This time last year I wrote about my fear that women’s bodies would become part of the political battleground, in the way they are in the US, with issues such as abortion and rape dominating the political agenda.
14 months after Nadine Dorries MP tried to introduce an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to stop charities offering abortion counselling, two more Tories (both in very influential positions) have spoken of their desire to see abortion limits reduced. Last week Jeremy Hunt, recently promoted to Health Minister, said he’d like to see the limit halved to 12 weeks. And just a few days before Maria Miller, the new Women’s Minister, said she would like to see the limit reduced to 20 weeks.
I respect conservatism, I understand the theory and desire for a free market economy and a small state. I don’t generally agree with it, but after over 20 years debating it with my Dad I think I have have a pretty healthy understanding of it. As far as I can tell increasing regulation directly opposes what conservatism is about. So, why do Conservatives want more regulation when it comes to women’s bodies? Why are they so determined to restrict access to free choice? Why do they want to introduce laws that endanger life rather than protect it?
The reality is that where there is no access to safe, legal, free abortion women take matters into their own hands. It’s very difficult to get accurate statistics on the numbers of illegal abortions and how many women are injured or die as a result, but we know the numbers are not negligible.
Ultimately restricting abortion also has the consequence of piling discrimination onto poorer women. We know that in places with restricted access to legal abortion (such as Northern Ireland) those women with the means will travel to countries where they can get the services they need safely. It’s thought that last year about 1,000 women travelled to other parts of the UK from Northern Ireland to have a legal abortion. But what happened to the others who couldn’t make the trip?
With all the issues facing Britain today I’m disappointed that politicians keep returning to this subject. I think Jeremy Hunt’s time would be better spent limiting the damage caused by reforms to the NHS and I wish that Maria Miller would focus her efforts on the 230 victims of domestic violence turned away by Women’s Aid every day last year due to lack of funding. But domestic violence neither makes the headlines, nor rallies disgruntled back benchers, so I’m not going to hold my breath.
If I found myself with an unwanted pregnancy I have no idea what I would do. I know the decision would depend on the circumstances and I know it would be a difficult and painful choice, whichever one it was. But I hope that if I ever have to make that choice I’d have access to safe, legal and free healthcare.