I support women's right to access abortion on demand without limit and without being forced to ask permission from a doctor. Access to abortion, contraception, and the right to choose are a fundamental part of the women's liberation movement and essential to reproductive justice. Without these rights, women cannot and will not be free from patriarchal control. Any attempts to curtail women's access to abortion are based in misogyny and the belief that women are incapable of making important decisions for themselves.
I am very concerned about the amendment to the Serious Crime Bill tabled by Fiona Bruce, MP, which criminalises sex-selective abortions. Effectively, Bruce is trying to make it a crime for pregnant women to be living within a patriarchal culture. We need to be very clear here: this is about the culture of the UK. Whilst this amendment claims to be directed at communities where boy-preference is normative, it is actually an attack on access to abortion for all women. We also need to recognise that preference for boys is common in numerous communities within the UK and not just South-Asian communities supposedly being targeted by this bill.
Diana Nammi, executive director of the Iranian & Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) made this statement as part of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition campaign to urge MPs to vote against the amendment:
We oppose all forms of gendercide, including non-medically motivated sex selective abortions. We work with communities to challenge patriarchy and end the mind-set of those who value females less than males. We oppose the proposed changes to the Serious Crime Bill on sex selective abortion, which if enacted, will criminalise women, could deter them from accessing crucial safeguarding and support and push them towards unsafe, unregulated abortions in the UK or abroad, from which they may suffer lifelong physical and mental health impacts. Criminalisation could also put women at risk of control and blackmail by perpetrators of "honour" based violence and domestic violence. We must ensure that the law is on the side of women who are at risk and reverse the policies of funding cuts so that they can access all safeguarding and support that they need.
I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. Any law which may result in women being unable to access healthcare is extremely problematic and downright dangerous.
Dr Aisha Gill, a board member of EVAW and a noted expert in violence against women and girls, suggests there is no evidence to support the amendment or its impact on women's equality in law. Instead,
it risks increasing the isolation of women in abusive relationships, as well as putting a chilling effect on medical professionals to whom they might have disclosed fear and abuse.
I signed the petition started by Voice for Choice because any attempt to limit women's reproductive choices - and a limit that involves criminal law - does nothing to change the system. The last thing women who are feeling pressured into having a sex-selective abortion need is the added fear of criminal prosecution. This is without looking at issues of racism and racial profiling of women, a potential curtailment of access to abortion in the second trimester, and the prevention of women accessing appropriate healthcare during pregnancy, particularly those women living with domestic violence and abuse. We could be looking at a return to women being coerced into unsafe, 'backstreet' abortions.
Abortion is a right that all women must be guaranteed. I worry about the gendercide that is associated with sex-selective abortions but I also believe that women must be trusted to decide what is best for their own body. Women need to be able to live without domestic violence and coercive control. Sometimes this involves women making choices that they do not want. Mostly, it means not judging and criminalising women for living in a patriarchy.
Attacking or criminalising individual women is nothing more than the continuing perpetuation of male domination and oppression of women. We need a fundamental shift to recognise women's rights, including control over their own bodies. After all, if forcing a woman to have an abortion because the fetus is female is criminalised, what does that mean for women forced into having abortions against their will due to poverty or a violent partner? Why are we criminalising one but allowing government cuts to decimate the NHS and welfare? Why are we not seeking prosecutions of men who force their partners into having abortions?
This amendment is nothing more than a new way to curtail access to abortion for all women under the smokescreen of women's equality. Let's ensure our MPs vote to protect women's rights to abortion by signing this petition and emailing them.