|By Niklas Albin Svensson|
|Wednesday, 15 October 2008|
|Parliament will once again be discussing the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill in October. Once again battle is joined between those who defend the right for women to decide over their own bodies, and those who want the state to do it for them. This time, however, there is room for improvements to existing legislation - not just calls to turn the clock back fifty years.|
In 1967, abortion was made legal under certain provisions. Women who want an abortion within 24 weeks had to get the approval of two doctors, who had to sign a paper that a continuation of the pregnancy involves a greater risk to 'the physical or mental health' of the woman or her existing children than a continuation of the pregnancy. In practice, most doctors would sign such a statement but it establishes the principle that the doctors are the one to judge the woman's situation - rather than the woman herself. After 24 weeks, abortion is restricted to cases where there is 'risk of grave physical or mental injury'. If you live in Northern Ireland, it is almost impossible to get a legal and safe abortion - the 1967 Act does not apply.
Since 1967, Parliament has, particularly in later years, received persistent demands for the lowering of the 24 week limit. The so called "pro-lifers", in reality a coalition of various reactionary Christian groups, appeal to "developments in science". The professional associations such as The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and The Royal College of Nurses are firm defenders of the current time limit, and even want to improve access to abortion within that limit. The less sophisticated argument, that abortion is murder, is usually appealing to emotions evoked by images of foetuses, in a completely unscientific way.
The Christian right around Europe and the world have time and time again shown their complete contempt for human life. In Poland and the U.S., for example, there have been several instances of attacks on and murders of doctors that perform abortions. More significantly, prohibition of abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions. Around the world it has been estimated that 20 million unsafe abortions take place every year, resulting in the death of some 80,000 women. The so called "pro-life" groups do not seem to care much for the life of these, mainly poor women.
Most of these issues were brought to a fore in May this year, when the Human Embryology Bill was debated in parliament (see Defend a woman's right to choose, by Rachel Heemskerk, 07 May 2008). The anti-choice ("pro-life") amendments were soundly defeated, with 304 to 233. This was no thanks to the media who in the run-up to the vote broadcasted and published plenty of images of foetuses in an attempt to put pressure on the MPs, primarily of the Labour Party. Neither did the government help, calling for a free vote, since it was a "matter of conscience".
Abortion is of course to some extent a "matter of conscience" - to the women that have them - not to the MPs that legislate.
In preparation for the bill's return to Parliament in October, a number of MPs have submitted improvements to the bill. The perhaps most heated discussion will be on Northern Ireland - an amendment have been introduced to remove the disgraceful exception. The second most important is the one that would remove the requirement of two doctors' permission, replacing it with the same phrase that is used for cosmetic surgery: abortion is to be conducted according to 'the conditions and principles of good medical practice'.
Matter of conscience?
Others suggest that nurses can perform the early abortions (the one that only require administration of a pill) and the performing of earlier abortions in GPs surgeries. All of these have the backing of the aforementioned professional associations.
Socialist Appeal naturally supports these important steps to improve women's right to choose. Improving access to abortion will make it easier for working class women as well as students to access these services when they are needed.
Yes to improved access to abortion - no to a return to the back streets!