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ABORTION: COULD THE UK FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE US?

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

I’ve debated writing in detail about abortion law in America. In truth, I have very little to say. I’m sure we can all agree that the rights of women are being deeply violated. In approximately half of the states in the US, abortion is impossible to come by except in exceptional circumstances, such as a risk to the mother’s life. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. The three conservative judges Donald Trump appointed to the Supreme Court made these kinds of antiquated laws likely to return. As is usually the case, those from poorer backgrounds, who don’t have the resources to travel to states were abortion is legal, will be most affected. Not only is the overturn of Roe V. Wade (the court case that made abortion legal) a huge step backwards for the US, it’s also forced me to think more deeply about abortion law here in the UK.


It’s not surprising that the decision in America has caused right-wing, pro-life groups to come out in force. In fact, Life Voice, a branch of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, is funding a production at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Alongside this, many leading politicians have been vocal about their ‘pro-life’ views, most notably Jacob Rees-Mogg. Perhaps even more worryingly, Dominic Rabb refused to include the right to abortion in the newest bill of rights. He has claimed that the right to an abortion is already “settled in UK law”, which seems a poor reason not to enshrine basic rights for women in our constitution.


What many people in the UK are not aware of, is that their right to abortion is not without conditions. The 1967 Abortion Act ensures that abortion is legal so long as it’s performed by a registered medial practitioner, and two doctors have agreed that the woman, or the child, would be at risk if the pregnancy continued. The majority of abortions in the UK are performed under the assumption that that mother’s mental health would be affected if she carried the baby to full term. It is only in Northern Ireland that, up to twelve weeks, abortion can be performed for any reason. In short, most UK women needs permission to have an abortion. The principle of ‘asking’ for an abortion doesn’t sit well with me. The implication is that abortion is a favour, not a human right.


Are women who have an ‘illegal’ abortion likely to be prosecuted? It’s the question I asked myself once I fully understood abortion law here in the UK. The short answer is yes. Currently, two women are facing criminal charges for having an abortion. Both consumed the abortive pill Misoprostol. One of the women obtained the pill without consulting a doctor, while the other lied about how far along she was in her pregnancy. The latter was reported to the police, and could be spending the rest of her life in jail. Many other women, and girls, have faced harrowing police investigations after miscarrying under ‘suspicious’ circumstances.


Ultimately, women in the UK do not automatically have the right to abortion. The fact that, in 2022, women are being put on trial for claiming ownership of their bodies, is disgusting to me. Yet again, we see that the law fails to offer women adequate support. It may be that, like me, you’ve taken you’re right to abortion for granted. Maybe, you’ve been tempted to roll your eyes at the backwardness of the Supreme Court of the US. However, much as I hate to say it, we can never take women’s rights for granted. It’s important that we remain vigilant, and ensure that women retain the ability to choose in the UK.


- Emily Handel

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