Three cheers for Labour’s plan for abortion reform

Decriminalising abortion is essential for women’s freedom.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan
Columnist

Share

General Elections should be exciting. Political parties get to try out new policies, push their voters and attempt to gain a mandate for real change. And while it’s true that the key issue of our winter election is Brexit, from spending promises to immigration, there are many other issues at stake.

The Labour Party might be terrible when it comes to Brexit, but one policy in its manifesto is truly radical. In just nine words, Labour promises to change women’s lives dramatically: ‘We will uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions.’

The manifesto covers other issues relating to women – such as funding women’s centres, changes to the law in relation to domestic violence and ‘revenge porn’, and the much-discussed promise of compensation for the so-called WASPI women. But it is this promise of decriminalising abortion that marks the party out as taking a principled stance on women’s freedom.

Contrary to what many people think, abortion is not legal in the UK. The Abortion Act 1967 makes access to abortion widely available for women up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but only under specific conditions. A close look at the law shows that it is actually designed to protect doctors from criminalisation for performing abortions in specific circumstances – not to allow women the freedom to make decisions about their pregnancies. Under the terms of the law, women must prove to ‘two registered medical practitioners’ that their abortion is necessary to protect their ‘physical or mental health’. In practice, this means that, legally, a woman cannot merely decide that a pregnancy would be a bad decision for her – she has to convince two doctors that it would kill her or drive her mad.

Decriminalising abortion would allow it to be regulated like any other safe medical procedure. Rather than creating legal loopholes for women to access the healthcare they need, decriminalisation removes state interference with women’s bodies. The choice to have an abortion would be private, independent and belong solely to women.

This policy has caused some controversy, to put it lightly. Alarmist pro-life campaigners are having a meltdown. One critic wrote in the Daily Mail that Labour was peddling an ‘extremist, dogmatic policy’ in saying it will decriminalise abortion.

Much of the scaremongering is centred on the fact that decriminalising abortion would remove the gestation time limit on abortion procedures. The Christian People’s Alliance tweeted that Labour would allow ‘the killing of unborn children up to birth’. The anti-abortion organisation Right to Life tweeted a picture of a wilted version of Labour’s signature rose, next to the words ‘Abortion up to birth’.

But those freaking out about this proposal do women a disservice. Statistics from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) show that nine in 10 abortions are performed at 13 weeks or less. Eighty per cent of abortions are now performed under 10 weeks. That’s up from 73 per cent in 2008.

As the stigma around abortion and access to contraception has been reduced, women who want to terminate their pregnancies are coming forward at earlier stages to access the help they need. No one wants to have a late-term abortion – they are invasive and traumatic. The idea that decriminalisation would mean a skyrocketing of late-term abortions shows an ignorance of the facts and what such a procedure entails.

What critics of decriminalisation are really saying when they panic about ‘unrestricted’ abortion is that women cannot be trusted to make moral, informed and adult decisions. Do these people really believe that there are lots of women out there who would get pregnant for the hell of it, carry around an extra 15 kilos and puke up every morning, only to jump on the doctor’s table at 30 weeks and demand an abortion? This is a callous misrepresentation of women’s carefully considered, private decisions. And it is a sad indication that there are still people who think women shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.

Labour’s promise on decriminalisation could be revolutionary for women’s bodily autonomy. Other parties who are serious about women’s freedom should take note. Women choose to have abortions for all kinds of reasons. Whatever we think of those reasons, a woman’s choice should be hers alone. Until we decriminalise abortion, women will remain constrained by the state and mistrusted by society.

Labour hasn’t got much going for it in this election, but we must give credit where credit is due – this pledge to decriminalise abortion should be celebrated.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

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.

Comments

Francis Lonergan

16th January 2020 at 4:28 pm

Thankfully Labour will be in the political wilderness for a very long time. The expansion of the slaughter of the innocents may have to wait.

Lord Anubis

4th December 2019 at 5:14 pm

I am neither “Pro-Choice” nor “Pro-Life” as such.

I am however appalled by the Hypocrisy and Sophistry that surrounds this debate.

The issue here really isn’t about subjective arguments as to which arbitrary point in the timeline a developing foetus becomes a living human being. It is about the circumstances under which it is acceptable to kill unwanted children.

If the pros and antis can both come to accept this basic truth, then maybe the debate will get somewhere! :/

Zebedee Arboretum

2nd December 2019 at 10:02 am

My problem with this “freedom” is that it ignores anyone else impacted, taking a wholly myopic view of ‘parenthood’ during pregnancy as merely ‘motherhood’. This is a continued flaw of modern-day feminism – failing to consider the wider structures in which women are operating (bar their rampant criticism of ‘patriarchy’ of course). While, indeed, it cannot be said that the welfare of the mother is not a large factor in such decisions, this does not exclude all else, particularly as the gestation period progresses. Of course, there are many scenarios where this may not be the case, but laws are designed for the protection of all (except for the obvious ones many readers of Spiked have plenty to say about).

Such views on law also invalidate this idea that a freedom like this won’t be abused. It probably won’t for 99% of the time, but that’s not the use cases that are being legislated for. Is it such an affront to freedom that a medical procedure is signed off by a clinician (two seems a little pointless, considering the rate at which such procedures are performed, and seemingly responsibly)? And is it so bad that women already on a ticking clock make a decision regarding their welfare expediently (of course, if there are genuine reasons for extension, then by all means present them and have them included in the legislation)?

The argument that such freedom further infantilises women is an interesting one (outside of rape and incest use cases) – after all, if the claim is responsibility over one’s own body (to suppose the argument purely relates to that), then why the sudden need for that responsibility when it could be shown prior to that point that no responsibility had been taken? And again, the fact that most people would be and are responsible doesn’t legislate for those that will not be. One could argue that great good could be done with, say, murder being decriminalised, but that again is a wholly subjective argument that negates the reasons for said laws in the first place – that tremendous harm can also be wrought.

Dave Chapelle’s bit about abortion plays with these wider concepts: “If you can kill [it], then I can at least abandon ’em. It’s my money, my choice.” No wonder the special didn’t go down well.

Gerard Barry

3rd December 2019 at 9:33 am

“Such views on law also invalidate this idea that a freedom like this won’t be abused. It probably won’t for 99% of the time, but that’s not the use cases that are being legislated for.”

Given that around 200,000 abortions are performed every year in the UK, I think it’s pretty obvious that the “freedom” to have an abortion is being abused. Given the wide availability of low-cost contraception, abortion figures shouldn’t be next or near as high as they are. In most cases, it’s just a sign of downright irresponsibility and immorality.

Gerard Barry

30th November 2019 at 8:02 pm

“Under the terms of the law, women must prove to ‘two registered medical practitioners’ that their abortion is necessary to protect their ‘physical or mental health’. In practice, this means that, legally, a woman cannot merely decide that a pregnancy would be a bad decision for her – she has to convince two doctors that it would kill her or drive her mad.”

I’m confused. Around 200,000 abortions are performed every year in the UK. Are we supposed to believe that these are all carried out for health reasons? Either Ella isn’t telling us the entire truth about British abortion laws or the medical practitioners she refers to are simply signing off on abortions just because pregnant women are asking for them – and not because the pregnancy poses any risk whatsoever to their health.

Francis Lonergan

16th January 2020 at 4:33 pm

I don’t think any abortion advocates tell the truth on the issue. That’s probably because the truth is so uncomfortable and the killing of the most innocent human beings is as close to evil as it is possible to get.

Jerry Owen

30th November 2019 at 10:26 am

I have two comments on this blog on mod … After two days !

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.