The fight for women’s autonomy continues

July 3, 2011 11:57 am

Author:

Share this Article

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

  • Comment Londoners don’t want a staffless, soulless Tube system

    Londoners don’t want a staffless, soulless Tube system

    The London Underground is the single most important piece of public infrastructure in the capital. Over three million people use the Tube each day, to get to work, visit family or see friends. A healthy Underground network is at the heart of a healthy, vibrant London. It is a fantastic system that is the envy of the modern world, but we must ensure we do not neglect our crown jewel. Later  today, I will be addressing a conference on the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Fairness dictates that we show concern for both sides

    Fairness dictates that we show concern for both sides

    We have all been shocked to see the surge in violence between Israel and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. This conflict is causing enormous hardship on both sides. Particularly distressing is the sight of civilian casualties. The scale of human suffering in the current escalation is immense and every civilian casualty is a tragedy. The people of Gaza have the right to live in peace and freedom, just as Israelis have the right not to fear for […]

    Read more →
  • News Are Osborne’s spinners block journalists from asking questions they don’t like?

    Are Osborne’s spinners block journalists from asking questions they don’t like?

    An intriguing story emerged from a copy of the Express and Star last week, the regional newspaper that covers the West Midlands and Staffordshire. Daniel Wainwright reports that during a recent visit from the Chancellor, a radio journalist said she wanted to ask George Osborne about food banks, and was told that he simply wouldn’t answer it. Here’s the story: “Talking of George Osborne, here’s a little insight into what goes on in the run up to getting an interview. These […]

    Read more →
  • News Alexander intervenes on Gaza escalation that “shames our shared humanity”

    Alexander intervenes on Gaza escalation that “shames our shared humanity”

    Douglas Alexander, Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, has made another intervention on the Gaza conflict as the crisis in the Middle East continues to escalate. Alexander condemns the attack on a UN school in Gaza, describing the deaths of children there as “[shaming] our shared humanity”. His latest comments seem to be aimed largely at lobbying Israel to stand down the level of the force, and to recognise that as a democracy with “vastly superior technological and military capabilities, comes particular responsibilities”. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour changes track – and now it can win

    Labour changes track – and now it can win

    Labour has not generated many headlines this week. There haven’t been game-changers. David Cameron wasn’t trounced in Prime Minister’s Questions. The polls haven’t shifted. The meeting with a post-stardust Obama passed by without significant benefit or incident. Yet, this has been Labour’s best week for some considerable time – certainly in this Parliament. Heading into the final furlong of the election race, Labour has three strategic weaknesses: its perceived weaknesses on leadership, an absence of a strong governing story and a […]

    Read more →