Fight for your Right to Abortion

// 20 June 2005

The British Medical Association are expected to vote in favour of reducing the upper time limit on abortions (currently 24 weeks) to 20 weeks, on the grounds that premature babies as young as 22 weeks can be \x96 but are very rarely \x96 viable. The decision will be taken at its Annual Conference, later this month. If the motion is passed, it will be BMA policy to lobby the government for a change in legislation.

Latest figures show that almost 182,000 abortions were carried out in 2003 \x96 17.5 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. 87% of all of these abortions were carried out before 13 weeks. Only 1.6% of all legal abortions were carried out between 20 and 24 weeks \x96 0.8% over 22 weeks. So this is a very small minority of cases we\x92re talking about (for an excellent, medically-focused discussion of the case against restricting late abortion, see here.)

The worry here is not the number of people who would be affected by this ruling \x96 clearly the vast majority of women who want a termination will not be at all affected \x96 but *who* amongst that group will be affected. It seems so unlikely as to be almost impossible that we\x92re talking about a few feckless women who can\x92t be arsed to schedule an abortion until five months because there are so many more pressing concerns in their lives. Late abortions are not an easy option, and they are certainly not a \x91lifestyle option\x92. The women who need late abortions are likely to be the most vulnerable of all.

However it\x92s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that we should only be concerned about women who go through the emotional wringer about having an abortion. As feminists we need to stand behind the theoretical absolute grounds for the right to abortion on request. If we are to make a decent and convincing case to the world at large that women MUST be allowed access to abortion on demand (and, remember, we don\x92t technically have that in the UK \x96 a doctor must "allow" it on medical grounds) the case cannot be emotional \x96 we cannot make it about women "deserving" abortions.

The right to decide what happens to our own bodies is fundamental \x96 to remove that right is to take away our autonomy. We shouldn\x92t be allowing the debate around abortion to centre on who does or doesn\x92t "deserve" an abortion \x96 indeed we should be pushing to extend abortion rights to allow us access to abortion on demand. It is insulting in the extreme that we cannot decide for ourselves whether to continue with a pregnancy, but if we want a boob job we have only to ask. It is demeaning for us to have to find not one but two doctors who will certify that having a baby will be damaging to our mental health. And part of making that case is acknowledging that some women *will* be having what the public consider \x91feckless\x92, \x91lifestyle\x92, \x91wanton\x92 abortions. And that it is their right to do so.

We consider this sort of thing a battle already won, but since Roe vs Wade in 1973 abortion has never been under such threat in the USA as it is now. And if we’re not careful, the UK will follow. We should treat news reports such as yesterday\x92s BMA leak with the utmost gravity \x96 they may appear if not benign then at least insignificant, but they represent the thin end of the wedge, and we cannot afford to let them pass unnoticed.

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