries. Up to 80,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion.
Across the US since Bush’s election, individual states have introduced wave of harsh restrictions on women’s legal rights to access abortion and many abortion clinics have closed down. Some women now have to travel hundreds of miles to access services.
Now, even women’s fundamental right to choose, established with the groundbreaking 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision, is in jeopardy. No one should underestimate the potential of the double Supreme Court vacancy to push back women’s rights. Bush can now transform social rights in the US for decades by replacing the crucial centrist Judge Sandra Day O’Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, with two anti-choice judges. Already, Bush has nominated John Roberts for Chief Justice – a man who notoriously argued that ‘Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled’. If Roe v Wade were overturned, many states would quickly ban abortion altogether, with devastating consequences for tens of millions of women across the US. The shock waves would be felt throughout the world including Britain.
Already, the struggle has made itself felt in Britain in recent months with an increasingly vocal and well-funded anti-choice lobby – emboldened by Bush’s anti-choice agenda – manipulating the issue of later abortions in order to confuse public and political opinion on a woman’s right to choose. The lobby, which is against all abortion, has promoted a relentlessly sensationalist and misleading media focus on the upper time limit in an insidious campaign to win support for the incremental erosion of current legal rights. A YouGov poll for The Telegraph at the end of August found the strategy is having some effect.
The left must stand very clear on the issue of the upper time limit – very few women need later abortions – those who do, often face exceptional and distressing circumstances and need the protection of the law. When a woman is forced to make a later decision – for example because of violent abuse, failure to diagnose pregnancy or serious welfare issues with an existing child – this is a fundamental question of a woman’s right to choose.
There was great relief when, at the general election, Tony Blair ruled out the use of government legislation to change the law, but a dangerous campaign for time limit restrictions is now building momentum from other quarters.
Abortion Rights, the national pro-choice campaign, was formed in 2003 from the merger of the National Abortion Campaign and Abortion Law Reform Association in order to build a strong broad-based pro-choice movement. Abortion Rights is leading the defence of the upper time limit on abortion and will be holding a public meeting and campaign launch at the House of Commons on Thursday 26th October to bring together all those who stand in support of a woman’s right to choose.
Abortion Rights is pleased that, in the context of growing threats, there has been renewed interest and increasing affiliations from the major national trade unions. We urge trade unionists and pro-choice supporters to attend the meeting and branches, regions and sections to affiliate so that the active trade union membership gets the information it needs and is plugged into the struggle.
As Frances O’Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary said “access to birth control and abortion has allowed immeasurable economic, educational and social benefits for women. Now is the time to stand up again to defend women’s right to choose”
Morning Star, Monday 12 September 2005