Angry About Roe v. Wade? It’s A Threat To Abortion Rights In The UK Too

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There is currently a global economic crisis. The cost of essentials like housing, food and energy is rising at its fastest rate for 30 years due to inflation. Life is getting more expensive and people are struggling, sometimes having to make Dickensian-sounding choices between paying their rent, heating their home and eating. 
The response of American lawmakers to all of the above? Against this backdrop of hardship the US Supreme Court has drafted an opinion on abortion rights which suggests that it might overturn the 1973 landmark case of Roe v. Wade which legalised abortion in the country for the first time. If this happens, it will mean that abortion is effectively outlawed in at least 26 US states. ⁠And those who have the least will be hurt the most because wealthier people will just travel to a state where abortion is legal. Those who cannot afford to travel will be stuck, risk an illegal and potentially unsafe abortion or get into debt in order to reach somewhere where they can access services safely.
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Abortion and contraception are a bedrock of equality. They underpin every single aspect of the autonomy and freedom of people with wombs. Taking away the right to end an unwanted or problematic pregnancy is an assault on freedom. It removes a person’s right to decide whether or not they can look after another human life and potentially condemns them to economic hardship. 
But it’s not just America where anti-abortion (or so-called 'pro-life') sentiment still courses through the veins of people in powerful positions. 
In the UK, one in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Yet perversely, abortion rights are far from safe. Technically, in England and Wales, abortion remains a criminal offence because the government has not repealed a Victorian law – the 1861 Offences Against The Person Act – which still supersedes the 1967 Abortion Act which legalised abortion here for the first time. 

If a person's right not to be pregnant is not safe, what is?

This means that abortion is only legal under certain circumstances and is therefore not as accessible as it should be. The fact that it is still technically a criminal offence reinforces stigma. The government could do something about it, they just don’t want to because abortion is still considered 'controversial' in conservative circles. 
Only very recently did ministers try to claw back abortion rights when the Department of Health decided to revoke at-home early medical abortion, which had been introduced during the pandemic. This went against the advice of medical professionals at respected bodies like the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
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This also went against public opinion. As the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey shows, public opinion has long been on the side of women and people with wombs and their right to choose. Even in 2017 data from the (BSA) Survey revealed widespread support for allowing abortions in a number of different circumstances. There was near unanimous support (93%) for abortions when the woman’s health is endangered, while clear majorities support it if the woman does not want the child (70%) or if the couple cannot afford any more children (65%).
The BSA also shows that public acceptance of abortion has grown over the past decade. Since 2005, support for allowing an abortion if the woman does not wish to have the child has increased from 60% to 70%.
More recently, a YouGov poll conducted in 2020 found that nine out of 10 UK adults identify as pro-choice.
Fortunately, a vote in the House of Commons stopped the government taking at-home abortion away. But why did they do this in the first place? As insiders told me at the time, it was because there are politicians in government who hold anti-abortion views and because anti-abortion campaigners (who have money, time and resources) had strategically responded to a public consultation on the decision, flooding it with responses which put at-home abortion in a negative light. 
We know that the anti-abortion lobby is strong and organised – that’s why it stages 'protests' outside abortion clinics. So perhaps it’s no surprise that of the 18,659 responses to the consultation, nearly half (9,109) were from individuals affiliated to campaigns and the majority of these (8,424) associated with one campaign in particular: Right to Life. We also know that some of these groups have US links. 
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So if you think that what’s happening in America right now won’t or can’t influence abortion legislation in the UK, think again. 
Katherine O'Brien, associate director of campaigns and communications at BPAS, warns: "Anti-abortion groups in the UK work closely with their counterparts in the US, receiving funding and training. We are concerned that a perceived 'victory' for anti-choice groups in America will lead to an escalation in clinic protests here."

We are concerned that what is happening in the US appears to be sparking debate among pro-life groups on the right to abortion here in the UK.

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
O’Brien says that BPAS is concerned that any win for anti-abortion views in America will embolden anti-abortion politicians in Britain. "Anti-abortion parliamentarians – who show no interest in preventing the need for abortion through increasing investment in contraceptive services or repealing the government’s cruel two-child benefits limit, which forces women to end wanted pregnancies, for example – will use any and every opportunity to try to roll back our hard fought-for rights," she says. "As always, we are remaining vigilant."
Reproductive rights are not a debate for the people who need abortions. To consider whether or not a person ought to have a say over what happens to their body, over whether or not they bring a child into the world as an 'interesting question' or a 'theoretical issue' is a privilege. It is a privilege that women and people with wombs do not have. 
This is not a two-sided 'debate'. Abortion is a fact of life. It is already legal. And yet in Britain, as in America, women and people with wombs must constantly justify their right to abortion and live with the threat that it will be taken away. 
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Anti-abortion protestors still line streets outside clinics in England and Wales, peddling falsehoods. They are not arrested and parliament has not introduced buffer zones nationally to protect clinic staff and those who rely on the services they provide. Often, when it is reported on, the views of anti-abortion campaigners are given a fair hearing. Politicians and the media alike remain obsessed with 'balance', as though this behaviour is anything other than sexist and misogynistic harassment. In giving anti-abortion views consideration, they disrespect women and people with wombs. 
Abortion is common. The majority of people support it. It’s not controversial or divisive. Where’s the debate?
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, shared O'Brien's concerns.
“If the US Supreme Court decides to overturn the right to legal abortion in the US, this would have devastating consequences for millions of women and girls who would be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy. Limiting access to abortions won’t reduce the number of abortions happening, it will just make abortions less safe," he said.
“We are concerned that what is happening in the US appears to be sparking debate among pro-life groups on the right to abortion here in the UK. Abortion is a fundamental part of sexual and reproductive healthcare and we need to maintain a woman’s right to bodily autonomy."
“The UK Parliament recently voted to keep telemedicine [at-home abortion] for early medical abortions in England and Wales which is something we campaigned long and hard for and is a huge win for women’s rights. We must remain vigilant and ensure the UK continues to respect an individual’s choice to have an abortion,” Dr Morris added.
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Anti-abortion groups in the UK work closely with their counterparts in the US, receiving funding and training.

Katherine O'Brien, associate director of campaigns and communications at BPAS
The very fact that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are still having to defend abortion regularly – as it did when at-home early abortion was in jeopardy – when there are plenty of other things it could be doing tells you that this battle has not been won. What does that tell us about society today? It tells us that the collective liberation of women and people with wombs is still perceived as a threat by a small but vocal and powerful minority of people who care little about the fact that their views no longer reflect those of society as a whole. 
You could say this is dystopian. You might think it sounds like something straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, the stuff of nightmarish fiction. But to do that would be to distance yourself from how precarious life is for so many people in the present, right now. If a person’s right not to be pregnant is not safe, what is?

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