Abortion Rights is delighted to report that Laurence Robertson’s extreme anti-abortion Private Members Bill was strongly opposed in House of Commons on Friday 21st October.
Robertson’s Bill ‘Prohibition of Abortion (England and Wales)’ aimed to turn the clock back to pre-1967 and the Abortion Act – a time when women were forced to seek unsafe, illegal back street abortions. The Bill was to make abortion an imprisonable offence except where the mother’s life was at risk or where conception was due to rape.
The Department of Health has prepared and published (link below) an impact assessment of Laurence Robertson’s Bill. It exposes the wide-ranging and drastic impact the Bill would have on women and their families, medical practitioners and public services. It found that the number of abortions per year would be reduced to around 150 and that women would be expected to die as a result of illegal, unsafe back-street abortions.
With no time made available in the chamber for the Bill’s Second Reading (first debate and vote), its title was simply read out and opposed from across the chamber by a cacophony of shouts of ‘object’. Abortion Rights worked hard with MPs to ensure that the Bill received the scale of opposition such a wild attack on women’s rights merits. We will work to ensure that it will be strongly ‘objected’ to again on March 10th when it is due to have another opportunity for a Second Reading.
On the week before the anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, the Bill serves as a timely reminder that abortion rights are not a settled matter in the UK and exposes the real aims of the anti-abortion lobby and its contempt for women’s lives.
Emboldened by George W Bush’s hard line pro-abstinence anti-abortion agenda but unable to immediately win its aim of banning all abortion, the anti-choice lobby has turned to tactics aimed at confusing public and political opinion over women’s right to choose in order to chip away at legal rights. In Britain and the United States, the vigorous attention of the anti-choice lobby is focused on pushing down the time limit for abortion and restricting young women’s access to services by ending confidentiality. Robertson’s Bill should serve as a warning for those confused by the relentless tabloid campaign of sensationalist and unfounded stories, of miracle breakthroughs in neo-natal care, women opting for later abortion on a whim, and sexual health workers pushing services on feckless young women behind their parents backs.
In reality, few women find themselves in the position of needing later terminations. They face exceptional and distressing circumstances including late diagnosis of pregnancy, denial of symptoms related to trauma, delays in the system and drastic changes in their life circumstances such as domestic violence, the loss of her partner or a serious issue with an existing child. Such women do not take the decision lightly and need the protection of the law.
Robertson’s Bill, is the extreme end of a project to change the framework of the debate on abortion and undermine the legitimacy of women’s access to abortion in any circumstances. It is the logical conclusion of arguments circulating on the time limit that eclipse women’s lives and rights by those of the foetus. The drip – drip effect of the anti-choice campaign is in danger of turning tabloid myth into received wisdom with little or no reference to the facts.