The leadership of the Royal College of Midwives recently decided to support a campaign to fully decriminalise abortion. RCM’s Chief Executive, Cathy Warwick, was on prime-time news programmes advocating for abortion to be legal up to nine months and for abortion to be removed from criminal law.
There has been hot debate about this, with more than 200 midwives signing a statement disagreeing with the policy, and no end of right-wing columnists complaining. The main bugbear is removing the time limit, which currently stands at 24 weeks.
The Royal College of Midwives should democratise. Non-executive members have had no opportunity to vote on this policy. However, the arguments Warwick (who is also the Chair of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) are absolutely correct.
As Warwick points out, the ethical codes that govern the practice of medical professionals mean that it would be unlikely for women or pregnant people to have “late”abortions unnecessarily. The number of abortions would be highly unlikely to increase. Other countries that have gone further in decriminalising abortion, such as Canada and Australia, have not seen an increase either in the number of abortions or the number of abortions at later gestation.
It should be a fundamental principle that people with uteruses, who are mostly women, should have the same rights over their bodies as men, and should not be forced to sustain a foetus.
I was in Birmingham city centre on 14 May, and as I bought my lunch saw an enormous march of around 1000 people carrying “pro-life” placards and chanting slogans about banning abortion. Most of them were Christian, including clergy. I was with socialists and feminists, so we argued against them and shouted our own slogans back.
Some readers may be puzzled over the title of my article. Surely, we have legal abortion in Britain, so we can stop campaigning?
Abortion is heavily criminalised in many other countries, including Ireland, and that we need to work with sisters and comrades in those places so women’s rights are recognised.
The 24-week limit in Britain is arbitrary and should be abolished. Moral arguments about whether a foetus is or is not a person should be confronted and exposed for their irrationality. No one makes a flippant choice to have an abortion, or would leave an abortion to the “last minute”, as the procedure is much worse. These pro-life zealots value the lives of foetuses over the lives of women.
The process of going through two doctors who need to sign off on the abortion is patronising an unnecessarily arduous and time-consuming. If the patient ends her/their own pregnancy without the permission of two doctors, she/they can be “kept in penal servitude for life”. Someone who takes abortion pills bought off the internet can be sent to prison for twelve years. A doctor who helps someone to safely terminate a pregnancy could go to prison for twelve years if they do not have the second signature. If the pro-lifers were really concerned about late-term abortions they would back calls to scrap the two-doctor rule and allow women to decide for themselves.
Doctors should not be put off caring for pregnant people due intimidation from bigots or fear of being prosecuted.
We need to extend the Abortion Act, defend and extend our right to decide, and join with feminists and socialists around the world in calls for full decriminalisation.