Sexual and reproductive rights
Our position on abortion is ‘pro-choice’. The present law in England, Wales, and Scotland is in practice more liberal than on paper. It makes abortion reasonably easily available to those who want one despite unnecessarily complex legal and medical formalities. It does not compel those with conscientious objections to take part in performing one. This position respects people’s differing interpretations of the right to life and its bearing on the issue of abortion.
It is best, of course, if every child is a wanted child and improved Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), more widely and freely available contraception, and better education and services for young people can all help to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. However, for as long as abortion is needed, society should provide safe and legal facilities to provide it. Anything less would inevitably increase the number of illegal and unsafe abortions, and would be an infringement on a woman’s right to choose.
We defend the right for women to gain access to safe abortion with appropriate secular counselling and after-care and support liberalisation of the abortion laws, which would include: permitting women from Northern Ireland the same rights to free abortions on the NHS in Great Britain as women in England, Wales and Scotland enjoy; and measures to make access to safe, early abortions easier.
What’s the situation?
Fewer than 2% of abortions are performed after 20 weeks and, contrary to anti-choice hype, research shows there has been no increase in survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks gestation. We oppose any changes to the law which seek to restrict access to abortion, such as imposing compulsory ‘counselling’ or introduce further obstacles to later abortion, or outlaw abortion on the basis of doctrine rather than on evidence.
During the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 2008, a number of amendments to the law on abortion were introduced. Amendments which sought to reduce the number of weeks that a woman could access abortion were defeated. A number of other amendments, both liberalising and restrictive, were made in Autumn of 2008. However, these were not in the end debated and no changes were made to abortion law.
See our briefing on those amendments for more information.
One of the amendments that was not debated was to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. Although abortion in England, Wales and Scotland is legal, the law does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion in Northern Ireland is unlawful in most circumstances – it is only lawful where there is a real and serious risk to the woman’s mental or physical health and the risk is permanent or long-term. Consequently most women from Northern Ireland have to travel to England to obtain a private abortion. Unlike other British women, they are not entitled to an abortion on the NHS. We consider that this is an unequal situation which robs women in Northern Ireland of their fundamental rights to a basic healthcare service, leaving them as second-class citizens within the UK, and which cannot be justified.
What are we doing?
In April 2010 we signed an open letter in favour of abortion rights to the European Union (EU), and to the four countries within the EU where the right to abortion is not acknowledged, namely Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Poland.
What can you do?
The BHA consults with its members on the subjects of human tissues, embryo research, abortion, fertility, and many other scientific and ethical issues. We welcome your comments on these subjects, which help us to form our policy and campaigns.
You can support the BHA by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to the BHA.