New feature: A slice-by-slice attack on women’s right to choose

// 11 May 2008

The campaign to ban women from terminating pregnancies after 20 weeks is only the beginning, says Kit Roskelly

pro-choice protestorIn a matter of days, the House of Commons will vote on whether to slash the current time limit on abortions from 24 weeks into a pregnancy to 20. A movement spearheaded by Nadine Dorries MP, and The 20 Weeks Campaign, and supported by The Daily Mail, is putting pressure on MPs to vote in favour of this restriction on women’s rights.

A four-week gap may seem like a small issue, but this is what might be call ‘salami tactics’ – the reduction of reproductive rights by thin slices. This is an issue with huge repercussions, because the agenda of this campaign is not limited to that four-week gap.

You need only look at this list to see that the campaign is wholly anti-abortion. The reasons given are either heavily emotive, or rely on some pretty dubious scientific claims. (Liberal Conspiracy counters these claims here).

While the campaign claims to be founded largely on scientific advances that they claim make foetuses viable earlier on, the core concerns of the campaign do not stop at the 20-week threshold. One of the 20 ‘reasons’ given in Dorries’ campaign is: “Lowering the limit to 20 weeks for normal babies will save almost 2,300 young lives per year.” It is clearly based on emotional appeal rather than reasoned debate and, of course, the implication is ever more “babies” would be saved if the time limit was lowered even more, or abortion done away with altogether. The campaign completely ignores the fact that these foetuses are not babies, and do not exist in isolation; each is reliant on the body of a woman to survive and that woman is an autonomous person with the capacity and right to make choices about her own body. Women, if they are mentioned at all in these arguments for the rights of foetuses, are ignored or blamed, and this is in itself an act of misogyny.

Read on here

Photo by Steve Rhodes, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Amy // Posted 12 May 2008 at 10:21 am

The Nadine Dorris list really bugs me. What bugs me more is that she actually comes from the same county as me, but luckily I’m not within her constituency. (My MP’s currently Labour, so he should be more on side, as last time I wrote to him about abortion issues, he was very supportive.)

Anyway, my “personal faves” in her list are:

– Leading public figures including Opposition leader David Cameron are calling for a cut to at least 20 weeks.

I’m sorry, but how is this a valid reason to cut the time limit? I don’t care what Call Me Dave thinks or wants.

-Britain has the most liberal abortion laws in Europe. A termination can be obtained up to 24 weeks of pregnancy – double the limits in France and Germany and six weeks later than in Sweden or Norway.

This is a terrible reason to cut the limit. What’s wrong with having liberal abortion laws?! In my books, that’s a damn good thing!!! Gah!

Unity // Posted 12 May 2008 at 1:24 pm

The claims made about time limits in Europe are, as you might expect, a misrepresentation of the facts.

Many countries do have a 12/13 week limit, but that applies to the right to have an abortion on request without the need for doctors to sign off on the procedure other than in terms of its being safe to undertake it.

A number of countries with such limits then have a secondary limit for abortions on medical grounds – anything from 18-22/24 weeks is commonplace, where there has to be evidence of foetal abnormality or significant risk to the woman, although some merely require evidence that the woman is in a ‘state of distress’ as a result of the pregnancy.

If practice, there are no more obstacles to second trimester abortions in those countries than there are over here – sympathetic doctors are not that hard to come by – although there are fewer late term abortions due to the early on demand provision expediting access to the procedure.

Sian // Posted 12 May 2008 at 6:22 pm

What she says about Sweden-Sweden has abortion on demand, unlike the UK, which I’d call more liberal.

This is a really worrying angle, because I’ve a few religious friends who are uncomfortable with abortion but pro-choice because of the other options, and they support it. I can see that being a wider thing, and it actually getting through Parliament.

I bet that if it does get through there won’t be an accompanying regulations ensuring that doctors aren’t delaying people’s access to abortion-I read somewhere that NHS delays accounted for a large number of abortions over 20 weeks.

Zoe Williams wrote a good thing about the 20 reasons in the Guardian-she said it was like a 13 year old had come up with a few valid reasons and then just made up the rest to make it a ‘significant’ number!

Anna // Posted 12 May 2008 at 7:19 pm

Pregnancy testing kits are freely available at chemists and there is now little excuse for not diagnosing pregnancy long before 20 weeks.

Really? I’m on the contraceptive implant which I am assured “never fails”, though it evidently did, and my periods continued – albeit much lighter – throughout my pregnancy.

I’d not’ve known I was pregnant until I started showing, or even went into labour – as it was I didn’t know I was pregnant until I miscarried, and I only worked it out then because I went to the doctors due to the blood loss [the doctor was a complete bastard, but that’s another story for another day].

Returning to my original point, anyhow, what the fuck are they thinking? Contraception, even “more effective than surgical sterilisation” contraception such as I have, does and can let you down. Would they have me, at eighteen and finally trying to sit my AS levels have this baby against my will?

Or would they rather I didn’t have sex until marriage, or at all?

[I’dve kept the baby, but it makes absolutely no odds to me as I can picture someone else being in this situation and not wanting to..]

Anne Onne // Posted 13 May 2008 at 1:09 am

Anna- exactly. There’s no guarantee a woman will know she’s pregnant by 20 weeks! And no contraception is foolproof, and neither is the morning after pill.

Also, beign supposedly more liberal on paper means NOTHING. The States are more liberal about abortions than the UK on paper. It’s true. You can get one there on demand, without having to go to 2 GPS and all that. But in reality? Lack of providers. Misinformation by anti-choice groups. Anti-choicers outside clinics seeking to shame women. Anti-choicers threatening women and abortion providers. Dodgy state laws constantly in danger of being overturned by religious idiots. All in all, It’s easier here, despite being more easy there on paper.

And the 20 reasons? Did they get a monkey to type them, or are anti-choicers really this dense ? (It’s the latter, I know. Rhetorical question.)

Their reasons boil down to these:

1) Cute baby! Look at the cuuuute baby! You must love babies! Awww, how could you want to kill the baby?!?!

2) I say abortions are wrong, therefore you must believe me, because I am right. I don’t have any medical knowledge, and most of the medical establishment, and anybody with a shred of scientific knowledge disagree, but naa na na naaa na, I’m smarter!

3) Some study somewhere says something bad about abortion. Apparently. I never actually read it, or it might not exist, but believe me, if it did, it would say bad things about abortion!

4) Sometimes babies born around that time survive, even if most of them die, and the rest are severely disabled, but in case some survive, we must never abort anything ever! Imagine all the babies we could save!

5) I don’t have any evidence, but look at the cuuute babies!!!

Seriously, I’m especially glad it’s been debunked, because all that wishful anti-choicer thinking in the ”20 non-reasons for a time limit I don’t think is low enough, but hey, if it gets you suckers voting for it, I’ll play along!” link you put up was giving me a headache.

Sonja // Posted 14 May 2008 at 4:42 pm

Please email your MP:

Votes on abortion time limits will now take place on tuesday 20th May; Abortion Rights UK urge us to contact our MPs about it, to secure a woman’s right to choose.

For more info:

Rachel // Posted 18 May 2008 at 10:57 pm

I think we should reduce the limit. Babies can and do survive below the 24 week limit…I have one! She quite well. They are not all damaged. Don’t forget some babies are born pre 24 weeks due to problems in pregnancy which would make them less likely to survive anyway. So you are not comparing the same thing. The epicure study was more about the ethics of saving very prem babies – who were prem due to pregnancy probs. Survival rates also lessen again post term!

Louise Livesey // Posted 19 May 2008 at 9:20 am

In response to Rachel I don’t really think foetal viability is the issue here (although the evidence is that there is no significant improvement below 24 weeks, which isn’t to say some babies don’t and didn’t survive – I know someone who was born at 21 weeks back in the 1970s).

The issue is about a woman’s right to choose. To lower the limit to 12 weeks (as has been suggested) or even 20 weeks ignored when the majority of become aware of pregnancy, how long it takes to get two doctors to consent and what happens to the most vulnerable who don’t realise they are pregnant, can’t admit it or need longer to make their decision.

Rachel // Posted 20 May 2008 at 1:22 pm

So abortion upto and post term then? The thorny issue is what do you do with the aborted fetus while you wait for it to die…

Some women do not realise they are pregnant up to term!

The issue impacts upon women’s rights when they give birth pre 24 weeks. If the baby does not live then they do not even get similar rights to bury their child and have a birth certificate like a mother delivering post 24 weeks. It is not classed as a stillbirth. The two issues are linked in law.

Rachel // Posted 21 May 2008 at 1:27 pm

I think it is a womens right to have a stillbirth certificate if baby is born pre 24weeks and does not live and that is her choice.

I think it is a womens right to be admitted onto an obstetric ward if you are pre 24 weeks rather than a gynae if that is her choice.

I think it is a womens right for the state to acknowledge that she has been a mother by the registration system if she gives birth pre 24 weeks if that is her choice.

Those womens rights have just been denied! Womens rights? For some women perhaps! Fight for womens rights. All women, not just some.

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