A historic victory for abortion rights

The vote on Northern Ireland shows how far we’ve come.

Ann Furedi


The margin of support for Stella Creasy’s imaginative amendment, to commit the UK government to decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland, does not speak to how views on abortion have changed, it ‎screams it.

Despite the reluctance of Westminster to interfere in Northern Ireland since the collapse of the devolved government, and the reluctance from some to rely on European human-rights rulings to change abortion law in Northern Ireland, the House of Commons approved the amendment to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill by a staggering 332 votes to 99.

For those of us who are committed to good old-fashioned democratic parliamentary debate, this may seem a rather unsatisfactory resolution to a 50-year-long battle. The amendment was made to a technical bill and swiftly voted through. I admit, I’m nostalgic for the days when bills were drafted, scrutinised and redrafted, and amendments were considered and fought for. But that was then: this is now. The past is another country.

Now, in this country, at a time when parliamentary politics is an omnishambles beyond the imaginations of satirical scriptwriters, we change legislation by seizing opportunities. And Stella Creasy MP is a true genius at this. When she takes a cause to heart, she makes change happen. Prior to this, she won funding for women from Northern Ireland to travel to England and have abortions. She did so by challenging the Queen’s Speech. She and Diana Johnson MP have worked with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and other advocates to get the issue of abortion in front of parliament in any way possible. This is the way it’s done today.

This vote is the result of years of discussion and lobbying. Parliament now understands the absurdity of forcing women to travel from one part of the UK to another for a legal, necessary procedure. The British state currently will pay bpas for a woman’s abortion (and her travel costs) if she flies from Belfast to Birmingham, but if bpas flies a doctor from Birmingham to Belfast to provide the abortion pills there, both woman and doctor face jail. You would have to be mind-numbingly stupid to want to maintain this state of affairs. Yesterday’s vote suggests only a small minority of MPs suffer from such stupidity.

But the success of the Creasy amendment also reveals where parliamentary and public opinion now rests on the issue of abortion. Abortion is no longer seen as something that is a shameful failure, something that disgraces the women who seek it and the clinics that provide it. Abortion is increasingly understood as what it is: a safe, necessary back-up to other methods of birth control that should be available when contraception fails, or isn’t used – for whatever reason.

Paradoxically, people on social media talk increasingly about abortion stigma, at a time when abortion is less stigmatised than ever before. Last year, there was a four per cent rise in the number of women who availed themselves of the procedure in England and Wales. These were not ignorant teenagers – the number of abortions provided to younger women fell. The rise in abortions is among older women: women who are married and who have children already and who feel able to choose abortion as a legitimate procedure.

Modern British society has grown up with legal, accessible abortion. People understand that it is part of women’s lives. Broadly speaking, even those who oppose it, because they value the life of the fetus as much as the life of its bearer, accept that the moral choice should be the woman’s. No one wants to argue that women and doctors should be jailed for ending pregnancies.

Thirty-five years ago, when I first started to lobby for women’s right to abortion, legislators in the muddled middle ground would worry about how the Daily Mail, Catholic voters and the anti-abortion lobby would respond to any attempt at change. We were warned not to raise the issue in parliament for fear of losing ground. Sympathetic civil servants cautioned against what we would now describe as ‘poking the bear’. We were told that if we brought abortion on to the floor of the House of Commons, we would lose.

Now, we are that bear, and it’s our opponents who should worry. MPs should not be worried about how constituents will react if they support reproductive choice. Rather, they should be worried about how constituents will react if they do not support reproductive choice. Today, more than 200,000 women avail themselves of abortions each year – every one of them has a family and friends and a social-media network. MPs might want to think twice about suggesting they opted to have an abortion out of ignorance, immorality or fecklessness. Past generations of women may have felt too inhibited to speak out – but not now.

In 2018, abortion was liberalised in the Republic of Ireland. Now it seems that, in 2019, abortion will be decriminalised on the rest of the island of Ireland. The question now is: where next for Britain? ‎I am seeing a future in which abortion is decriminalised and accepted as the essential healthcare procedure that so many of us know it to be.

Ann Furedi is the author of The Moral Case for Abortion and chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Join the #WeTrustWomen campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion in Britain.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Norman Grieve

13th July 2019 at 1:32 pm

Has Spiked finally been spiked by (il)liberal feminist institutions like bpas?

Claire D

12th July 2019 at 9:55 am

It is ironic that these feminists have dressed up in ‘ The Handmaid’s Tale ‘ costumes. In this work of fiction women have virtually no autonomy at all, they are manipulated into committing atrocities when it suits the authorities, the rest of the time their only purpose is for sex and reproduction.
These young feminists in their costumes live in a democratic state where ‘ equality of opportunity ‘ is the prevailing ethos; they can sleep with a different man every night if they choose, or be lesbians, or be celibate; they can wear what they like, say or do what they like within the law, but this is not enough for them, they must also be allowed to kill their unborn children when it suits them.
Apparently Spiked support the de-criminalisation of abortion, I think this is a mistake.
Abortion is a failure, it is a failure by society to educate and inform it’s young of the consequences of irresponsible sexual activity and it is a failure of the woman in question to be fully responsible for the autonomy she now possesses.

Ted Glen

11th July 2019 at 6:42 am

This is rather hypocritical of Spiked, who always say the most important rights to stand up for are when they apply to your enemies as well as your friends.

These are not powers which should be decided by Westminster, as they are devolved to Norther Ireland and the NI assembly. Regardless of your views on Abortion, if you defend the democratic righteousness of the Brexit vote, then you should defend the right of the Northern Irish to make this decision themselves.

Would Anna be cheering if Westminster had imposed a different diktat on Norther Ireland I wonder? Perhaps one about forcing Northern Ireland schools to teach Islamic religious study? No? Well, then her argument falls flat and shows her double standards and mockery of her support of democracy.

Abbey Hong

10th July 2019 at 10:10 pm

Abortions kill more children in the UK each year at 190,000 than Cancer kills anyone in the UK (160,000). Yay what a victory for human rights.. unless you are an unwanted human. Inconvenient

Lex Warpath

11th July 2019 at 3:46 pm

Many of those children are already dead or would be dead shortly after birth.
Your statistic reads, “190k women are freed from the burdens of their rapes, their incest, their dead or dying child, or the horrors of raising a child with a terrible condition.”
As a near-aborted fetus, I can speak for all of us– a fetus, or a zygote, or an embryo, whatever stage it may be, does not give a crap if it’s life is snuffed out.

James Clow

10th July 2019 at 7:24 pm

This article got me curious about which countries it have the lowest rates of abortion (where it is legal) and why.
I don’t know whether the Netherlands is still the lowest as the artical is old but it makes for interesting reading.

Claire D

11th July 2019 at 7:00 am

Thank you for the link, it seems to back up my suggestion below.
It does make you wonder at the sheer incompetence of our Government.

James Knight

10th July 2019 at 5:56 pm

“You would have to be mind-numbingly stupid to want to maintain this state of affairs”

So let the people of NI have a referendum on it following the example in Eire. I suspect that didn’t happen because many MPs think the NI people are “mind numbingly stupid”. Just as they want to ignore the Brexit referendum on the same principle.

Alex Ander

10th July 2019 at 5:36 pm

You’ve said ” Abortion is increasingly understood as what it is: a safe, necessary back-up to other methods of birth control that should be available when contraception fails, or isn’t used – for whatever reason.”

The sheer horror of this comment cannot be expounded fully enough! You are saying the abortion (which is simply a buzzword for infanticide) is a NECESSARY form of birth control for WHATEVER REASON! You should be locked up for airing such views in the public domain.

Claire D

10th July 2019 at 4:41 pm

Lower the limit to 12 weeks in line with France, Germany and Spain.
Run a national campaign via schools, universities, the NHS and the BBC; show the reality of what abortion means to the fetus and the unborn child. Inform girls and women and encourage them to be more responsible for their sexuality, not less.
The abortion industry may be doing very well thank you but their ‘ success ‘ is death for approximately 200,000 unborn babies each year.

There’s got to be a better way than this.

Neil McCaughan

10th July 2019 at 4:31 pm

Did the loathesome Greasy mention the child’s rights?
Or the father’s?

So they’ll be no objection to some ‘technical’ measure legalising rendering her down for lard, presumably?

Winston Stanley

10th July 2019 at 3:54 pm

(I have no dogmatic view on abortion.)

The change in the law for NI abortions and gay marriage does pass the democracy test, as polls show that both have majority support in NI. A majority in Britain also support a move by Westminster.

This is not yet a done deal however. There is talk within the DUP of ending the confidence and supply deal with the Tories, which would bring them down, unless the legislation is withdrawn before royal assent. It all adds to complexity of Brexit. Boris would have to call a GE.

Arguably Westminster has done DUP a favour, it isolates an Irish Language Act as the other condition without which SF will not return to Stormont.

Ted Glen

11th July 2019 at 6:47 am

“does pass the democracy test”

So then Independence for Scotland, the Brexit vote reversed, 2015 election actually reinstates Ed Miliband and Hilary Clinton dragged into office then, due to your “democracy test”

Joseph Pettitt

10th July 2019 at 2:12 pm

When Stella Creasy had a miscarriage she talked about her baby’s heartbeat stopping. Now she’s enabled the poisoning and/or dismemberment of such babies in N Ireland she says, “Today we have said everyone in the UK deserves to be treated as equal.”
It seems that when wanted by the mother the fetus is a “baby” when not wanted it is a nobody that is outside the realm of the “everyone deserves to be treated as equal.”
How is this a decent basis for any ethical decisions?

Gerard Barry

10th July 2019 at 2:29 pm

“Pro-choice” arguments tend to reflect the feminist worldview that women only have rights and not any bothersome moral obligations.

Hana Jinks

10th July 2019 at 1:12 pm

Woohoo!!!! Sound the trumpets!!! We’re free to murder even more of God’s unborn on behalf of satan!!!

I’d argue that women and doctor’s involved in the utilization of the “procedure” be executed, especially given the fact that is being normalised as a contraception method by those doctors.

What a racket.

Nick Cotton

10th July 2019 at 12:54 pm

The girl in the photo is holding abortion pills. Abortion pills.

That moment when abortions are at Amazon-Prime levels of accessibility, but you keep doing the Handmaid’s Tale cosplay anyway because you must maintain the oppression narrative.

cliff resnick

10th July 2019 at 12:52 pm

Firstly the difference between infantiside and abortion is merely technical and because abortion should not be denied to victims of rape etc means logically (of course) that all women have the right to choose to kill their unborn baby up till the state says it’s OK. Abortion as a means of contraception is killing the unborn child. Sorry to point out the obvious. Now if you wish to make it sound more palatable that is purely a personnel choice of convenience.

Gerard Barry

10th July 2019 at 1:08 pm

Issues like rape and fatal foetal abnormalities are constantly brought up as reasons why abortion should be legalised in jurisdictions where it has been banned heretofore. We saw the same red herring arguments put forward during the debate on abortion in the Republic of Ireland. The uncomfortable fact that the vast majority of abortions are performed for far less compelling reasons than these is largely ignored.

Gloria Britanniæ

11th July 2019 at 7:47 pm

(Oh dear, oh dear: is my comment not to be allowed? Looks like the comments policy here will be as idiosyncratically interpreted as every other social media platform. I posted the below with links to source material—it in no way contravened the policy. So reposting again but sans links (removed links indicated by asterisks); use a search engine if wishing to follow up.)

Abortion advocates bringing up rape in the context of abortion debates is an excellent demonstration of the ‘Motte and Bailey’* tactic where a person hides behind a more defensible idea when a less defensible one is attacked. In the ‘bailey’ are feminists joking and laughing* about their multiple abortions, giving the lie to the narrative that ‘abortions are reluctant acts of last resort by desperate women’. Behind them, the ever-reliable ‘motte’ of women and under-age girls unwillingly impregnated as a consequence of rape and incest (implicit rape).

Ben ‘Do you know who I am?’* Shapiro normally deals with the Motte & Bailey tactic quite well. This is how he described method and counter at a 2016 conference*:
Let’s be real about this, what the Left wants to do is pick the outlier and then use it to justify all the rest of the abortions. 99% of the abortions in this country have nothing to do with rape. Nothing to do with rape. They have to do with people having irresponsible sex, they have to do with convenience, they have to do with age, they have to do with they don’t like whether it’s a boy or a girl. So, what they like to do is, they like to take the one outlier case, the one that tugs at the heartstrings and then say, ‘Well, let’s just make abortion legal in all circumstances based on this.’ … [T]hey want all abortions to be legal and they’re using a marginal example as the rule in order to make sure that abortion is legal across [the board]. You should say that to them, if they say ‘rape’ you should say: ‘Listen, how about this? We’ll make a deal: all of the pregnancies that do not spring from rape must be carried through to term. Now are you happy?’ They won’t be happy, I promise you, and that’s how you expose them, that’s how you say, ‘Well then, it really isn’t about the rape, is it? You’re just using that as an excuse.’

Another counter Ben employs is to briefly focus* on the crime and victim that abortion advocates ignore in order to advance their agenda (if we could reduce the rapes occurring in the first place, it would not only obviate the need to address unwanted pregnancies but avoid the unnecessary suffering of victims, pregnant or not—I would spend more time than Ben exploring this aspect, getting into RKBA, self-defence, responsible behaviour, death penalty, etc.):
[I]f a woman is raped, you should find her rapist, you should track him down and we should kill him, right; or castrate him. These are my two options, pick one—whichever one you please, right, either one is okay. Also, it’s bad to kill babies. That’s my answer. They’re completely unrelated. The two topics are completely unrelated. The source of the pregnancy and whether that’s a human life in there are two completely unrelated topics.

Ben ably rebuts someone employing the Motte & Bailey tactic* against him:
I do think that it’s important to note two things. 1) The solution to something horrible happening is not another horrible thing happening, in the killing of the baby, which I think is actually horrible. And 2)… [Applause] And 2) it’s really not good to take the marginal case and then use that to argue broad. So, what people tend to do is they say, ‘What about the girl who’s raped? What about her abortion case?’ So now, let me ask you: if the girl weren’t raped, and she just got pregnant, would you think that she should still have access to an abortion?
[Questioner: ‘I do because I think it’s her body and I think it’s her health.’]
Right, so you’re giving me an exceptional case in order to prove a rule that you don’t actually want to defend. So you’re, if you just come up and ask me do I think a woman should have an abortion, then we could actually have an argument about, or discussion about, in what cases an abortion was appropriate. But you always, this is what people on the pro-choice side—the anti-life side—actually do, what they actually do is they take the marginal case, they take the raped—you know, woman who has a severe disability—and they say, ‘This is all abortion.’ That’s not all abortion. Significantly less than 1% of all abortions are performed on women who have been raped. If we want to talk about the epidemic of abortion in the country—over a million abortions performed a year in the United States—let’s talk about the other 99% of cases. When you are willing to agree with me that the other 99% of cases are not cases where abortion should be necessary, then I’m willing to have a discussion with you about compromise. But I don’t think that’s what you want. I think that you’re just using the exceptional case in order to try and guilt me into supporting a broad-based abortion platform.
These are two separate issues: sympathy for the woman and sympathy for—how about a little sympathy for the child? Okay, at any point does sympathy for the child come in here?

And again here*:
First of all, important to note, rape and incest are not only a vast [sic] minority of abortion cases, they’re an extraordinarily low percentage of abortion cases. So, if we can first stipulate that all the other abortions are bad, then we can talk about that other one—can we do that? Are all the other abortions bad or are those ones okay and you’re just using this as an excuse to make the other ones okay? … Are you willing to stipulate that all the other abortions are bad, it’s just rape and incest that bother you?
[Questioner: ‘I mean, no, I believe a woman should have the right to an abortion—’]
Got it, so it’s an excuse, right? So it’s an excuse that we can say that, so that we can, we can take the marginal case and then say that the marginal case applies to all cases. … But if you want me to answer specifically on rape and incest, here is my basic answer: rapists should be castrated or killed; you shouldn’t kill babies. End of story.

(I do understand the moral dilemma, and have given thought to a theoretical scenario that well illustrates it—but there is little point in wasting time on it as we are so far removed from it being an applicable discussion (btw, my conclusion to my hypothetical is that there are no easy answers and if ‘hard cases make bad law’, then contrived hypotheticals make worse).)

With specific respect to the UK, abortion was already legal at common law (Rex v Bourne* (1938)) in precisely the extreme circumstances (victims of rape, etc.) that abortion advocates trot out whenever their narrative is questioned; the mother’s health exception was also allowed by the still law Infant Life (Preservation) Act, 1929*. This means the UK could repeal the Abortion Act 1967 and the rape and mother’s health exceptions would remain legal.

Gerard Barry

10th July 2019 at 12:49 pm

“Parliament now understands the absurdity of forcing women to travel from one part of the UK to another for a legal, necessary procedure.”

How on earth are most abortions “necessary”?

“Today, more than 200,000 women avail themselves of abortions each year – every one of them has a family and friends and a social-media network. MPs might want to think twice about suggesting they opted to have an abortion out of ignorance, immorality or fecklessness.”

200,000 abortions a year. What a disgusting statistic. As for women having an abortion out of “ignorance, immorality or fecklessness”, MPs might not have the balls to say it but I will: in most cases, abortion is an immoral, selfish act on the part of the women and she should be truly ashamed of herself for it.

“‎I am seeing a future in which abortion is decriminalised and accepted as the essential healthcare procedure that so many of us know it to be.”

“Essential healthcare procedure” my ass. More like something deelpy immoral that, in most cases, could be quite easily avoided through proper use of contraception, or, God forbid, through abstinence. The women in question could also have the baby, as women have been doing since the beginning of time. Pregnancy is not an illness.

Hana Jinks

10th July 2019 at 1:22 pm

christopher barnard

10th July 2019 at 12:17 pm

What is the point of devolution if Westminster can interfere whenever it likes?

I have no view on abortion on Northern Ireland except to say I am happy for the people of the country to decide the matter for themselves, not to be instructed what to do by a parliament sitting hundreds of miles away.

gershwin gentile

10th July 2019 at 11:44 am

#wetrustwomen? All of them? Including Rose West?

anton de grandier

10th July 2019 at 11:49 am


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