The defeat in May 2008 of attempts to begin restricting rights by lowering the abortion time limit was a huge victory for women, the pro-choice movement and Abortion Rights. Abortion Rights also this year led the most high profile campaign to extend rights since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act. Yet, on Wednesday 22nd October MPs were not given the opportunity to debate and vote on amendments that had been tabled for the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to improve the abortion law for women. We share the frustration and disappointment of women across the country at this, which was strongly objected to by Abortion Rights, sexual health organisations, the TUC, many MPs and others. Abortion Rights believes that women deserved a decision in support of improving the abortion law.
Opinion polls consistently show that three-quarters of people in Britain support a woman’s right to choose. Improvements in the law have widespread support including from medical and nursing bodies and the Trades Union Congress. The positive amendments tabled would have gone some way to removing the commonplace unfair obstructions and delays to accessing abortion that women face and would have extended basic rights to women in Northern Ireland.
Abortion Rights calls on the government to now use the substantial regulatory powers at its disposal to improve women’s access to abortion services – including by allowing women from Northern Ireland to access NHS services in Britain. We will be continuing to vigorously campaign to defend and extend women’s most basic rights and will be communicating with you, our members and supporters, on steps for the future. The balance of opinion in parliament may change after the next election and we will be working to maintain and strengthen all our alliances in the interests of women’s abortion rights. We encourage you to continue to keep your MP aware of your pro-choice opinion.
Abortion Rights would like to take this opportunity to thank the hundreds of supporters who joined the protest outside Parliament on Tuesday evening ahead of the decision. Like the many other rallies, meetings and protests we have organised in the last year, the protest was loud, proud and determined. It was addressed by speakers including Diane Abbott MP who had tabled New Clause 30 to allow abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland, from Katy Clark MP who had played a leading role throughout the campaign in parliament and from women from the Alliance for Choice campaign in Northern Ireland.
We would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard over the past year, developing a broad and inclusive campaign to defeat the most dangerous attack on women’s abortion rights in 20 years and place firmly on the national agenda the need for improved abortion rights – including for women in Northern Ireland.
From our meeting in parliament in January, which overflowed to fill two huge rooms, through the cross-country protests against the anti-abortion speakers tour, in our big public meetings and rallies against the time limit attack and through to this month’s public meeting and protest, you spoke out for women. Pro-choice supporters in their thousands have lobbied their MPs, attended Abortion Rights public meetings, protests and rallies, organised local meetings and debates, street stalls and delegations to MPs constituency offices. Supporters have helped fund-raise, written to their local papers and engaged their colleagues, friends and family in campaigning.
The campaign has involved a large number of young people, new to pro-choice campaigning, as well as those who have a longstanding record in supporting a woman’s right to choose. Students strongly supported the right to choose, forming an important visible part of our protests and speaking at Abortion Rights meetings.
The trade union movement ensured abortion rights were high on their agendas – with women trade unionists, across many different unions, nationally, regionally and locally, actively involved and spelling out why abortion was a priority issue for trade unions. Trade union women spoke at all our public rallies, mobilised for protests, organised discussions in union branches and conferences, and made abortion rights the key theme of the TUC Women’s Conference and moving the excellent motion that was unanimously agreed at this year’s Trades Union Congress.
We have much to do in the time ahead and your continued involvement and support is vital. We remain vigilant against any future attack on current rights and organised to press for improvements for women. However, the heightened campaigning over the past year has outstripped our usual spending. Abortion Rights is a grass roots campaign and doesn’t receive church or state funding. We need your financial support to maximise the impact of the pro-choice majority over the next period. Please support us if you can. Organise a discussion and invite a speaker. If you haven’t already please join Abortion Rights as an individual member and affiliate your trade union branch or group.