US anti-choice strategies continue to heavily influence the anti-choice lobby in Britain. It is alarming how quickly similar rights to ours in the US have been eroded to a point where access to abortion is very difficult for many women. We must watch closely the struggles taking place in the US and learn the lessons of the pro-choice movement as we seek to avoid the consequences of similar attacks here.
US Supreme Court deals major blow to women’s rights
In May, the US Supreme Court voted for a ban on a form of later abortion, promoted by the extreme anti-choice lobby. This is the first federal — nationwide — restriction in a type of abortion since the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade judgment enshrined a woman’s right to choose. It is expected to lead to a cascade of state level restrictions.
The 5 – 4 vote on the emotively termed ‘partial birth’ later abortion procedure follows President Bush’s appointment of two ultra conservative Supreme Court Judges last year, which ended the previous slim pro-choice majority in the Court.
The Court’s decision disregards medical opinion including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists who consider the ban to be harmful to women’s health and to interfere with medical decision-making.
Abortion a political football in US presidential race
Abortion has become a key issue as candidates prepare for the 2008 presidential race. Only one Republican candidate is resisting standing on an anti-choice platform and even some Democrats are making concessions to anti-choice pressure.
Some significant victories for US pro-choice movement
- In November, following a huge pro-choice campaign, voters in a South Dakota referendum rejected an abortion ban which was designed to provoke a Supreme Court challenge to the Roe v Wade federal abortion rights. Unfortunately, the Utah legislature is now debating a bill with a similar aim and other states are preparing similar challenges and are likely to coordinate their efforts to take the case to the Supreme Court. South Dakota’s House of Representatives has now placed another referendum before voters that would criminalise all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect a woman’s life.
- The US House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have required abortion providers to misleadingly tell women that there is ‘substantial evidence’ that a foetus may feel pain during an abortion.
- A state Senate panel dropped a measure from an abortion bill that would have made South Carolina the only state to require women to view an ultrasound image of the foetus before terminating a pregnancy.
The World Health Organisation estimates that every year four million women in Latin America have an illegal abortion, leaving hundreds of thousands of woman dead or seriously injured. A number of Latin American countries are reassessing their abortion laws with a view to ending this tragedy.
Abortion legalised in Mexico City
Mexico City legislative assembly voted in April to legalise abortion in the city, allowing abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The vote comes after years of campaigning from women’s rights groups but drew fierce opposition from religious figures including Pope Benedict who said Catholic politicians risked excommunication from the church. The decision is now being challenged by the ruling National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon.
Referendum call in Brazil
Brazilian Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao has called for a national referendum to enable Brazilians to decide whether to legalise abortion.
Abortion ban challenged in Nicaragua
Nicaragua’s Supreme Court is considering a constitutional challenge by the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights and international reproductive rights organisations to a ban on all abortion imposed in November 2006.
Portuguese new liberal abortion law comes into force
Portugal’s Prime Minister has ratified a new law allowing abortion up until the tenth week of pregnancy, ending previously draconian legislation and bringing Portuguese law into line with most of its European neighbours. The move follows a referendum in February, which won support from 60 per cent of voters.
Poland rejects toughening abortion laws
Poland’s centrist and left opposition has defeated an attempt by the ruling conservatives and their far-right allies to impose even tighter restrictions on women’s access to abortion. Poland already has one of Europe’s strictest laws on abortion. Debate was sparked by a successful challenge in April to the European Court of Human Rights by a Polish woman who was denied an abortion and has become almost blind as a result.
Victory for Miss D in Ireland
A 17 year old girl who had been banned from travelling to Britain to terminate her pregnancy won her case in the Irish High Court in May. A poll since the case has shown two thirds of voters in Ireland support legalising abortion in cases of a ‘non-viable’ foetus. Abortion Rights is supporting the ‘Safe and Legal in Ireland’ campaign to push for legal reform www.safeandlegalinireland.ie