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

  • Featured Miliband announces plans to scrap the Lords – and introduce an elected Senate of Nations and Regions

    Miliband announces plans to scrap the Lords – and introduce an elected Senate of Nations and Regions

    In a speech to Labour’s North West regional conference in Manchester, Ed Miliband will announce that a Labour government would abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected Senate. That has (broadly speaking) been Labour policy for some time. But there’s a twist. Miliband wants this new Senate to be a representative body made up of those from all of Britain’s Nations and Regions, as part of a new constitutional settlement to be decided by a constitutional […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband speaks out on anti-semitic abuse targeted at Luciana Berger – and calls on social media companies to act

    Miliband speaks out on anti-semitic abuse targeted at Luciana Berger – and calls on social media companies to act

    As we reported last week, Labour MP and Shadow Minister Luciana Berger has been the victim of a sustained torrent of disgusting online anti-semtic abuse. Ed Miliband has hit out at Berger’s abusers today, calling on social media companies to be more proactive in tackling sustained, orchestrated abuse. He told Jewish News: “The anti-Semitic abuse that Luciana Berger has experienced over recent days is utterly appalling and has absolutely no place in our country. We must have no tolerance for this vile […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers

    The debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers

    Big numbers abound in housing debates and rightly so. Two-hundred thousand new homes – the number the Labour frontbench has committed to building annually – is a response to the housing crisis that is starting to approach the scale we need. But the debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers. To make the point, look at the extreme case of ‘buy-to-leave’ homes that are bought off-plan as investors’ latest fancy and sit there empty in […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The mansion tax is a progressive tax and Labour in London should support it

    The mansion tax is a progressive tax and Labour in London should support it

    For those of us who believe in progressive taxation the last few weeks in London Labour have been pretty dismal. We seem to have an array of Labour MPs (mainly wannabe London mayoral candidates) and council leaders rushing to the press denouncing the proposed mansion tax as a’ tax on London’ (or if they were more honest a tax on the rich parts of London). Yes the promotion of the Mansion Tax has been inept and it would more accurate […]

    Read more →
  • Comment It’s time to put the Green Belt back on the table

    It’s time to put the Green Belt back on the table

    The UK’s housing crisis has finally been recognised across the political spectrum as an issue that needs urgent attention. Yet despite this consensus, political inertia on housebuilding has seen subsequent governments fail to create policies that address the issue coherently and strategically. Labour’s recent Lyons Review demonstrates a commitment to house-building, with a target of constructing 200,000 homes a year. Yet while the Review recognises that the housing crisis is not evenly spread, requiring different solutions in different places, there is […]

    Read more →