U.K. Antis Take Pages From U.S. Play Books

Proving yet again that all rights’ struggles are universal, all hell seems to be breaking loose over abortion in England. The current cutoff point for legal abortion there is 24 weeks, and MPs are launching an inquiry into whether the limit should be lowered to 20 weeks.

The science and technology committee will examine the impact of termination on the mother’s health and whether babies under 24 weeks can survive.

The Pro-Life Alliance wants the upper limit cut to 20 weeks.

But the British Medical Association says the number surviving at 24 weeks is still “extremely small”.

. . . The Pro-Life Alliance also wants a “cooling-off” period, because it believes some women are having an abortion without the time to think it through.

Ah, yes. Because the best way to reduce late-term abortions is the make obtaining an early-term abortion more difficult! Though I’m angry at both the attempt to further restrict when women can have abortions and at the implication that women should be forced to wait to have abortions, I have to appreciate the irony. Of course, the idea of a “cooling off” period is bullshit — women generally think through the decision very carefully before even going to a clinic, and doctors routinely tell women they think are unsure about the decision to wait or undergo counseling.

The implication that more restrictions need to be added also implies that abortions are somehow easy to obtain. That’s not true — currently in Englad, women have to visit two doctors to get an abortion approval. Again, it seems women can’t make decisions about their bodies without a whole lot of help.

And the entire existence of the debate is ignoring the fact that only 1.4% of U.K. abortions occur after 20 week (pdf fact sheet). But who cares what the truth is when there’s a chance to spread propaganda? Few, it seems, did when the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling on “partial-birth abortions,” the concept of which was an absolute con. Don’t think that British anti-choicers didn’t notice.

Speaking of propaganda, a documentary is also set to air on British television that contains footage from actual abortions. It is set to coincide with other discussions regarding an abortion bill that would allow abortions to be performed by nurses for up to 13 weeks.

Britain’s nurses are calling for the law on abortion to be changed so that they can perform terminations on women in the early stages of pregnancy.

Their request comes as Channel 4 prepares to broadcast footage taken during the abortion of a 16-week-old foetus for the first time on British TV. The scenes in Wednesday’s Dispatches documentary will fuel the growing debate on abortion, which Parliament is preparing to review for the first time since 1990.

The Royal College of Nursing, which represents the country’s 390,000 nurses, has asked for the 1967 Abortion Act to be amended to allow both nurses and midwives with extra training to carry out surgical abortions on women in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy and also to prescribe the abortion pill. Only doctors may now perform terminations.

The RCN has made its demands in a written submission to the Commons select committee on science and technology, which starts an inquiry tomorrow into whether abortion law needs a major overhaul.

The document points out that a growing number of nurses and midwives already carry out a range of complex surgical procedures that have traditionally been the preserve of doctors, such as colposcopies, hysteroscopies and fitting intrauterine devices.

I think allowing nurses — who do a hell of a lot what doctors do — to perform early abortions — which are very simple procedures — is a great idea. But I find it interesting that while one side is pushing for abortion restrictions, the other side is actively pursuing making abortions easier to obtain. It’s rather different than the way we do things here in the U.S., which more closely amounts to antis waging an attack and pro-choicers desperately holding on for dear life. For that reason alone, I think that this is a situation we should watch carefully. Depending on how things turn out, it may be a tactic worth considering, even if there are many differences to be had between U.S. and U.K. policy.

As for the documentary, the full context is still unclear. Anti-abortion proponents are hailing it as a “wake up call,” but Chanel 4 claims that the documentary is not sensationalized or ideological. For that, we’ll have to wait and see. But I do have an automatic problem with the abortions they’re choosing to show: an abortion at 16 weeks and one at 12 weeks. Though I was unable to find U.K. numbers, we do know that in the U.S. almost 60% of abortions taken place before 9 weeks, almost 80% take place before 10 weeks and almost 90% take place before the 13th week. The above fact sheet also shows that only 11% of U.K. abortions take place past the first trimester (a number that coincides almost perfectly with the U.S. rate, indicating that other trends may also be similar) . Seems a little misleading, doesn’t it? If we’re actually going to do this, where’s the 7 week vacuum aspiration? If we’re going to look at a 16 week old fetus with some recognizably human physical features, where’s the little blob that is an embryo, which is what most women who have abortions expel?

In any case, I think that keeping an eye on the British debate is well worth the time for American reproductive rights activists. And to British women who are watching from the sidelines, now is the time to get organized and get involved. In the U.S. after Roe v. Wade, too many women thought that their rights were safe and failed to mobilize early enough against the anti-choice attacks. And look where we are now. Trust me, you don’t want to join us.

0 thoughts on “U.K. Antis Take Pages From U.S. Play Books

  1. Debs

    Thank you so much for posting this! Yep, it’s all happening here in the UK at the moment, and it all seems to have a worrying ‘pro-life’ slant to it. The documentary is the worst part, I think – I really don’t see the value in actually showing footage from abortions unless it is just to give the ‘pro-lifers’ more ammunition to use against women. I cannot understand why they feel the need to show it at all, except to say that one prominent ex-politician has been quoted as saying she hopes it opens people’s eyes – so is that the point; to make people who aren’t sure about abortion get off the fence and land in the ‘pro-life’ camp? I don’t know.

    The review is frightening too, and has the same flavour of putting the squeeze on abortion rights, to which the logical conclusion would be the criminalisation of abortion. These reviews seem to happen a lot here, though, and not much changes – I think they just like to keep the issue in the spotlight so us lowly women don’t get too complacent about our right to a safe, legal abortion.


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