Politics and the attack on abortion
Once again, the issue of abortion is in the news. The personal statement by the new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that the abortion limit should be halved to 12 weeks, caused a media storm on the opening day of the Conservative Conference in Birmingham. The Conservatives have past form in wanting the abortion limit reduced, with some even opposing the idea of abortion. Maria Miller, the Minister for Women, calls for a reduction to 20 weeks, as does Home Secretary Theresa May and Tory MP Nadine Dorries. Even David Cameron believes in a ‘‘slight reduction’’. But this is not just an attack on abortion but an attack on women’s rights. This reflects the attitudes of the Conservatives’ ideological ‘partners’ in the USA, the Republican Party.
Hunt may hide behind his ‘sources’ stating that medical advances means the abortion limit is too long, but this is neither fair nor true. Only a tiny percentage of babies survive at 24 weeks, and only a minute percentage of abortions are carried out after 20 weeks. The vast majority are carried out before 13 weeks. The group, Abortion Rights, state that there is no scientific basis in a reduction and that all the main UK medical bodies support the current limit. So this isn’t a scientific opinion, but a personal and political one.
Let’s not fool ourselves, Hunt and Miller aren’t just for reducing the limit, but for getting rid of abortion altogether. Miller, despite referring to herself as a ‘‘feminist’’, is no such thing. Wanting to strip women of their autonomy when it comes to controlling their own fertility is not a feminist idea. Here it is worth noting that Miller has past form when it comes to inequality – she’s opposed to lesbian couples having fertility treatment.
Reducing the abortion limit, to 22, 20 or even 12 weeks is a bad idea. The scan for any potential foetal abnormalities, such as Down’s Syndrome, occurs at 20 weeks. A limit of 12 weeks will make this scan impossible. A reduction to 22 or 20 weeks will mean women will only have a small amount of time in which to make a life changing decision as to whether to keep a child or not based on the results of said scan. That is not fair. Women need time to discuss and work out the best option for their future.
These attacks on abortion rights echo those in the USA, where attacks on a woman’s rights over her body are becoming increasingly heated. The Republican Party want abortions outlawed, but failing that are involved with many ‘pro-life’ bills for women wanting abortions such as forcing them to look at ultrasounds and embarrassing and invasive trans-vaginal examinations.
These actions are being used to humiliate American women and to make them feel ashamed for wanting abortions. Women who use contraceptives are ‘sluts’ and pregnancy resulting from rape ‘doesn’t happen’. Abortion providers here and in America are attacked by anti-choice groups, who have been found taking photos of women visiting clinics and abusing them for having an abortion.
This assault on women’s reproductive rights in the USA makes me think of the image that has been going round on media sites with regards to Mitt Romney and his Republican Party – an image of a see-through female mannequin stuffed full of baby dolls. This is how the Republicans of America view women: as baby machines. And this is one of the reasons why they are so opposed to abortion. If women can’t or won’t have babies, what good are they?
Abortion should not be a political decision. But all too much it is seized upon by anti-choice groups, right-wingers and anti-feminists who want to restrict a woman’s choice on what they do with their bodies and their reproductive rights. It fits into a bigger picture of increasing inequality amongst the sexes. From the ‘‘War on Women’’ raging amongst the Right in America, and the attacks on women over here in Britain; from the disproportionate ‘austerity’ cuts affecting women, more women losing their jobs than men and the lack of female voices in the Coalition Government.
No matter the protests or possible law changes in the future, reducing the abortion limit, or making abortions illegal, will not stop women getting abortions. This is a fact. At present, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion before they are 45. But it will make it more dangerous. Women do not want to resort to dangerous methods to end a pregnancy. At the end of the day, it will create a two-tier system in society, one that is already widening both here and in America, of the privileged and rich being able to either support a bigger family or have abortions safely and secretly, while the poorest and most vulnerable women in society (who are also the ones facing the harshest cuts in Britain) may be forced to carry out dangerous and potential fatal abortions.
Having an abortion is never taken lightly; the propaganda spewed by anti-abortionists that women use it as a form of contraception and that women feel guilty for having an abortion or regret it is not true generally. Most women realise it was the right decision for them at the time, and they don’t make the decision on a whim.
The problem, to quote President Barack Obama, is that we ‘‘have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women’’. This not only applies to America, but to Britain as well. The point about abortion is that it is a woman’s right to choose. A right that should not be taken away.