An attempt to restrict access to abortion in the UK was thwarted last month — but the vote was too close to be ignored. Fiona Bruce MP, the Tory chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, put up an amendment to the serious crime bill, which would have criminalised abortion on the grounds of foetal sex. She was defeated by 292-201.
Bruce was attempting to use an apparent concern for women’s rights to sneak this attack through. Her suggestion was that within certain ethnic groups women were being encouraged or forced to abort female foetuses. In fact there is no evidence for this. According to the Department of Health, the gender-ratio of births is consistent across ethnic groups: “When broken down by the mothers’ country of birth, no group is statistically different from the range that we would expect to see naturally occurring.”
Had the amendment passed into law the result would have been ethnic profiling of women approaching doctors for abortions, with particularly women from South Asian backgrounds being eyed with suspicion.
If Fiona Bruce wants to tackle violence against women she could start with the 47,000 women who die each year as a result of unsafe, illegal abortions because they can’t access safe, legal services. But Bruce isn’t concerned with women’s rights — or their safety. Her aim is to attack and undermine abortion rights by any means available. It is important to note that the wording of the amendment would have conferred personhood onto the foetus — something which the 1967 abortion act specifically does not do, focusing instead on the health and well-being of the woman.
There is a global assault on abortion rights, from Latin America to the US to Ireland, and anti-abortion campaigners here are attempting to learn new tactics. It’s imperative that we defend a woman’s right to choose abortion — without any further barriers being put in the way.
For more on abortion rights see Sinead Kennedy’s article in this issue.