The fight for women’s autonomy continues

3rd July, 2011 11:57 am

By Kate Green MP

One of my very first acts of political activism was as a young student in 1979, when I joined a march of women in Edinburgh against John Corrie MP’s attempt via a private member’s bill to reduce the time limit on abortion from 28 to 20 weeks.

I’d thought the world had changed a lot since then in terms of women’s reproductive and sexual choices. But this parliament has seen some astonishing attacks on women’s autonomy over their bodies.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has been leading the charge, first with her Ten-Minute Rule bill to require schools to teach abstinence to teenage girls (not , note, to teenage boys), a bill that secured a majority allowing it to go forward for second reading. To follow that, now she’s tabled amendments to the Health and Social Care bill that would signficantly reduce the ability of organisations which carry out abortions to offer counselling and advice.

Dorries needs to take a careful look at the evidence. Abstinence campaigns don’t work. Education and information are the best means of reducing teenage pregnancy – that approach secured the reductions in teenage conception rates achieved under Labour. In the US, by contrast, a federally-supported, 10-year evaluation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programmes found that these programmes had no impact on youth remaining abstinent, age at first intercourse, number of sexual partners, or condom use.

As to restricting provision of advice on abortion, this will shut out some of the most expert organisations, those with a long track record of supporting women, offering high standards of care, and who absolutely don’t come with an agenda to force a woman to have an abortion. 20% of those receiving abortion counselling from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which also carries out abortions, choose not to do so. The support they receive from BPAS helps them to make their own decision. But, crucially, if a woman who’s been advised by such organisations does decide that abortion is the right choice for her to make, she can be confident she’ll have been given full information to make that decision, and will receive the best standards of care.

Dorries is not a lone voice however. I do understand that some of my parliamentary colleagues – and of course some women and men around the country – have deep-rooted ethical and moral objections to abortion. They are of course completely entitled to hold those strong personal views. But personal morality should not be imposed on others outside of the legitimate political process. What’s also deeply worrying therefore is that the government itself is surreptitiously advancing the Dorries agenda – without any real public or parliamentary debate.

First ministers threw BPAS off the sexual health advisory committee – while retaining a place for Life – sauce for the goose but not for the gander which they tried to brush aside. Now we learn that the government is also quietly looking at whether regulations on abortion advice can be changed while avoiding the need for Dorries’ amendments actually having to be debated during the passage of the Health and Social Care bill.

Women do not take a decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly, but when making that decision, they desperately need to know where to turn for advice. In what can be a time of excruciating anxiety, early access to support is vital, and the confidence that advice will be non-judgemental and impartial is essential to give women confidence to seek support. If access to the agencies who can provide high-quality information, advice and care is restricted, we will inevitably see more women desperate but unsure where to turn, bearing children they are ill-prepared or unable to look after, or disappearing into the backstreets. And the most vulnerable, the youngest, poorest and least-well educated women will be those who are at greatest risk.

So thirty two years after I first took to the streets, I’m shocked and distressed to find myself having to return to the fight. Women, and men, who want to halt yet another of this government’s repeated attacks on women’s autonomy must not let these proposals go unchecked.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Video Miliband on music, cricket – and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

    Miliband on music, cricket – and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

    Ed Miliband sat down with Absolute Radio’s Geoff Lloyd today, and was question on his taste in music, whether or not he’s a geek – and (because there’s an election on) Labour’s immigration policy too. Questions also came in from England Cricket legend Geoff Boycott (a sporting hero of Miliband’s), former snooker player and commentator Willie Thorne – and Ali from the Monsoon curry house in Kentish Town. Miliband also reveals what last made him cry – and dispels some myths about his childhood. […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Labour release their own letter, signed by businesspeople, supporters and zero hours contract workers

    Labour release their own letter, signed by businesspeople, supporters and zero hours contract workers

    After a Tory supporting letter appeared on the front page of this morning’s Telegraph, the Labour Party have tonight released a letter of their own – signed not only by businesspeople and Labour supporters, but also by many on zero hours contracts – backing Labour’s plans, including cracking down on zero hours contracts. Update: The party have started letting people add their names to the letter. The letter has been sent to – and will presumably be splashed on the […]

    Read more →
  • News Unions Labour launches workplace manifesto

    Labour launches workplace manifesto

    Labour’s major announcement today has been on zero hours contracts – but that shouldn’t obscure the unveiling of a much broader set of policies (of which the zero hours contract crackdown was only one) as part of a “workplace manifesto”. The other key policies in the document (which have largely been announced over the past few years, but which are now collated into a single offer for working people) are: Raising the National Minimum Wage to more than £8 Scrapping the […]

    Read more →
  • News Peter Mandelson standing in Manchester: Labour peer in running for top job

    Peter Mandelson standing in Manchester: Labour peer in running for top job

    Former Labour Cabinet minister Peter Mandelson has confirmed that he has put his name forward to be the next chancellor of Manchester University. Mandelson, who was elevated to the House of Lords by Gordon Brown, said he is “excited about what’s happening in Manchester”. The New Labour architect was the minister responsible for universities between 2008 and 2010, and is thought to consider widening participation in Higher Education is one of his proudest achievements of the Labour Government. Although the role is […]

    Read more →
  • News Video Labour winning web wars as over a million watch Martin Freeman election ad online

    Labour winning web wars as over a million watch Martin Freeman election ad online

    Over a million people have watched Labour’s latest election broadcast online in just two days. Labour today confirm that the video, starring Martin Freeman, has been watched more than 1,152,000 times. In contrast, the Conservatives latest broadcast, which also came out on Tuesday, has been seen just 91,000 times – that means Labour’s has been viewed by almost 13 times as many people. Last week, more people engaged with Labour’s Facebook page than any other party, with almost half a […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit