What does the election mean for reproductive rights?

// 30 April 2010

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Is there a straightforward answer to this? Not really. There’s certainly no consensus in the EFC office about how anyone should vote, because the future of reproductive rights in this country (obviously only one of the many things we care about) is not just about who’s in power.

Votes on abortion are always free votes. It’s considered to be an issue of personal conscience. Therefore no party will tell its individual MPs what to think or how to vote. There are pro-choice MPs on both sides of the house and anti-choice MPs likewise. Then there’s the fact that at least 70 pro-choice MPs have stood down in this election and more may lose their seats. Nobody knows the position of the hundreds of new MPs set to fill the Commons, but it’s likely that at least a handful of these may join the small group of anti-choice MPs who take perennial pot shots at the current Abortion Act in the hope of denting it (but without any real hope of destroying it). We don’t know what money will be available to maintain sexual health services. We don’t know what political will will exist to initiate new work around teenage pregnancy, to build on the successes or address the shortfalls of the 10 year teenage pregnancy strategy that has just ended.

What we do know is that in the run up to the General Election some leading politicians on both sides of the house have felt compelled to highlight their less than radical credentials. In Cameron’s first election interview he announced his intention to vote for a reduction in the Abortion time limit as he did in 2008. Just in the last few weeks before the election was called we’ve had the watering down (a Labour own goal?) and ultimate sabotage (thanks, Tories) of legislation to implement statutory sex and relationships education; and a senior politician expressing support for those bed and breakfast owners who want to turn away gay couples . ‘Family values’ was a phrase beloved of Victorian patriarchs and Margaret Thatcher. It still, with all its implied homophobia and misogyny, has the power to send a chill down my spine. Yet it remains the default reach-for phrase for politicians who don’t have better answers to the social ills of today.

Politicians sometimes forget that there is widespread support for many progressive policies across different UK communities – after all, it was a Rabbi on the Today programme who berated the Government for denying young people their fundamental right to sex education by writing a parental opt out into the legislation. Religion need not and does not always obstruct progress. But somehow politicians tend not to consult with Buddhists, or Jains, nor those from the liberal end of the monotheistic religions, but instead pander to those self-appointed moral leaders who are more exercised by women’s sexuality than they are by child poverty, climate catastrophe or natural disaster (soon they’ll be listening sympathetically to the Iranian cleric who says that women’s immodesty causes earthquakes). More than party politics, the tendency of politicians to respond so readily to our most reactionary spokesmen represents a real threat to women’s reproductive rights in the next Parliament.

What can you do?

  • Attend local election hustings and find out how your Parliamentary candidate plans to vote next time abortion is up for debate
  • Scrutinise the party manifestos for any commitments on abortion, on maintaining funding for and prioritising teenage pregnancy, sexual health, sex and relationships education and on supporting equalities legislation.
  • Sign this petition to ensure that our new Prime Minister stands up for women and for equalities legislation and speaks out against the Pope’s anti-women agenda when he makes his state visit to the UK in September.
  • Find out more about Catholics who support a women’s right to choose

Lisa Hallgarten is Director of Education For Choice

Comments From You

Rachel // Posted 30 April 2010 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for posting this – it’s an issue I’ve been worried about throughout the election campaign. I think that no matter which party ultimately wins the election we will all need to be as vocal as possible to ensure that reproductive rights do not suffer from the inevitable budget cuts. It’s just too important to ignore!

Hannah // Posted 30 April 2010 at 12:30 pm

Another suggestion, clearly not flawless but not a bad idea all the same: voting for a female MP is likely to mean that there are more people in parliament who are concerned with keeping our reproductive rights. There are female pro-lifers just as rabid as the men, but I’d like to think that having more women in parliament leads to more female-friendly legislation.

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 1 May 2010 at 8:43 am

Excellent, well balanced post, Lisa. I think it’s important to highlight that we can’t make assumptions about individuals’ position on reproductive rights based on their political ideology or religious persuasion – it’s all too easy to judge and that can most definitely work to our disadvantage.

polly // Posted 1 May 2010 at 12:30 pm

There’s a handy tool here where you can find out how the sitting MP in your constituency has voted on abortion in the past. Just put your postcode in the first box and ‘abortion’ in the second.

http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/index.php

Sarah // Posted 1 May 2010 at 1:32 pm

Help! I clicked the link to the petition but can’t find a sign-up button – am I being stupid?

Legible Susan // Posted 2 May 2010 at 3:11 pm

The Number Ten petitions site is not taking signatures until after the election, because of election law. It’ll be reactivated “upon the formation of the Government”, whenever that is, so I’ll have to remember to check back.

Lynne // Posted 2 May 2010 at 6:11 pm

Laura said it’s balanced, but maybe its a bit dishonest. It’s true that Gordon Brown said something mad about ‘Catholics are the conscience of the nation’ and is always going on about his upbringing in the manse, but generally his beliefs haven’t got in the way of government policy. Also I haven’t seen any crazy reactionary stuff on sex or sexuality from Clegg. So let’s be honest it’s the Tories we have to worry about. Look at the article in the Observer today which shows that one of Cameron’s chief advisors is an evangelical Christian who prays to get the demons out of gay men, lesbians, transexuals and drug addicts. Like I say, the article was maybe too balanced t considering only one party seems to be in bed with the anti women, anti gay loons. Look at the people they’re in coalition with in Europe, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-semitic. Don’t trust the modern face of the friendly conservative party.

Posie Rider // Posted 3 May 2010 at 12:41 am

We have to keep that awful Nadine Dorris out! Awful Tory obsessed with lowering the abortion limit to 20 weeks.

AND rumour has it she’s actually a lizard- not a woman at all!

Check out her blog. This is an example:

http://blog.dorries.org/id-1011-2008_6_G2.aspx

Boycott!

aimee // Posted 3 May 2010 at 8:57 pm

I wrote to my politicians asking them about their views on abortion and received a thoroughly depressing reply from the lib dem candidate which basically spouted a lot of old nonsense about it being used as contraception and crap about foetal viability. She also said she would actively be seeking to ‘debate’ the current law which bodes ill in my opinion. I would never think a lib dem candidate would actively want to reduce access to abortion rights. The response from Green however was really encouraging and showed a thoughtful and thorough grasp of a complicated issue. Really disappointed with lib dem..

Heather // Posted 4 May 2010 at 3:24 am

abortionrights.org.uk has a facility where you can send a proforma e-mail to each candidate in your constituency asking them how they would vote on abortion in NI, reducing time limit, and something else I can’t remember right now – I did this and found it informative.

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