The fight for abortion rights in the UK may not be as urgent as it is in the US, but there’s still lots that needs to be done.
The single biggest positive change to abortion care in the UK since the 1967 Abortion Act has come into force today (30 August), making access to at-home early medical abortions for women in England and Wales permanent.
The change in legislation, which was approved in the House of Commons on 30 March, came about as a result of emergency procedures put in place during the pandemic to provide abortions during lockdown.
Under the new rules, those who want to have an early medical abortion will be able to access the two required pills following a teleconsultation and subsequently take the pills at home up until nine weeks and six days of pregnancy.
In a year when the fight against abortion rights has repeatedly made headlines following the US Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe v Wade, it’s great to see some positive change happening.
However, while this move is undoubtedly a landmark occasion, there’s still plenty to be done when it comes to protecting and strengthening abortion rights across the UK. Our rights may not be under attack in the same way that they are in the US, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to be done to ensure everyone has access to the care they need.
To find out what needs to happen next, Stylist asked Louise McCudden, advocacy and public affairs advisor at MSI Reproductive Choices, for her perspective. From protecting the services that already exist to changing pre-existing laws, here’s what she had to say.
1. Services need more investment
There are a number of abortion services in the UK, but a lack of funding limits their number and puts huge pressure on those that do exist, McCudden explains.
“Abortion is one of the most common healthcare procedures in the UK, yet abortion care is undervalued and underfunded, which compromises choice, reduces access and threatens long-term sustainability,” she says.
“Surgical services, in particular, are facing tremendous pressure, forcing many in the north of England and Scotland to travel unacceptably long distances.”
2. Additional protection is needed
Protests outside abortion services are unfortunately not uncommon, and McCudden says more support is needed to provide protection for those working at and seeking help from these centres.
“MSI’s team members work hard to create a welcoming space for everyone who needs us, but anti-choice groups gathering outside our clinics continue to make accessing care much more difficult and distressing than it should be – which, of course, is their goal,” she says.
“We are grateful to councils such as Ealing and Manchester for using Public Spaces Protection Orders to create buffer zones around our clinics. But the fact is, nobody should have to risk facing harassment to access essential healthcare services.
“At MSI Reproductive Choices we continue to advocate for national legislation which would protect all abortion clinics from this type of activity.”
3. The criminalisation of abortion needs to be addressed
Despite most people who want an abortion being able to access one, the legality of abortion in England and Wales is still pretty murky. More needs to be done to rectify this, McCudden argues.
“Abortion is still technically criminalised in England and Wales,” she explains. “The 1967 Abortion Act merely allows exceptions to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 (a law passed before women had the vote). A woman cannot end a pregnancy simply because she wants to; she must have the approval of two doctors.
“Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, abortion is now decriminalised, but anti-choice politicians continue to obstruct the commissioning of services, despite direction from the UK government to do so.”
BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advice Service, provides abortion support and advice online, or call MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes) on 0345 300 8090, 365 days a year, 7am to 8pm.
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