Sunday, 10 July 2011

Time to defend abortion rights... again

By Shona McCulloch, Brighton Socialist Party

The 1967 Abortion Act legalised abortion in Britain and went a long way in freeing working class women from dangerous and often deadly 'backstreet' abortion techniques - but not in Northern Ireland where the act has never been implemented.

The 1967 Act, combined with other advances such as the introduction of the contraceptive pill, was a huge step forward for women, giving them some control over their own fertility for the first time. Unfortunately, just like all other victories won under capitalism, we have to fight to maintain them.

Recent weeks have seen an escalation of reactionary attacks on the gains won by women during the last century. The most visible of these has been the avalanche of deeply offensive rape-victim-blaming, with some politicians and police falling over each other to suggest that women (and even children) who have experienced sexual abuse were somehow 'asking for it'.

These same politicians, most notably reactionary Tory MP Nadine Dorries, have also been plotting policies to roll back the clock on women's rights. For example, Dorries is pushing for abstinence education for girls in schools and abortion rights are again under attack.

The Con-Dems' new Sex and Relationship Advisory council includes groups, some religious, which advocate abstinence-only sex education, are explicitly anti-choice, and discriminate against Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people and single parents.

The new council includes the anti-choice group Life, which opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Notable in its exclusion from the council is the highly reputable British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPas), an independent organisation which provides both counselling (after which, 20% of women decide against termination) and abortion services.

In an attempt to destroy women's access to services like BPAS, Dorries has teamed up with Labour MP Frank Field and proposed an amendment to the government's now infamous Health and Social Care Bill (itself intended to tear up and privatise the NHS).

The proposals will make counselling compulsory rather than elective for any woman seeking a termination and also ensure that no provider of abortion services can provide counselling services.

This is an attempt to subject women to forced counselling from anti-choice organisations like Life before being granted access to abortion services. Right wing politicians have tried to justify the move as supposedly ensuring that no "conflict of interest" arose - this from a government who invited McDonalds and PepsiCo to advise on nutrition!

The Department of Health has recently issued an ambiguous statement implying that the Con-Dems may try to implement these anti-choice measures without a vote, stating "we do not believe it is necessary to set out this requirement in primary legislation". We must not stand for these attacks, even if a majority of MPs vote for them.

Unhindered access to abortion, free at the point of delivery, is a basic freedom for women which must be defended. However, freedom of choice depends in all cases on the material conditions an individual finds themselves in.

Even if we defeat Dorries and Field and secure free access to abortion, a woman in Britain today may not feel free to carry a pregnancy to term as she sees the NHS, pregnancy and child benefit, EMA, welfare, schools, jobs, housing and access to higher education being cut back viciously.

The choice over when and whether to have children will only be truly free when everyone can be confident that they and their children have secure access to a good standard of living and when high quality, evidence-based sex and relationships education is given from a young age.

To enable women to have a real choice in when and whether to have children we demand:
  • No cuts; scrap the Health and Social Care bill
  • Free abortion on request; end the need for two doctors' agreement
  • For a fully funded, democratically controlled National Health Service, no privatisation
  • Access to free fertility treatment on the NHS for all those who need it
  • Public ownership of the pharmaceutical industry
  • Access to free, safe contraception including emergency contraception; a reversal of the cuts in family planning services and a massive investment into sympathetic youth advisory centres
  • Improved sex education in all schools
  • Information campaigns on contraception
  • A decent living minimum wage and investment in job creation
  • A network of publicly funded, good quality, flexible childcare facilities
  • Maternity and child benefit to reflect the real cost of pregnancy, childbirth and bringing up a child
  • The right to adequate parental leave
  • A massive increase in spending on housing, education and other public services
  • A democratically run socialist society, planned to meet social needs rather than the profits of a few