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.

Latest

  • Comment Featured Uncategorized As the dust settles on the vote for Brexit, it is time to reach out to our democracy’s missing millions

    As the dust settles on the vote for Brexit, it is time to reach out to our democracy’s missing millions

    At a critical point in the development of the Labour party leadership, this article offers a few thoughts on a future Labour agenda for democratic reform that transcends internal politicking. After four years of working at Bite The Ballot, a party-neutral youth democracy movement – and one that unites decision-makers of all persuasions in its work – I can say that British politics still has a long way to go on the road to democratic renewal. Though the pieces are still […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    All told, it’s not been a good few months for the standing of our politicians. Whether you think there was a good case to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU or not, the reason we were all put through it was ultimately one of internal Conservative party management. A fundamental question about who we are as a nation and how to best represent our interests was embarked upon because David Cameron thought it was his best […]

    Read more →
  • News Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Neil Kinnock has criticised “ideological flights of fancy”, and said that Labour needs to show that socialism can “work in practice” before it can be successful. The former leader has said that winning parties have to be “professional” as well as having a “sense of belief”, and launched a strong attack on “career politicians”. “You can enchant people by ideological flights of fancy, but that’s not going to help them at all,” Lord Kinnock told BBC programme Conversations this week. He said […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    If we are serious about extending political engagement and closing the gap between people and politics, Labour needs to do two things. Firstly, we need to have a coherent and powerful narrative about bringing power closer to the people. And secondly, we need to have a series of practical proposals to make the political process more accessible and relevant to people. Even though Labour was the party which introduced devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and recently favoured “permissive” […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn campaign looks to mobilise thousands in the North

    Corbyn campaign looks to mobilise thousands in the North

    Thousands of Corbynistas are expected to turn out to back the leader at a series of rallies in the North of England organised by Momentum. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign hopes that events in York, Leeds, Hull and Liverpool over the weekend will mobilise large numbers of the grassroots membership as he aims to replicate the successful nationwide speaking tour of last year’s contest. Corbyn will be joined by fellow core MP supporters Richard Burgon and Imran Hussain as well as local councillors in […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit