MP Briefing: The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Sign the following statement: A call from pro-choice trade unionists, students and feminist groups for MPs to defend and extend reproductive freedoms

On Wednesday 22nd October the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will have its Third Reading in the House of Commons. Various pro-choice and anti-choice amendments have been tabled. Rumours have been circulating this week that time will not be given to debate the amendments and that pro-choice amendments may be shelved under pressure from Labour Ministers.

[callout title=We urge you to:]– Lobby the government to ensure sufficient time is given to discuss and vote on these crucial amendments
– Vote for the pro-choice, pro-women amendments and support a woman’s real right to choose. [/callout]

In May we successfully defended the time limit, protecting the rights of the small but significant number of often vulnerable women who require a late abortion. However, anti-choice MPs have tabled more amendments at the Third Reading Stage, namely increasing the number of doctors required to approve later abortions; restricting the grounds for abortion on the grounds of certain foetal amendments (including those after 24 weeks); imposing counselling and ‘cooling off’ delays; and restricting abortion on mental health grounds. These must be opposed.

MPs should be looking to extend a woman’s right to choose by abolishing the two doctor requirement, enabling access to abortion in Northern Ireland; allowing nurses to perform first trimester abortions; allowing more local abortion services for example at GP surgeries; allowing the second part of an early medical abortion to be taken at home; and banning deliberately misleading advertising. These amendments are all designed to make a woman’s access to abortion easier, less distressing and without the current unnecessary delays. This is the first chance to extend our limited abortion rights in 18 years – let’s not let it pass.

[callout title=Oppose the restrictive amendments and vote to extend a woman’s right to choose]When women won the right to choose in 1967, it was a big step towards women having control over a crucial part of our lives, the decision of whether and when to have children. Abortion rights continue to be central to women’s equality and liberation. Childbirth is an arduous physical process which changes the body forever and we don’t believe the state should force women to undergo it.

The anti-choicers want to chip away at our abortion rights until we have none left at all. These are not one-off amendments attacking specific elements of reproductive freedom, but one stage in the process of attempting to remove a woman’s right to choose. Oppose the amendments because:

– Increasing the number of doctors in later abortions is based on the belief that women cannot make up their own minds. Every woman should have the opportunity to discuss her individual case with as many health professionals as she needs to, but she should not have to beg for a medical procedure to be carried out on her own body. Women must be treated as responsible and their decisions respected.

– The Disability Rights Commission does not support any amendments to abortion law regarding foetal impairment. Like them, we believe the rights of disabled people need drastic improvement, but this does not begin with attacking a women’s right to choose.

– Imposing counselling and ‘cooling off’ delays and only allowing an abortion once a woman has been deemed by a ‘mental health expert’ to face a ’serious’ risk to her mental health by continuing with the pregnancy will mean further distress and delay for women and force them to listen to biased information about the ‘psychological risks’ of an abortion. Once a woman has taken the decision to have an abortion it is wrong to delay the procedure, and it is this that has potentially damaging psychological effects. Under our increasingly privatised and fragmented National Health Service abortion is a postcode lottery, with many women struggling to access safe and timely abortions, this situation will only get much worse if this amendment is to pass.

The tabled pro-choice amendments represent a historic opportunity to extend women’s rights by removing unnecessary and potentially dangerous barriers to abortion.

Amendments include increasing the pool of abortion practitioners and allowing abortions to be performed in GP surgeries and family planning clinics as well as hospitals and abortion clinics. On 29 October 2007 the Commons Science and Technology Committee published a review of the 1967 Abortion Act. The committee found that the need for two doctor’s signatures was causing unnecessary delays and that there was no evidence of its value in terms of safety, and that as the development of Early Medical Abortion has allowed for an easily-administered procedure nurses and midwives with suitable training and professional guidance should be able to carry out early abortions.

Responding to the report, Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) said, “An evidence-based report like this shows up the forty-year-old Abortion Act, which was framed in a different era of medicine, as now looking a little threadbare. Surely laws should be able to respond over time to permit doctors and nurses to offer the best possible practice?”

In addition, deliberately misleading advertising must be banned if women are to make informed choices. The lies, manipulative words and images used by anti-abortion organisations operating under the guise of neutrality are deeply damaging.

MPs, we urge you to listen to the evidence and to not only defend our rights but to extend them in order that women have genuine access to abortion. [/callout]

[callout title=Extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland] The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply to Northern Ireland. This means that any woman who is pregnant and does not wish to continue with the pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest, must raise the £1000-£2000 needed to travel to and have an abortion in England. This is a difficult experience for the 40 women every week who travel abroad, often alone, for the procedure. If she is part of the majority of Northern Ireland’s society that is on, or below the poverty line, then in all likelihood she will be forced to continue the pregnancy. Or she may try to cause an abortion herself, for example by taking pills bought over the internet. 11% of Northern Ireland’s GPs say they have seen the results of amateur abortions – which can leave women needing surgical procedures. These pills should not remain the only choice for women in Northern Ireland, or any woman.

Politicians on all sides would have us believe that there is no support in Northern Ireland for abortion rights to be extended. Tell this to the 40 women a week who travel to have abortions, or to those who can’t. All the larger unions: UNISON, UNITE and NIPSA (The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) have policies that support extension of the Act. Some politicians argue that these are British unions “imposing” their views on Northern Ireland, but this is clearly wrong – the policies are passed at Irish or Northern Irish regional conferences and NIPSA, the largest union in the region, organises only in Northern Ireland.

Politicians have been told that abortion will be devolved along with criminal justice in the next few months and after that there will be very little chance of Northern Irish women getting the legal right to have an abortion. Women in all parts of the UK should have an equal right to choose whether to have, or not to have, a child.

This is a question of democracy

The government took a back seat in the Second Reading by announcing a “free vote” – ultimately giving into pressure from religious groups by arguing that this is a matter of conscience. Much of the debate has been characterized by opposition to the bill from religious groups and anti-choice MPs – so much so that in the Third Reading, the government is now widely rumoured to be attempting to restrict debate using the programme motion. This could mean that only four hours are given to discuss these essential amendments and if filibustering is engineered then they might not be discussed and voted on at all.

We urge you to vote against the programme motion and lobby for a full debate on the pro-choice amendments. This is a question of human rights and of democracy: the arguments must be heard.[/callout]

[callout title=What should the demands be?] It is crucial that you vote to defend and extend the legal right to choose. However, a real right to choose to have, or not have, a child requires broader changes in society. These include:

– The right to abortion on demand, this means an end to having to get the consent of two doctors

– The extension of abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland

– Abortion to be integrated into the NHS as an ordinary medical service

– An end to privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS: increased public funding to guarantee free and equal access to abortion

– Improved access to and increased choice of publicly funded contraception

– Clear, honest, comprehensive and confidential sexuality and relationship education which addresses issues of consent and domestic violence

– A real “right to choose” which means the right to have a child free from economic and social pressure. This requires a real living wage for all workers, benefits which can be lived on and rise with earnings, universal publicly-funded childcare and an end to the stigmatisation of single mothers. [/callout]

[callout title=What can you do?] We urge you to:

– Lobby the government to ensure sufficient time is given to discuss and vote on these crucial amendments
– Vote for the pro-choice, pro-women amendments and support a woman’s real right to choose. [/callout]

Supported by

Alliance for Choice (Ireland), Associazionione Blimunda, Milano, Italy, ENS Women, Greenwich National Union of Teachers, Islington Local Government Unison, Feminist Fightback,Left Women’s Network (LRC), London Coalition Against Poverty ,London Third Wave Feminists

Bernadette Devlin, MP for Mid-Ulster 1969-74

Trade Unionists for Choice

NUT executive: Julie Lyon-Taylor (Merseyside and Cheshire), Christine Hood (Hertfordshire, Beds, Luton), Nina Franklin (Bristol, Bath, Somerset and South Gloucester), Tony Tonks (West Midlands), Patrick Murphy (West Yorkshire),Helen Andrews (Greater Manchester), Ian Murch (National Treasurer), Dave Harvey (Outer London), Pete Bevis (South Yorkshire), Baljeet Ghale (ex-President), Roger King (West Midlands), Jane Rudon (City of Leicester, Leicester and Northampton), Gill
Goodswen (Vice President), Hazel Danson (West Yorkshire), Max Hyde (Gloucester, Hereford, Warwickshire, Worcestershire), Kevin Courtney (Inner London).

NUT: Liam Conway (Notts Assistant Division Secretary), Jo Hill (Bradford president), Tim Hales (Leeds Assistant Division Secretary), Pat Markey (Northampton Association Secretary), Kirstie Paton (Greenwich President), Joe Flynn (Croydon NUT workplace school rep)

Unison executive: Kate Ahrens (Leicestershire health, pc), Ali Brown (South Yorkshire ambulance pc)

Unison: Mike Fenwick (Leeds health pc), Anita Downs (Branch Secretary Guys and St Thomas’ health, pc), Frances Bradley (East Lancs Women’s Officer), Heenal Rajani (Lambeth Living convenor, Lambeth local government), Rebecca Galbraith (shop steward, Queen Elizabeth hospital, Woolwich), Gary Whiting (Lambeth local government shop steward), James Caspell (Unison shop steward and Lambeth local government young members officer), Ed Whitby (Newcastle City Unison Political Officer, pc), Denis Wise (Bristol Unison International Officer), Jill Mountford (Lewisham local government), Anna Longman (shop steward, Islington local government), Caroline Henry (Sheffield probation service), Ian McKendrick (Oxfordshire health Communications Officer), Jean Lane
(Tower Hamlets Unison shop steward, pc), Marsha Jane (Unison Greenwich and Co-chair of the Socialist Youth Network), George Binette (Convenor, Camden Unison/Chair Camden Trades Council pc)

TGWU-Unite: Faz Velmi (TGWU-Unite 1/1148 South London Voluntary Sector branch and delegate to Lambeth and Battersea & Wandsworth Trades Councils)

GMB: Rory MacQueen (GMB London Young Members), Daniel Randall (GMB Yorkshire Young Members)

RMT: Janine Booth (RMT Women’s Advisory Committee), Becky Crocker (Camden RMT), Hannah Wood (Camden RMT), Adrian Rowe (LGBT Representative), J. Parry (RMT YM Chair)

PCS: John Moloney, Karen Johnson, Chris Hickey, Andrew Charles, Charlie McDonald

NUJ: Tom Davies (NUJ NEC Member) TUC: Hazel Rees (TUC Young Members Forum Vice Chair) Max Munday (T&G shop steward, Yorkshire & Humberside TUC Youth Forum convenor)

Students for Choice
Jennie Killip (Manchester University SU women’s officer, NUS Women’s Committee), Laura Schwartz (NUS Women’s Committee open place), Gemma Short (NUS Women’s Committee open place), Heather Shaw (Sheffield College SU President), Sofie Buckland (NUS Women’s Committee Bisexual Rep), Ruth Pearce (NUS Women’s Committee), Debbie Hollingsworth (former Ruskin College women’s officer), Evangeline Holland-Ramsey (Huddersfield University SU LGBT Officer, NUS Women’s Comittee co-FE rep), Katie Sutton (Derby University SU Women’s Officer, NUS Women’s Committee
National Council rep), Harri Sutherland-Kay (University of Portsmouth SU Women’s Officer), Kath McMahon (Edinburgh University Students’ Association), Alex Wood (Aston Students’ Guild Equalities Officer)

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