British government thwarting efforts to liberalize abortion law

by on October 21, 2008  •  In Reproductive rights

guardian.co.uk

Cath Elliot

When Nadine Dorries and the pro-life brigade hijacked the human fertilisation and embryology (HFE) bill earlier this year, significant parliamentary time was given over to debating the anti-choice amendments they'd submitted to it. Thankfully, their desperate attempts to turn back the clock on women's reproductive rights failed during the nail-biting Commons vote that followed, and when the bill gets its third and final reading on Wednesday it's highly likely that they'll lose the argument again.

But even though Dorries has submitted exactly the same amendment as before, proposing a reduction in the abortion time limit to 20 weeks, the debate shouldn't just be a re-run of the one that took place in May. [T]here are other, more progressive amendments up for discussion, ones that give MPs the welcome opportunity to finally modernise UK abortion law.

Strange, then, that the government … apparently [has] been busy telling pro-choice MPs to forget any ideas they might be harbouring about supporting the Northern Ireland amendment, a change that merely seeks to give the women of Northern Ireland the same freedoms and rights as the rest of us….The women of Northern Ireland have been sold out, and the one remaining chance to secure the same abortion rights for all UK citizens has been lost. [Gordon] Brown should hang his head in shame.

And it doesn't stop there.

Not content with denying the women of Northern Ireland a voice, it would appear that Brown is working hard at denying anyone a voice in the debate. It's being mooted that a procedural motion known as a programme motion is set to be applied on Wednesday, that will severely limit discussion time on the HFE bill, and that will probably mean that none of the liberalising amendments can be taken. So we can forget about getting rid of the two-doctor rule that treats women as children and completely denies us agency over our own bodies; we can forget about allowing nurses more involvement in terminating unwanted pregnancies; we can forget about extending abortion access across the country by allowing other healthcare providers besides hospitals and abortion clinics to administer terminations; in fact we can forget about any of the moves to introduce a more progressive and woman-centred abortion law into the UK. From all accounts, if we're very lucky on Wednesday the status quo will remain. If we're unlucky, and Dorries and the religious fundamentalists get their way, women's reproductive rights could be set back by decades.

…If the government wants to see a reduction in the number of later term abortions, the only way they're going to achieve that is by making abortion services easier for women to access. This is what next week's amendments are trying to achieve, and why maintaining the status quo should not be an option….

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