Thursday, May 15, 2008

Women's Rights Under Fire

Sorry for not posting for a while - I've been applying myself a little more practically to some of the issues which I am normally discussing here. In particular the abortion law in the UK which despite being forty years old and in desperate need of updating* are in fact in danger of being rolled back. A cross-party group of MPs including of course all the devoutly religious ones and all the devoutly anti-women ones (there is a big overlap) are proposing amendments to the HFE Bill currently making it's way through parliament. At a debate next Tuesday evening (20th May) MPs will have the chance to vote on amendments which would lower the abortion time limit to 22 weeks, 20 weeks, 18 weeks, 16 weeks, 14 weeks or even 12 weeks.

I find it very difficult to understand what is really going on in the minds of those signing and voting on these amendments. Here are my best ideas:

1) They are deeply religious and have been fooled into believing that the anti-choice movement represents God's will on the subject. If so then firstly it's a real shame God didn't bother writing clearly in the bible that He opposed abortion - because it just doesn't say that anywhere. Meanwhile it does say that God doesn't want His followers to tell lies or be jealous of their neighbours, sleep in their husband's bed during their period, eat bacon or shellfish, etc. And there's that great line in Leviticus where it says "Any person who curseth his mother or father, must be killed.". Yet I see no amendments tabled that would bring back capital punishment for those caught playing "yo momma" in the schoolyard. Why should religious laws be applied to those of us who are not religious? If you don't believe God wants you to have an abortion - don't have one - don't try to stop me from having one.

2) They think women should have abortions earlier not later. Which is all well and good if women know they're pregnant and have access to abortion on demand when they want it. Instead women who are too young to have started their periods, post-menopausal, using contraception or who have irregular periods may not know. Or they may have been messed about by the NHS and other service providers causing needless delays. The two doctors requirement obviously delays the average UK abortion time by a certain amount. And don't forget those women who get pregnant happily but then whose life changes. Pregnancy is one of the most likely times for a partner to turn violent or walk out and there is also the situation that an existing child develops problems which the mother feels could not be properly dealt with whilst tending a new-born.

3) They think feotuses feel pain in the womb. They don't. Women on the other hand do.

4) They believe there has been an increase in viability of foetuses born before 24 weeks. There hasn't (not according to British Association of Prenatal Medicine, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Medical Association and The Royal College of Nursing). Furthermore so what if there was. Advances in medical science may well at some point in the super-distant future mean that an ovum can gestate to full term in a lab rather than a womb. At that point will we make it illegal for women to have periods?

5) They just hate women. That would be it. Amazingly some anti-choice campaigners suggest that there are reasons for banning abortion for the sake of the woman's physical and mental health. Which is unbelievable because in terms of physical health a pregnancy is much more dangerous than an abortion and in terms of mental health - what do you think forcing a woman to carry an unwanted foetus to full term is going to do for her mental health?

But you can do something. Just do it NOW cos the vote is really soon. There is lots of info on the Abortion Rights website. But to summarize: contact your MP. Ring 020 7219 3000 and ask for them by name. If you don't know your MP you can look them up on They Work For You or just ask the House of Commons switchboard (number above) to check for you who is the MP for where you live. When you get through you may get to speak to your MP or if they are not available a researcher or sometimes and answering machine - just let them know you are a constituent and you support 24 weeks. Ask them to vote against the reductions in the time limit being proposed. Alternatively you can email them again through They Work For You. Do it soon though - the vote is Tuesday night.

And on Tuesday from 5.30pm there will be a protest outside the House of Commons. Please come along if you can. Details again on the Abortion Rights website.

* Abortion is currently the only medical procedure in the UK which requires two doctors signatures, there are also many GPs who react to requests for abortion by berating women, refusing to refer and delaying tactics. Typically women who seek terminations on the NHS have to wait several weeks. Even those able to pay privately are often delayed.


Sarah Ditum said...

I was mortified to see the revival of the 20-week pushers: I thought that the select committee's cogent, well-researched report earlier this year had been the end of the choice-eroding campaign. But I guess I'm just an idealist for thinking that policy might be determined by, y'know, facts and that rather than superstition...

Cruella said...

Yes very frightening the number of MPs who are under the (false) impression that there is some sort of "new medical evidence" on the subject. Also the anti-choicers are aping their very successful American counterparts if tabling amendments ranging from 22 to 12 weeks - making it look as though 16-20 weeks is a "middle ground" compromise...

Absinthecity said...

I have to say I wasn't aware until reading this that there was any danger of the limit going back even further than 20 weeks, and had naively assumed that was the furthest this vote would let it go. Very concerning. Have pointed this out on Dollymix.

I would like to know a bit more about the 'viability' argument, as it seems so wooly it's almost impossible to speak with any authority on the matter. Any ideas where to look for some unbiased facts?

Cruella said...

Yes the amendment with the most signatories is 16 weeks. BBc has covered the early viability thing here:

Sarah Ditum said...

Abi, the EPICure 1 and 2 studies collated data from surveys of premature infant survival rates and can be found if you google them. There are a lot of numbers to crunch: whether it counts babies alive at the start of labour or only those alive and birth, whether survival means survival to discharge or some other criteria, and how to quantify the disabilities which widely affect prem babies. It is definitely worth reading in full and getting to grips with the statistics.