Don’t Let This Good Abortion News Go Unnoticed

Photo by Anna Jay.
"I am not free," said Audre Lorde in 1981, "while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." This is surely an idea that contemporary feminism could do with being reminded of because it's no less true now than it ever was. If anything, because of the way that coronavirus has put the inequalities faced by women (particularly those on low incomes) under a social and economic microscope, it's more crucial than ever that we think beyond our own experiences.
Looking on as our government and their scientific advisors tried to grapple with the virus, it was impossible not to notice how male-dominated every single press conference was. It was mostly men, as the Labour MP Rosie Duffield noted back in May, who were calling the shots on our coronavirus response.
Women make up the vast majority of the workforce in our NHS, social care and schools, Duffield pointed out in the House of Commons, so why were there not more female voices at the top of government or on the Sage committee? If there had been, perhaps we'd long ago have had an answer to the question of why we're being offered state-subsidised meals out to "help out" but not childcare to help those women stay in work?

In an ideal world we would just have a new Abortion Act.

Diana johnson mp
If there had been, perhaps the government wouldn't have bungled the way they handled making sure that all women could access abortion during a pandemic when the crisis first took hold back in March.
Initially, the government refused to follow advice from scientific and professional bodies who were all calling for the remote prescribing of early medical abortion so that women could take abortion pills in their own homes in order to protect their health and reduce the pressure on our already buckling services.
As if that wasn't bad enough, they then somehow managed to publish legislation which said that abortion pills would be available for women to take at home before mysteriously declaring that it had been published in error and going back on the announcement. Eventually, the government followed the expert advice and announced that women would be able to take abortion pills safely in the comfort of their own homes but, to this day, it's still unclear how they managed to confuse and complicate the situation to such an extent.
It's now August. As much as we'd like to forget the fact, we're still in the middle of a global pandemic and life hasn't yet returned to 'normal'. We don't know if it ever will. But as we contemplate the future, it's worth asking whether we even want things to go back to normal at all.
On abortion in particular, experts all agreed long before COVID-19 became more commonplace than Brexit that the laws which dictated how and when women could terminate a pregnancy were outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
That's why the Labour MP Diana Johnson has spent recent weeks lobbying the government for change. Before MPs broke up for the summer, much to the dismay of anti-abortion campaigners, she tried to get an amendment through parliament which would have made the coronavirus changes to abortion provision permanent.
This didn't work out but she did manage a small victory which has all but gone unnoticed. Johnson got the government to promise that they would open a public consultation with the explicit purpose of looking at how home access to abortion has worked and whether it can continue. We don't yet know the date of that consultation but we do know that, in the meantime, everything will stay as it is.

Let's not look to return to normal but find ways to improve life for all women so that we can all be freer than we were before coronavirus changed everything.

"The important thing here," Johnson tells Refinery29 over the phone, "is that all of the evidence – all of the clinical evidence – is that telemedicine and taking early medical abortion pills at home works, that it is good."
"The 1967 Abortion Act which dictates our current legislation is not fit for purpose anymore. It is not suitable for women's healthcare in 2020 and beyond because it was designed around the need to go to hospital and have a surgical procedure but things have moved on since then. That's not how the vast majority of abortions happen now," she continues.
Women shouldn't have to fight for basic rights, particularly not during a pandemic which has fundamentally changed the way we live overnight. And wouldn't it be great if our male leaders could start taking access to abortion seriously? After all, how many men have benefited from unwanted or difficult pregnancies being ended?
When parliament returns in the autumn, this ought to be top of the agenda. Throughout this pandemic we've seen that women have been particularly affected at home and at work, personally and professionally. So let's not look to return to normal but find ways to improve life for all women so that we can all be freer than we were before coronavirus changed everything.
This consultation is just the beginning of the change Johnson would like to see moving forward. "In an ideal world," she adds, "we would just have a new Abortion Act. Then we could include things like buffer zones to protect busy clinics from the harassment of anti-abortion protestors. You could make it an act of parliament that was truly fit for purpose in this day and age."
Please sign our petition and help us change the law to fix abortion provision once and for all.

More from Politics

R29 Original Series