As the celebrated US feminist Gloria Steinem said on a trip to the UK last week - that "the state stops at our skins". Without the ability to make reproductive choices, we lose the ability to make decisions about our lives... Why in 2016 can a woman be sent to prison for trying to end her own pregnancy, and a nurse or midwife for helping her?
This week a new campaign has been launched to decriminalise abortion in the UK. It's likely to cause serious consternation. Not because we aren't pro-choice in this country - the vast majority of us are. But because most people will be horrified that abortion, a safe, well-regulated and extremely common procedure still sits within a criminal law passed in 1861.
The anti-abortion movement in Britain has largely failed. The public is pro-choice, and indeed favours a more woman-centred framework than the 1967 Abortion Act currently allows. Every parliamentary attempt in recent years to restrict access to abortion has been defeated. All should be well. But the new government has many members who voted in favour of these defeated restrictions. Indeed, their voting records suggest this is the most anti-abortion government in living memory. So what will this mean for women in the next five years?
There's a fresh chance to remove the anachronistic requirement that two doctors must authorise a woman's request for an abortion before it can be performed. On Thursday, a private members' bill to reduce the number of doctors required to authorise an abortion from two to one is to be introduced by Baroness Jenny Tonge in the House of Lords.
The allegation by the Independent that there is a "war" on female foetuses by certain communities in this country is both unsubstantiated and extremely insulting to the people who belong to those communities. Nonetheless, the suggestion that any woman feels under pressure to bring a child of a certain sex into the world, and feels that she has failed if she delivers a girl, is intensely depressing and distressing... We may well find the notion of sex-selective abortion extremely disturbing, where it exists. But further curtailing women's already highly regulated reproductive choices will never be the answer to gender inequality.
It’s been a great year for the pro-life lobby. That’s the view of Mark Bhagwandin, Senior Education and Media Officer of anti-abortion charity ...
We see women who have become pregnant not long after giving birth, not realising how quickly fertility returned, or after misinformation about the protection breastfeeding provides against pregnancy. Sadly we also see women who simply haven't been able to negotiate contraceptive use with a reluctant partner, as well as women for whom a much wanted pregnancy is no longer possible after a dramatic change in personal circumstances. A recently conducted audit of all women contacting bpas for advice in 2011 found nearly two thirds were using contraception, including condoms, pills, patches and coils, when they became pregnant.
It cannot be repeated enough that there has been no new medical evidence to suggest any scientific or medical reason for a reduction in the abortion time limit since this was last debated in the House of Commons in May 2008. This debate isn't being reopened because of any new medical evidence or the current figures on abortion, but because of a toxic, politicisation of the issue by elements within the Conservative Party. It is happening because Jeremy Hunt's gratuitous attack on British women's right to choose has opened the door to parts of the Tory party to begin unwanted and distracting wrangling in parliament to reduce the time limits.
The energy spent discussing abortion time limits detracts time and attention from genuine problems in women's reproductive healthcare. Were the MP for mid-Bedfordshire really as 'pro-woman' as she claims, here are some of the themes she could be tackling which affect women across the spectrum of reproductive needs. For example, some 40% of women using BPAS' contraceptive counselling service following an unplanned pregnancy report problems accessing contraception.
Recent comments and campaigns by politicians opposed to abortion often imply that women do not know what they are doing when they request abortion and need protecting from themselves, or that what they are doing is morally wrong - and that their pregnancies need protecting from the women themselves.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) carries out the majority of later abortions in this country. Our staff would have been more than happy to explain to the women's minister just what kind of impact restricting access to abortions after 20 weeks would have on the small numbers of women who need them.