in 2018 abortion remains governed by a criminal framework that threatens any woman who ends her own pregnancy without the permission of two doctors with life in prisonMaria Caulfield says the abortion time limit should be reduced, and that the 1967 Abortion Act protects women from coercion. She’s mistaken on both counts.
In an interview published on Friday, the Conservative Vice Chair for Women implied that babies born at 18 and 19 weeks gestation were surviving, and that the UK’s abortion laws should be restricted because they were among the most liberal in the world. She’s wrong: they are not liberal enough – and our laws – underpinned by a 19th Century criminal code that threatens women with prison for causing their own abortions – are completely out of step with how we view women in the modern world.
It seems quite extraordinary that a nurse who claims she is interested in “evidence-based laws” can be so profoundly uninterested in truth or fact. Babies born at “18, 19 weeks” weeks do not survive. Babies born as early as 22 weeks have poor survival chances and those that do live are at risk of severe disability. Yet there should be no contradiction between doing all we can to improve the survival rates of infants born at the cusp of viability – and celebrating those advances - and ensuring the small number of women who need to end a pregnancy at those gestations can do so.
Because that is what woman-centred care looks like. And that’s why it is so totally disappointing that a politician who has been appointed by her party as vice-chair for women could show such complete disregard for the reasons why a woman might need to end her pregnancy at that gestation. (Though unsurprising, given she’s already appointed herself “voice for the unborn child”)
Who are these women who Maria casually casts aside in her drive to cut the time limit? They may be young girls who have been too scared to confide in anyone about a pregnancy; they may be women who have been using effective methods of contraception like the implant which can alter bleeding patterns and cause breast tenderness, so women do not suspect they are pregnant. They are women with medical conditions for whom the pregnancy is posing a risk to their health. They are women whose lives have been turned upside down by domestic abuse, job losses, evictions, who no longer feel it is right to carry a pregnancy to term.
We would be happy to explain to Maria Caulfield in depth as to why women need the services they do, should she ever be moved to ask.
It is also entirely disingenuous of her to suggest that she opposes the decriminalisation of abortion because the 1967 Abortion Act “protects” vulnerable women from being pressured by partners into abortions they do not want. She should know full well as a healthcare professional that safeguarding, access to counselling services, and ensuring that any patient is making their own choice free from co-ercion are fundamental principles of medical care that would exist were abortion decriminalised. We don’t need the criminal law in maternity services to enable our midwives to safeguard vulnerable women and provide high quality care. Abortion should be no different – decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, it means we would have the ability to provide the highest standards of woman-centred care.
It is simply wrong that in 2018 abortion remains governed by a criminal framework that threatens any woman who ends her own pregnancy without the permission of two doctors with life in prison. We would hope that wherever we stand on abortion, we could agree that the criminalisation of women and their bodies is no basis for laws in the 21st Century. Let your MP know where you stand, and join our campaign to trust women.