Defend and Extend Abortion Rights: Lobby Your MP NOW.

// 14 October 2008

The final votes on abortion at the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will take place in the afternoon of next Wednesday 22nd October. It is absolutely essential that we all lobby our MPs to support amendments to liberalise the 1967 Abortion Act and extend it to women in Northern Ireland. Pro-choice amendments include:

New Clause 1, Evan Harris MP – remove the requirement for women to gain the authorisation of two doctors in order to access abortion.

New Clause 30, Diane Abbott MP – extend existing abortion law to NI.

New Clause 2, Frank Dobson MP – enable trained nurses to carry out abortions.

New Clause 11, John Bercow MP – ban deliberately misleading advertising for anti-abortion pregnancy “advice” services.

Anti-choice amendments, focused on obstructing women’s access to abortion include:

New Clause 19, Angela Watkinson – introduce mandatory counselling before women can access abortion, including misleading and biased information on the supposed (and disproved) “psychological risks” of abortion.

New Clause 26, Edward Leigh – introduce seven day “cooling off” period (because women clearly can’t be trusted to make decisions about our own bodies).

New Clause 22, Dr John Pugh – one doctor must be a mental health practitioner in order to ensure that the woman faces “serious” mental health issues which require her to have an abortion. Hint: this isn’t a mental health issue, or rather it only becomes one when you force us to carry an unwanted pregnancy.

New Clause 28, Ann Winterton MP – ban abortion after 24 weeks on grounds of foetal impairment. This would result in women being forced to give birth to children with no chance of survival. As Abortion Rights points out:

This amendment is not about disability equality but about attacking women’s rights to decide, and in very difficult circumstances. We can support disability equality by campaigning for better rights and independent living for disabled people and a change in public attitudes.

There’s more information on the proposed amendments here. You can find a model letter to send to MPs here, and I’ve included my own letter below. Letters should be sent to your MP (who you can identify here) at:

House of Commons



Get cracking!

Awesome image by bitchplz, shared under a Creative Commons License.


Dear MP,

I am writing to ask you to support proposals to improve women’s right to choose, due to be voted on next Wednesday 22nd October as part of the HFE Bill. In our previous correspondence, you indicated that you would support a reduction in the abortion time limit. While I fully support the current time limit, I agree that abortion should ideally be carried out as early as possible. The following proposals are designed to ensure women can access abortion without obstruction, resulting in a reduction in waiting times and, therefore, earlier intervention.

New Clause 1, tabled by Evan Harris MP, would remove the requirement for a woman to gain the authorisation of two doctors in order to access abortion, reducing this to just one, as is the case for all medical procedures other than involuntary treatment under the Mental Health Act. This proposal is supported by the British Medical Association. New Clause 2, tabled by Frank Dobson MP, would enable trained nurses to carry out abortions, bringing the UK in line with other countries such as the USA and South Africa. Both proposals are supported by the cross-party Commons Science and Technology Committee, and would improve access to early abortion without compromising safety or quality of care. I urge you to support these amendments.

Proposals to restrict women’s access to abortion, such as the imposition of mandatory counselling, a seven day “cooling off” period and the stipulation that one authorising doctor must be a mental health practitioner (New Clauses 19, 26 and 22 respectively), would prevent women from accessing abortion as early as possible and result in unnecessary emotional distress. They also display a lack of respect for women’s ability to make decisions about our own lives, bodies and health. Furthermore, the existence of so-called “post-abortion syndrome” often cited by anti-abortionists as justification for mandatory counselling, has been widely discredited by medical practitioners in both the US and UK. I hope you will vote against these potentially damaging proposals.

Finally, and most crucially, I urge you to support Diane Abbott MP’s New Clause 30, which would extend existing abortion law to Northern Ireland. Women in NI currently have no choice but to pay thousands of pounds to travel and access abortion abroad, seek out a potentially life threatening illegal abortion or continue with an unwanted pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. The law must be brought into line with that of rest of the UK.

Reducing women’s access to legal abortion will not put an end to the practice. 80,000 women die globally each year as a result of unsafe, illegal abortion. Please support women’s right to choose by voting for the liberalising amendments this coming Wednesday.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Comments From You

Soirore // Posted 14 October 2008 at 12:49 pm

I would like to write to my MP but she voted before on reducing the time limit on abortion. How do I word the letter so she knows that I am aware that she is anti-choice but still want to pursuade her. Does this make sense? I want to make sure I do it in the most effective way. The sample letter seemed a bit long for someone I know is going to be hard to reach.

Laura // Posted 14 October 2008 at 12:59 pm

Hi Soirore,

I’d focus on the idea that the anti-choice amendments will result in women having to wait longer to access abortion, while the pro-choice amendments will enable women to access it as early as possible. Remind her that reducing access to legal abortion does not deal with demand, that we should be focusing on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies by improving sex education, rather than making a difficult decision even harder by placing more obstructions in women’s way.

Basically, we have to accept that abortion is going to happen, and it’s the pro-choice amendments that will ensure it happens as early as possible: these are more in line with her desire to reduce the time limit than the anti-choice proposals.

Soirore // Posted 14 October 2008 at 1:20 pm

Thanks Laura

Sarah // Posted 14 October 2008 at 1:22 pm

On the mandatory counselling issue, I’d point out that this is a ridiculous waste of already scarce resources – mental health services on the NHS are very over-stretched, with people who genuinely need counselling/therapy already having to go on long waiting lists. Forcing counselling on women who don’t need or want it (or requiring psychiatrists to assess all women wanting abortions) means the counsellor/psychiatrist’s time is wasted to make a political point, when they could be helping someone suffering real mental health issues. I would hope that would seem a reasonable argument even to someone morally uncomfortable with abortion.

Also maybe you could point out that these obstructions to access don’t necessarily mean the women doesn’t have an abortion at all, it just means she has it later. That makes it a more complex procedure (consuming more NHS resources again), causes the woman more distress and risk to her health, and makes it perhaps even more morally problematic as the fetus is more developed by this stage.

Maybe I would also ask how she thinks society would benefit from women being forced to give birth against their will, whether this would really have very good consequences. Or suggest that while a lower rate of abortion is a worthwhile goal, there are better ways of working towards this, such as supporting those women who do want to become mothers, and ensuring those who don’t want to (yet) are able to reduce their risk of unwanted pregnancy.

Emily Jane Graves // Posted 14 October 2008 at 3:05 pm

I’ll be writing to my MP Hilary Benn about this for sure. When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for my conservative MP’s children, and he always seemed completely harmless, if a bit of bumbling idiot. Ten years later with my feminist head on my shoulders, makes me especially angry to read that he is one of the loudest voices, making the most (to my ears) ridiculous anti-choice, anti-woman statements in the abortion debate.

Emma // Posted 14 October 2008 at 3:32 pm

Is there a link anyone could give me where the BMA explicitly support a change to the law? I wrote to my mp on my lunch break and got a stock reply from someone else saying that my mp believed no change to the law was necessary until scientific evidence was presented to back it up. This is incredibly annoying not just because I wasted my time drafting a letter that my MP will probably never read but also because these changes are about access and repsect of a woman’s intelligence, not science. Unless, of course, he’s waiting for a study that shows pregnant women are still intelligent people…

Laura // Posted 14 October 2008 at 3:47 pm

The BMA definitely approve the removal of the two doctor rule in the first trimester:

“The BMA supports amending the Abortion Act 1967 so that, in the first trimester (up to 13 weeks):

* abortion is available on the same basis of informed consent as other treatment, without the need to meet specific medical criteria

* the requirement for two doctors to confirm that the abortion meets the legal criteria is removed.”


However, looks like they don’t support enabling nurses to perform abortions – I’ve certainly read the opposite opinion from other medical organisations, will see if I can track those down. I’d say the two doctor rule is more pressing than this, though.

Cara // Posted 14 October 2008 at 3:55 pm

Is the clause only up to 13 weeks? Or is that just the BMA?

Just seems bizarre…either you respect that women are, gasp, intelligent human beings and able to make the decision to have an abortion, or not. Why limit it to 13 weeks?

Laura // Posted 14 October 2008 at 4:14 pm

Cara – that’s just the BMA.

So infuriating that we have to be quoting a male dominated organisation in order to convince those in power that, actually, we are capable of making our own decisions. *sigh*

Emily // Posted 14 October 2008 at 4:50 pm

Just to say that I have written to y MP Owen Paterson about this.

Thanks for information.

Sian // Posted 14 October 2008 at 6:38 pm

The BMA’s reasons are probably less to do with politics and more to do with the difference in medical procedures before and after 13 weeks (after it’s gets surgical) though aren’t they? It’s probably a bit of both, but you’d usually get a second opinion before any kind of surgery?

And as for them not saying they want nurses to do abortions (I presume they just mean medical not surgical) well that constantly happens-doctors do not want to relinquish ANY power to nurses (even when it would make everyone’s life easier at times!), they’re protecting their jobs I suppose.

Cara // Posted 14 October 2008 at 7:33 pm

Thanks Laura.

And yes. That is infuriating.

Anna // Posted 14 October 2008 at 8:40 pm

I would but since Liam Fox thinks reducing the limit to 12 weeks would be a nice idea for all the women who have an unwanted pregnancy.. Well, I will, and I’ve got an appointment with him at his next surgery so I’ll say it face to face, but I fully expect for him to laugh in my face and ask me what exactly I am doing outside the kitchen.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 15 October 2008 at 3:27 pm

The phrase ‘cooling off period’ sounds extremely patronising and condescending to me! As though women are so hot and flustered and hysterical that they need time to ‘cool off’ before going through with an abortion. Eurggh. I can’t imagine anyone ever using that phrase about men in relation to a male medical procedure.

Bee // Posted 16 October 2008 at 10:50 am

@ Cockney Hitcher: I have certainly heard of men undergoing a vasectomy having a “cooling off period” beforehand. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to have in relation to a major decision. The term is in common use for a period in which you can still change your mind (when taking out financial products, etc) and doesn’t, to me, indicate that women (or men) are being hot, flustered or hysterical.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 16 October 2008 at 7:43 pm

Fair enough. I’ve only really heard it in relation to this debate. I still think the idea itself (a mandatory ‘cooling off period’) is unjust and condescending.

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