UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A women’s right to choose back on the political agenda

News that right wing religious groups are now considered government advisers in relation to women’s reproductive rights, and private members bills that seek to place the “Just Say No” movement at the heart of sexual health strategy must sound warning bells to all who believe in women’s equality.

 The Right in the UK have long sought to undermine the 1967 Abortion Act, an Act that allowed legal access to abortion in this country under a series of conditions, such as the requirement for two doctors to make an assessment of the patient. It is not an unconditional right (though its opponents will always present it that way).

Names like Benyon, Corrie and Alton have their place in the history of those who have previously attempted to erode the right to choose: - Benyon, with his Monday Club agenda, Corrie acting under orders from SPUC HQ and Alton, the Liberal ennobled by John Major. With each attempt the choice movement in this country was activated and managed largely to maintain the principles of the 1967 Act.

That was back in the 1980’s and 90’s. But the pressure within the Tory Party has never gone away: -
  • 5 June 2007, Conservative MP Ann Winterton’s attempt to introduce compulsory abortion counselling and a week-long ‘cooling off’ period was defeated in the House of Commons by 182 votes to 107. Mrs Winterton said women should be made aware of the ‘risks’ of abortion,
  • 2007, a bid by Conservative MP Angela Watkinson to force doctors offering abortion or contraception advice to under-16s to inform the child’s parents was rejected by MPs who voted 159 to 87 to retain the current guidelines guaranteeing confidential advice
  • Later in 2008 Nadine Dorries introduced provisions calling for the legal time limit for abortions to be cut from 24 weeks to 21 weeks MPs voted 187 to 108 against.
This last was the most informing about the current state of Tory Party intentions as in that instance David Cameron's announced that he supported attempts by a small minority of anti-abortion MPs to lower the abortion time limit. His statement puts him out of step with the scientific consensus and at odds with women's interests, and in 2011, the Tory Party is now in government.

Dorries with Frank Field MP has now tabled an amendment with one simple aim. It is to ensure that advice about abortion is given separately from the body that picks up a fee if the pregnant mother proceeds with an abortion. 60 % of abortions carried out in England are in fact carried out by agencies such as the British Pregnancy Advice Service and this amendment will directly place that provision under threat.

This amendment is a prime example of the “salami slicing” approach taken by opponents of the Act. Their goal is not to improve the legislation or the rights of women - it is to take the Abortion Act of the statute book.

Any glance at the literature of the anti choice lobby reveals that their ultimate goal is banning abortion, denying women the basic right to decide for themselves about their own bodies. Every amendment tabled form that quarter must be viewed with that goal in mind. It is every woman’s right to take her own decision with the ability to access safe legal abortion - it is that right that anti abortionists seek to deny.

The Tory Party has always had its religious zealots for whom the Nazi slogan of “Kinder, Küche, Kirche ” (the Nazi women’s manifesto of children, kitchen and church) is probably too slack. (While non-Aryan races were exterminated and sterilised, the woman of the Aryan master class was expected to breed and stay in the kitchen.)

While it suits the Tory government well for Sam Cam image to be portrayed as the thoroughly modern women having it all, with the children and the modern job as the part time executive, Tory Party policy is based not the ideal of women’s equality but is still somewhere on the 1950’s ideal of mummy doing the washing up in her marigolds and preparing the dinner while daddy goes out to work.

That is why they are currently turning back the clock on the Equality Act. That is why women are suffering benefit cuts, That is why working families will see tax credits for child care cut, taking women out of the workforce. That is why low paid women working in the public sector see their jobs cuts and their pay cut.
As socialists, women’s rights equality must be top of our agenda.

And the most basic of rights, those over our own bodies are some of the most precious.