Abortion Rights: A delay not a setback

5:32 pm - October 21st 2008

by Unity    

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So, efforts to update the UK’s existing abortion law through amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill appear to have ended in a politically expedient cop-out and some of the worst excuses in living memory, despite bill having originally been drafted in such a way as to allow, if not invite, the submission of abortion-related amendments.

Oh well, at least it saves me the bother of pointing out the belated Field-Dorries amendment, which proposed that a joint ‘grand committee’ of 17 MPs and Peers would ruminate on the subject of abortion for 9 months before bring forward recommendations that parliament would be required to enact within two years is a complete and utter constitutional nonsense – parliament cannot be bound, in advance, to a future course of action even by a unanimous vote of both houses let alone by the deliberation of ad hoc committee.


Frank Field, who bears rather a striking resemblance to Disney’s depiction of Dom Claude Frollo in their animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, has emerged from the woodwork as the anti-abortionist’s new favourite ‘clean skin’ – according to the lickspittle editorial goblins at the Torygraph, Field is ‘no enemy of abortion’…

…and Nadine Dorries is apparently ‘a “pro-lifer”, if not of an extreme kind’ (trans. liar), which should give an idea as to the quality of the Torygraph’s judgement.

Let’s not pussyfoot around here, Field’s role in proceedings – oh, and he’s a practising Anglican and member of the General Synod, btw – is to replace Dorries as the ‘front man’ in the efforts of the anti-abortion lobby to triangulate the abortion debate and sneak through a reduction in the upper time limit for abortion and he’s been co-opted in only because Dorries’s pretence of being a ‘moderate’ voice in the debate has collapse due to a combination of her own loud-mouthed stupidity and the public exposure of her links to the right-wing evangical Christian group, Christian Concern For Our Nation by the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary ‘In God’s Name’.

They’ve changed the mouthpiece but its still the same bunch of anti-abortion fundies lurking behind the Dorries-Field campaign, and they’re still receiving the backing of the US-based Alliance Defense Fund – via the backdoor (i.e. Andrea Minichiello Williams) – who’ve recently announced that they’ll be having a somewhat more overt dabble in European abortion laws by providing lawyers to an Irish anti-abortion group, the “Family Research Council” which is trying to prevent the European Court of Human Rights overturning the Irish Republic’s ban on abortion.

And, as you’ll have no doubt already noticed, Sunny’s more than a bit pissed-off with the lazy-arsed liberal press over its, at best, sporadic and seemingly unenthusiastic support for abortion rights (Comment Is Free and the Wimmin’s pages only in the Groan as far as I can recall) when compared to the drooling insensibilities of the Mail/Torygraph who’ve never seen a press release from Dorries that they wouldn’t repeat verbatim.

And me…?

I’ve been playing the long game and finishing up a bit of research that I really should have pulled together a while ago, which deals with the anti-abortion lobby’s claim to have majority public support for a reduction in the current 24 week limit on the back of opinion polls commission by anti-abortion groups and carried out by the foetus fetishist’s favourite pollsters, ComRes.

And guess what I’ve found?

Yep, the polls are a load of bollocks, the questions used to ask for opinions on the 24 week limit and whether it should be reduced are loaded with false information of the kind that opinion polls aren’t supposed to include so as not to lead respondents to give a particular set of answers and bias the outcome of the poll and if anyone happens to be in a complaining mood (hint, hint) then ComRes, whose research team are all apparently members of the Market Research Society could have a bit of explaining to do to the MRS’s Standards Board as the code of conduct they supposed to work to precludes the use of leading questions in opinion polls.

There’s more – the full write up runs to 18 pages or so – but I won’t trouble you with the detail right now – there’s a few observations from looking at the polling information on both sides of the debate than need to be shared with a few select people before the whole thing goes into the public domain (as a PDF – I’m not going to post the full analysis as a blog article here or at MoT) but suffice to say that my research has done what I hoped (and expected) it would do, which is blow a gaping hole in the anti-abortionists polling data and their claims the majority of the British public would support a reduction in the upper time for abortions to 20 weeks and yielded some useful insights into public attitudes to abortion and how these can be effectively (and honestly) influenced as well.

This weeks government cop out delays moves to liberalise the UK’s abortion law, most despicably in relation to the continuing ban on abortion in Northern Ireland – and it will be interesting to see what happens over there if the European Court rules against the Republic’s abortion ban – but its not necessarily a setback. It does give us rather more time to organise for the next big push for liberalisation and it has also pretty much exposed, in full, the strategy and tactics of the anti-abortion lobby, giving us an opportunity to build on the work already undertaken by bloggers here and across the feminist sector and put together an even more effective campaign for abortion rights when the issue returns to the Commons.

Frustrating as the government’s climb down may be, we’re actually in much better shape now than we were when this all started last year with the Science & Technology Committee’s review of medical advancements in the field of abortion. The scientific arguments in support of liberalisation and against the use of misinformation by the anti-abortion lobby have been very effectively marshalled by bloggers and we know that moral arguments against abortion don’t hold water in the face of the public’s understanding that prohibition means a return to the days of the backstreet abortionist. But what we’ve lacked throughout has been the support of the liberal press and the resources necessary to carry the fight to the anti-abortion lobby and make a serious impact on public opinion, which is actually on our side anyway when people are given honest, accurate information.

That’s the next challenge that supporters of abortion rights and the liberalisation of abortion laws face.

We’ve shown both that we can fight an effective rearguard action to defend the rights that women have already got and we’ve run rings around the anti-abortion lobby when it comes to fighting a guerilla war in the blogosphere – just consider what Nadine Dorries’ reputation is like once you get outside the core wingnut membership of the Tory Taliban…

Now we need to step things up another level and build on what we’ve already achieved – and I’ve no doubt Sunny will be bringing some idea back from his visit to the Obama campaign in the US – and carry the fight forward into the mainstream of public opinion.

Iain Dale seems to think that the government’s backsliding, this week, amounts to a victory for Frank Field and Nadine Dorries – its actually nothing of the sort and, as I see it, only delays the day of reckoning that’s to come.

The real battle for abortion rights in the UK is only just starting in earnest and while Dorries and her supported has pretty much emptied  their hand to get even this far, we’ve still got plenty of cards to play.

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About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,e) Briefings ,Feminism ,Nadine Dorries ,Sex equality

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Reader comments

“public opinion, which is actually on our side anyway when people are given honest, accurate information.”

Thats obviously nonsense. If the public were shown graphic details of late-term abortions on TV there is no way they would be sympathetic to your absolutist stance. Abortion is about the only form of violence that isn’t shown on television because left-wing broadcasters realise just how much this would damage the ‘pro-choice’ cause. They would rather have people turn a blind eye.

Oh, and whatsmore the idea that 12 yr old schoolgirls should be given abortion tablets without needing parental consent is not something that any sane person could support. If you think that public opinion is with you on that then you are definitely living in a another universe.

Fine post and important revelations on Field in particular. Dorries was already lost to me, but Field is a major disappointment.

I hope you’re right when you say we’ve got cards to play, though. Most of the women I’ve talked to along the way – especially the Northern Ireland women last week – felt that the window of opportunity was pretty small. They’re relying on a pro-choice Labour govt (bit of a thin hope there if the above analysis is anything to go by) and for Westminster to do the right thing by them before criminal justice law is devolved to Stormont. If Cameron gets in – which he probably will – well, we’re unlikely to see a pro choice charge from that corner – or any corner, if Labour’s without MPs.

I’m pissed off. Where do we go next?

If Cameron gets in – which he probably will – well, we’re unlikely to see a pro choice charge from that corner – or any corner, if Labour’s without MPs.

But its only Labour MPs, Guardian readers, and selfish ultra-feminists on Liberal Conspiracy who support the current abortion laws. You can only prevent democratic will of the people for so long. I am ‘pro-choice’ within reasonable limits – you however are tying to defend something which is no longer defensible. You simply maintain that you are ‘pro-choice’ without any regard to what it is that is being chosen and whether it is morally right.

Good Lord, Ozzy – you’re a cross one.

And not so good at reading, methinks. Tis not just soft Guardian-readers and/or the hairy lezzers of LC who support the current abortion laws, as it happens – about 80% of the British public does, and even 60% of the Northern Ireland public supports some liberalising of law:


and surely they can’t all be humourless dykes.

You say I simply maintain that I am pro choice without any regard to what it is that is being chosen – alas, again, your lack of research trips you in ungainly fashion. I have been very – some might say tediously – specific on this site about the changes I’m supporting at the report stage of the HFEB – pro choice amendments to rid us of the requirement for 2 doctors’ signatures, and to allows nurses and other healthcare professionals to perform abortions, and to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

I’m guessing you’ve come rather late to the game, Ozzy. Better raise yours if you plan to stay.


Well for starters, the Queen’s Speech is set for Wednesday 3rd December and a new private member’s ballot will take place about a week later, so someone needs to be pulling all the pro-choice amendments into a suitable bill and watching the ballot for any on-side MPs who appear in the top ten.

Its a slightly long-shot but we can hope that Evan Harris, Diane Abbott or Emily Thornberry comes out near the top of the list.

And while we’re on, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a clause that makes it a criminal offence to seek to coerce or induce a woman into either having or not having an abortion against her wishes.

Oh, and whatsmore the idea that 12 yr old schoolgirls should be given abortion tablets without needing parental consent is not something that any sane person could support.

It’s also bullshit!

You, Dorries and the Daily Express obviously missed the bit in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act where sexual intercourse with a child under 13 was recategorised as statutory rape and you’re also clearly unaware that a doctor would be unable to prescribe an abortifactant to child of that age without parental consent unless they were 100% certain that the child would pass the Gillick test of competence and meet the Fraser guidelines – and I can’t think of any situation in which a doctor would bank on a 12 year old passing that test without a court order to back up their professional judgement.

Oh, its worth mentioning that the Daily Express also claimed in its shock-horror crap that abortifactant drug treatments could be used up to 19 weeks gestation, when they’re only licenced for use up to 9 weeks.

You want to try getting your information from a reliable source not a comic, Ozzy.

Yep, the private members’ ballot looks the answer at the moment – but is there any more reason to hope it’ll take off in the current environment that the attempts to get MPs to see the point of pro choice amendments and vote freely as a result at the moment? That’s only six or so weeks away and I have about as much faith in a private members’ ballot delivering this year for our side as I do in Santa…

Just in a bad mood, I guess. Your suggestion is good and very positive.

I wish I could share your optimism Unity, but at the moment I don’t. If Dorries gets her way and the Government decides to do a thorough review of this issue, we could be looking at any outcome from that being 2 years away. By then we’ll probably have a Tory government, and there’ll be no chance of seeing progressive, liberalising policies brought in.

Guess I’ve caught Kate’s bad mood. Not helped by the fact that I was expecting to see a massive turn-out at the Abortion Rights protest outside Parliament last night, and instead there were a couple of hundred women singing and smiling and being really nice about the fact that we’ve just been shafted by Harman and the rest of them. Where’s the anger ffs!

“the bit in the 2003 Sexual Offences Act where sexual intercourse with a child under 13 was recategorised as statutory rape”

Pedantic digression: not quite sure why people think this changed anything (my guess is that Labour hyped it so they could say “your children weren’t protected from The Evil Paedos before, but now they are. Aren’t we great?”). Under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, sex with a child under 13 was an absolute offence punishable by life imprisonment; under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it still is.

Even more pedantic response – reclassifying unlawful sexual intercourse with a child under 13 as statutory rape precludes the use of consent as a mitigating factor in sentencing, which is why the change was made.

12. time for change

Cath – that’s funny we must have been on two different protests. The one I was on was loud angry and determined to continue the fight to defend and extend rights. It heard from an outraged Diane Abbott MP, Katie Clark MP and from women from Alliance for Choice who were definitely not smiling.

Yeah, that would indeed seem to be the government’s logic. Seems a bit bizarre – while obviously you’d want to send them both to jail for a long time, the chap who a 12-year-old falls in love with and ‘consents’ to sex with is surely doing less harm than the chap who actually rapes her in the non-statutory sense of the word…

time for change “It heard from an outraged Diane Abbott MP, Katie Clark MP and from women from Alliance for Choice who were definitely not smiling.”

Agreed, but as for the protest itself being angry…..blimey, if you think that was angry, I can only assume you haven’t been on many.

15. time for change

Cath – I’m not sure what point you are making. Are you seriously attacking the several hundred supporters of a woman’s right to choose who came out on a dark Tuesday night to protest for advances in women’s rights and against any maneuvers to prevent this because they didn’t shout loud and angrily enough? Shouldn’t we be concentrating our fire on the anti-abortionists?

time for change – No I’m not, and my apologies if that’s what you got from my posts. I’m just totally fucked off (and that’s putting it mildly) and frustrated by the events of the last week on this issue, and disappointed that so few (but well done to those who did show up) turned out for the demo. I was honestly expecting a lot more people and a lot more anger.

As for the anti-abortionists, agreed, the bulk of our energies/fire should be reserved for dealing with them, but that’s not to say that we shouldn’t be examining what went wrong and whether the pro-choice side could have done things better………submitting the pro-choice amendments at the beginning of the bill’s parliamentary process for example, instead of focusing all our energies on defending the limited rights we have.

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New blog post: Abortion Rights: A delay not a setback http://tinyurl.com/cnkba8

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