One in five abortion clinics breaks the law, screams the Telegraph today. The Health Secretary declares himself “shocked” and promptly announces further inspections of abortion clinics. For a thorough debunking of the hype I’ll point you at @stavvers who does a great job of asking difficult questions and trying to get back to the primary source only to find there isn’t actually a published report from the Care Quality Commission on this subject. I, in the meantime, would like to ask some other questions.
How, exactly, is the current UK law on abortion fit for purpose? Why do two doctors have to certify that I will go nuts if I don’t have an abortion, in order for me to be able to access medical care? And when are the women of Northern Ireland going to stop being treated as second-class citizens? The question we should be asking is not why are doctors pre-signing forms, but why are women and their physicians made to jump through hoops to access and provide basic and essential medical care?
Let’s get one thing straight. What this government, and the Conservative Party in particular, is trying to do is limit access to abortion. From Nadine Dorries’ mandatory “independent” counselling proposals to Andrew Lansley’s additional inspections of abortion clinics, these are measures designed to chip away if not at the right to an abortion then at the practical access to one. We have seen where this road leads. It leads to women whose foetus has been diagnosed with severe abnormalities being forced to listen to a doctor describe it. It leads to 42 US states having more than 50% of counties with no abortion provider, and 26 states having abortion providers in less than 10% of counties. It leads to state-mandated rape.
Let’s also not forget where we are right now, right here. Let’s not forget that the 800,000 women of Northern Ireland currently have no access to abortion except in a few very specific circumstances. A brief look at The Abortion Support Networks’s newsletter will give you an immediate insight into the suffering this causes to women and their families. These are some of the women ASN hears from:
A young woman who, before she contacted us, had researched the cheapest possible travel options for the appointment she’d booked. This included her flying to Liverpool, taking the train to Birmingham, having the procedure in Birmingham and then taking the (5.30 am!!) train the next morning to Manchester to fly back.
A single mother and student just back on her feet. Only just realised she was pregnant after a rape that occurred in September. She immediately knew that an abortion was her only option, but then saw the price for abortion at her gestation and panicked. Was unable to tell her family or anyone else because she lives in a very small and very conservative town. Due to her location (nowhere near an airport) and gestation (almost at the legal limit), the most difficult obstacle was finding a way to get her to England and back.
The mother of a teenage girl so upset about the pregnancy that she became suicidal.
Finally, let’s also not forget that restricting access to abortion doesn’t lead to fewer abortions. Making women wait longer and jump through hoops before they can have an abortion doesn’t lead to fewer abortions. What these things lead to are medical complications and, ultimately, dead women.
So when the Health Secretary is shocked and outraged that doctors provide basic medical care to women, let’s make sure he understands we’re outraged too. We’re outraged that we are not trusted to make our own decisions about our own bodies. We’re outraged that, instead of bringing UK abortion law into the 21st century, he and his party are looking to put more obstacles in the way of women seeking an abortion. And we’re outraged that the lives of the women of Northern Ireland continue to be put at risk as they are denied access to basic medical care.