300 pro-choice supporters packed into Parliament to launch campaigning to defend a Woman’s Right to Choose. The launch, on Wednesday 16 January organised by Abortion Rights, saw a new generation of women unite with those from previous campaigns that have defeated anti-abortion attacks – all affirming their determination to defend a woman’s right to choose this time round too. The crowds were so big an overflow room was also filled.
The threat to current law hinges around anti-abortion attempts to use the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to attack the current time limit and grounds for legal abortion.
Speakers from the Lords and Commons and from all three main parties, from the TUC, women’s, disability rights and student movements urged supporters to begin lobbying parliamentarians now and warned that the well funded abortion opponents are already active.
The meeting heard from Baroness Joyce Gould, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group, who outlined the Bill’s current progress in the Lords where the first vote on abortion is expected on Monday 21st January.
Baroness Jenny Tonge Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group urged people confused about the issues to ‘put themselves in the shoes of a woman who is pregnant and doesn’t want to be -only then can you really begin to understand the importance of the right to choose for women.’.
Diane Abbott MP argued that contrary to the anti-abortionists own rhetoric, their position wasn’t pro-women or pro-family. Anti-abortionists were fundamentally ‘anti-woman’ she said, to huge applause. Their goals were in essence “about controlling women and their sexuality”, about “rolling back every advance women have made over the last thirty years” and taking the view of women that “if they’re going to have sex they should suffer for it”.
Emily Thornberry MP criticised anti-abortion proposals for a ‘cooling off’ period before women can have an abortion saying it was “condescending to suggest women can’t be trusted to make such a fundamental decision about their lives”.
John Berow MP said “I have every intention of voting to ensure that the best of the status quo is retained irrespective of the views of other colleagues or even leading members of one’s party. There is a compelling case for the modernisation of the abortion law. There is such a vast disparity and inequity – a postcode lottery in the access for early and safe abortion. Lets do something to make ensure that that is changed and there is equity.”
Wendy Savage, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, and a renowned advocate of women’s right to choose defended current rights to abortion up to 24 weeks arguing that “the women most affected by a change in the time limit are the youngest and most vulnerable and we’ve got to resist that”.
Alex Kemp NUS Disabled Students Officer said “restricting access to abortion, for whatever reason, does not further the rights of disabled women”. “Disabled students condemn the emotive and unnecessary association between disability and abortion. Women have the right to choose to do with their bodies what they like – disabled people do not wish to interfere with that right.”
Numerous speakers also supported Abortion Rights’ position that far from restricting rights, 40 years after the Abortion Act, current unfair barriers to accessing abortion should be ended. Specifically that doctors’ effective right of veto of over women’s abortion decision should be ended and that abortion should be allowed in more settings and by trained nurses to end delays.
Abortion Rights announced that a mass lobby of parliament, further rallies, protests and demonstrations would be called in the coming weeks and months to coincide with key stages of the Bill’s progress in the Commons.
A protest on 6th February in London against anti-abortion MP Anne Widdecome’s road show promoting anti-abortion goals around the Bill was announced (subject to police permission).
Abortion Rights is the national pro-choice campaign. It is supported by the TUC, many of the national trade unions, the National Union of Students and hundreds of individual members. It works closely with the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group and the Voice for Choice coalition of pro-choice organisations. www.abortionrights.org.uk
Speakers at the event were Baroness Joyce Gould; Baroness Jenny Tonge; Emily Thornberry MP; John Bercow MP; Katy Clark MP; Diane Abbott MP; Laura Moffatt MP; Evan Harris MP; Narmada Thiranagama TUC women’s equality policy officer; Wendy Savage, Doctors for A Woman’s Choice on Abortion; Anni Marjoram, adviser to the Mayor of London; Alex Kemp, NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign; Anne Quesney, Abortion Rights; Marge Berer, Voice for Choice; Katherine Rake, Fawcett Society;