LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – There are many ways to support abortion rights in the UK. Some of these include reducing the time limit for legal terminations and removing the 1967 Abortion Act’s exemptions. Others involve introducing a new criminal law offence of feticide. All of these efforts are important steps in the right direction, and the United Kingdom should do more to support these causes. Below, we list a few ways you can get involved:
Providing a support network for women seeking abortions
The Abortion Support Network (ASN) was established to help women seeking an abortion access telemedicine and counselling. Its aim was to recruit a representative sample of women – one that did not match on demographics, age, marital status, or abortion timeframe. However, it has now expanded to provide help to women seeking abortions in Ireland, Malta, and Gibraltar. ASN is supported by the British government and partner organisations across Europe, providing local advice and funding.
In the United Kingdom, the number of abortions performed in the year 2020 was estimated to be 210,860, the vast majority of which were to women living in England and Wales. The age standardised abortion rate for residents was 18.2 per 1,000 women, the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1973. The rate for women aged 15 to 34 years old declined slightly from last year to 2020, while the rate for women aged over 35 increased from 9.7 to 10.6 per 1,000.
Reducing the time limit for legal terminations
Reducing the time limit for legal termination in the UK will only bring campaigners closer to their ultimate goal: ending the practice of abortion. Many women choose to abort their unintended pregnancy when it becomes too difficult to continue the pregnancy. The 1967 Abortion Act makes abortion legal up to 24 weeks, though it does not apply in Northern Ireland. Abortion rights activists and medical experts are concerned that lowering the time limit will lead to women being rushed into regrettable terminations.
Despite the controversy, this proposal has received widespread support in the UK. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has backed it, stating that it will protect the ‘chance of life’ of unborn babies. However, critics have said that the move will be counterproductive to the right to life of unborn children. Despite widespread support for the idea, other ministers have been reluctant to back it.
Removing exceptions to the 1967 Abortion Act
The bill brings an ethical and legal quandary to the forefront of the debate surrounding the right to abortion, and raises a number of complicated legal questions. Although English law is proud of its freedom to carry out abortions, introducing limitations on the basis of disability may infringe upon the autonomy of pregnant women. While the current form of the Abortion Act supports the suppression of disabilities, amending the act could encourage a more objective approach to abortion.
The bill has divided opinions in the country. Some claim it is aimed at restoring equality under the law. Others, such as Bishop John Sherrington, have argued that the bill would result in the most restrictive abortion legislation in Europe. In fact, most countries only restrict abortion after 12 weeks. The current law in the UK is the most restrictive in Europe and a majority of citizens oppose the amendments.
Introducing a new criminal law offence for feticide
In England and Wales, the rate of abortion was 18.6 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 2016. This is the highest rate recorded since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967. However, the rate of abortion performed on women under the age of 15 has reduced from 17.4 per 1,000 women in 2011 to just 6.9 in 2020 and 6.4 in 2021. However, this increase is not all bad. Introducing a new criminal law offence for feticide will further encourage abortions and end the stigma surrounding them.
Currently, England and Wales’ abortion laws frame abortion as a crime that requires a medical explanation. This stigmatises the decision to terminate a pregnancy and limits access to necessary services. Doctors will likely consider pregnant women seeking abortion as deviant and not a viable option. Ultimately, this deprives women of a life-saving option.
Removing restrictions on travel
Across Europe, restrictions on abortion care vary widely, making it important to remove travel barriers to seek an elective procedure. In countries with more liberal abortion laws, these barriers can make the experience of obtaining an elective procedure a challenge. Travel to countries such as England and Wales, where restrictions on abortion are the least restrictive, is an increasingly common choice for women seeking to obtain an elective procedure.
A study of foreign women who sought abortions in the UK found that nine out of ten traveled from liberal contexts to the UK to access medical services. Most traveled from countries where abortion was not legal or too late to travel for the procedure, and many cited convenience and cost as factors for choosing to travel to the UK for their procedure. However, women from countries where abortion is illegal may be forced to travel abroad in order to access abortion services, resulting in a traumatic experience for them.