Abortion Rights in the UK- A Looming Shadow
With the recent horrific news coming out of the US, constituting the overturning of Roe v. Wade; a judicial ruling which had previously enabled women to exercise their fundamental right to bodily autonomy; a collective shiver ran down the spines of people across the globe.
Anxious persons glanced nervously around contemplating whether their own government would turn on them, as the USA’s did to theirs.
One such nation was the UK, which tested the waters of examining and enhancing its own population’s reproductive rights.
What was discovered was alarming, to say the least, as the water rippled ominously, in answer.
Read: UK Abortion Rights: A Win for Sanity and Humanity
The First Motions
Recently, a cross party amendment, to be tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, to the UK’s forthcoming Bill of Rights, has been propagated with the purpose of enshrining access to abortion as a fundamental right.
Creasy stated she would be under the expectation that MPs would be afforded a free vote on the issue, as a matter of conscience. Furthermore, adding that it would be tabled when the bill was published at the second reading.
Why the need for such a move, you may think?
Well, aside from such a purportedly progressive nation across the Atlantic curtailing abortion rights in a markedly bold and severe way, said rights in the UK’s setting are not as safe as you may think.
Removing the Veil
On the one hand, while abortion in the UK was decriminalized by the 1967 Abortion Act, which bars people of prosection from the procedure as long as it is authorized by two doctors, said Act failed to repeal the Offences Against the Person Act legislated prior.
Passed in 1861, before women were even legally allowed to vote, the act, an archaic piece of Victorian legislation, carries a potential life sentence for persons who terminate their own pregnancy.
In a problematic legal situation, women only in Northern Ireland have a guaranteed right to an abortion, due to a NI Exectutive formation bill amendment, supported by MPs at Westminister in 2019.
Regarding England and Wales, the 1967 Abortion Act allowed terminations of up to 24 weeks, in Great Britain, in most circumstances. However, the law itself is framed in a way that means abortion is not a right, but an exception when two doctors are in agreement that the pregnancy would be risky for the physical or mental health of the woman.
Therefore, any such termination of a fetus can be legally liable if it falls out of the more recent legislation’s scope, as shall be exemplified subsequently.
A liability enabled and exasperated, at the very least, by the Government’s response.
Also read: The United Kingdom’s Decision to Cut Foreign Aid is having Catastrophic Effects on Women’s Reproductive Rights and Sexual Health.
Oblivious to the Dangers
The government’s response to such a precarity of a fundamental right was not even remotely satisfactory.
As seen when the minister representing the current administration, Dominic Raab, voiced doubts about including such a right in the Bill, with it, according to them, having been settled in UK Law, and purportedly troubled of the prospect of it being relitigated through the courts, echoing the US’s troubles on the matter.
However, not so willfully oblivious to such legal insecurity, other parties outside of the central government have acknowledged the dangers.
Take the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), speaking recently to I News, stating that abortion rights are insecure, anticipating attacks on abortion Law in parliament, following the US’s Roe. v. Wade decision.
They went on to say that not altering the law will result in any woman wanting to end their pregnancy, from the instance a fertilized egg is implanted in the womb without the permission of two doctors, will face a prison sentence of up to life.
At this moment, you may think that the UK is less volatile and hostile towards abortion-related healthcare.
Alas, this is far from the truth.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) attained data showing that, in 2015 and 2016, 645 abortion pills were confiscated, while on route to addresses in Wales, England, and Scotland, along with over 100 packets of abortion pills being captured in Northern Ireland, at a time when the product was illegal.
Furthermore, data attained, from the Home Office, by National World through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act showed that at least 17, with the figure potentially reaching 29, female suspects were investigated by the authorities under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, between March 2014 and December 2021.
The Match is lit
All of the above clearly demonstrates that amending a Bill of Rights, to include a person’s fundamental right to exercise their bodily autonomy is not only a morally and practically right measure but one that is urgently required.
Lest we no longer have to look across the ocean, in order to see the actions of a regressive and violent nation in response to a person’s inalienable right to choose.
We must act now.
Also read: UK Abortion rights: The First Shots Fired