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Division Details - Commons Main Chamber

15:58, 13 March 2017, Division 176: Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations)

View the debate for this division

Preamble

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Pre Vote

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Lady cited the possibility of the growing availability of abortion pills as a reason to seek to liberalise the law, but if availability is increasing, that should motivate greater concern for women’s safety and health, and make us more wary of further liberalisation of the law. Abortion is still a major and often risky procedure for the woman involved. If abortion pills can be so easily bought over the internet—perhaps by an abusive boyfriend or husband—that should lead us to take steps to protect young and vulnerable women from those potentially dangerous products.

Take the young teenager, terrified to discover that she is pregnant, who googles “abortion pills” on online. What she needs are not fewer legal safeguards but support and information, which the Bill would take away. By repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, on the basis of which the Abortion Act was constructed, it would make the Abortion Act, with its safeguards, obsolete and unenforceable. It would leave that young teenage girl less safe.

Take, for example, the requirement that two doctors must certify an abortion, which the Bill would remove. For a woman deciding what to do following an unplanned pregnancy, those conversations with a doctor can be important and safe opportunities to discuss the situation, and to make more informed decisions about the medical options and risks of a major and invasive procedure. What is more, they can give a woman in an abusive relationship what may be her only chance to speak to someone about the pressure that she has been put under to abort a child whom she may want to keep. Why should we take that opportunity away from women?

The campaign behind the Bill claims “We Trust Women”, but polling in 2014 showed that 92% of women believed that a pregnant woman should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor. Far from trusting women, the campaign seeks to change a central aspect of abortion provision in the United Kingdom, in direct opposition to the vast majority of British women’s views. Proponents of the Bill claim to be pro-choice, but, as has been the case again and again in recent years, they seem to be firmly against helping women to make informed choices. Regardless of the issue and regardless of the facts, the only answer that they have is to liberalise the law.

This Bill would not protect women. Instead, it would embolden those men who pressurise women into abortions that they do not wish to have. Whether it is a controlling relationship or wider communal discrimination and pressure that tell a woman that she must abort a child because it is a girl, because it has Down’s syndrome or because it has a disability, the Bill would make such women more vulnerable. One professor of medical law and ethics wrote to MPs last week saying that

“if section 58 were to be repealed, it is far from obvious that even the surreptitious administration of abortion pills to women would necessarily continue to constitute an offence.”

Indeed, by undermining all the safeguards and regulations on abortion up to 24 weeks, the Bill would become a charter for extreme abortion practices such as sex-selective abortions. Polling among women shows that 88% favour an explicit ban on sex-selective abortion, yet many of the organisations behind the Bill oppose that ban and the hon. Lady herself voted against a ban in 2015. So much for trusting women. One of the models mentioned today points to a Canadian law that has, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, turned Canada into

“a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons”.

Another model was mentioned—the law in Victoria, Australia, which has led to a reported 600% increase in late-term abortions in one hospital in just a two-year period. Is that something to celebrate or copy? Many UK midwives have spoken out against the Bill, with thousands joining the Not In Our Name campaign to stop it becoming law.

That brings me to the current state of the abortion industry in the UK. I am amazed that the Bill’s backers, including private abortion providers, have the gall to propose these changes, which would remove regulations at a time when the UK abortion industry is knee-deep in revelations of unethical, unsafe and unprofessional practices. In recent years, we have seen doctors pre-signing bulk abortion forms and offering sex-selective abortions. We have seen live babies being left to die following abortions that have gone wrong. We have seen children aborted just for possessing minor disabilities such as a cleft palate or a club foot. Last year, the Care Quality Commission had to step in to protect women from potential harm at Marie Stopes abortion facilities. The CQC’s subsequent report showed that women were left at risk of infection, staff were not trained in how to respond to deteriorating patients and post-surgery checks were completed before surgery had even started. Only last week, another exposé of Marie Stopes International revealed that abortions were being approved on the basis of telephone calls as short as 22 seconds with medically untrained call centre workers. No wonder these abortion providers are calling for a Bill that would get rid of the regulations and safeguards in the Abortion Act.

The Bill is a response to a non-existent threat. It would exacerbate the dangers posed by increased availability of abortion pills and it would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law, fuelling unethical and unsafe practices in many UK abortion clinics and leaving women less safe and less informed.

A 21st-century approach to this area must be based on a fuller and richer understanding of human dignity and equality which does not treat a woman as a victim of her own body, which does not treat children as commodities and which does not treat marginalised people such as young girls or children with Down’s syndrome as burdens or inconveniences. On that count, the Bill fails. It is not a serious or positive proposal. It helps neither women nor unborn children, and this House should firmly reject it.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

Ayes - 172

Tellers

Noes - 142

Tellers