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/ On abortion, British social conservatives have been beaten back, not halted.
The campaign against Nadine Dorries’ anti-choice campaign this year was an inspiration. Liberal Conspiracy, the F-word, LabourList and a range of sexual health groups mobilised alongside party activists and ordinary members of the public to ensure that, in the end, it was British commonsense and fairness that won the day.
David Cameron and much of his cabinet may have supported the anti-choice campaign behind closed doors, but it was decisively rejected by parliament, by the medical profession and also by the British public.
So it is very disheartening to hear that a new anti-choice campaign by SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn of Children) has been launched. SPUC are now lobbying against local authorities being mandated to provide abortion services as part of their comprehensive sexual health services. We already know that some local councillors have received representations from anti-abortion activists and are raising it as an issue within their council. It is really important that we do not see further campaigns driven by distortion and misinformation.
I believe it is crucial that local authorities get clear advice from the Department of Health that the provision of abortion services, and indeed high quality, women-focused services, is not optional.
Although the government has been mandated local authorities to commission appropriate access to sexual health services including abortion services, this Government has been keen, for the time-being, to maintain a telling ambiguity to the term ‘appropriate access.’
Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries, despite being comprehensively defeated in her abortion counselling campaign, has committed herself to fresh campaign to attack British women’s right to choose before the lifetime of this Parliament is over. She has even started fundraising.
The current Republican debates have reminded me just how lucky we’ve been in the UK to enjoy a long period of what I call ‘pro-choice calm’. In the USA the issue of abortion rights is highly politicised, highly volatile and highly unstable for many women
Many people in the UK take sexual and reproductive rights for granted because they are totally acclimatised to the liberal, largely pro-choice society which we’ve enjoyed for a decade or more.
Last year there were just under 190,000 abortions in England and Wales – the vast majority of them - 96% - funded by the NHS. It’s easy to forget there are sectors out there – some religious – that have a completely different viewpoint and would go to any lengths to change the status quo.
Women in this country want to have choice over their fertility and that is a basic human right. They do not need anti-choice groups muscling in on the political scene and interfering with sexual health policy or abortion provision. What David Cameron, Nadine Dorries and SPUC need to accept is that the British public is willing to defend and re-win the rights that have been won before – and that women’s rights are here to stay.
This article first appeared at Liberal Conspiracy: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/11/22/an-abortion-conservatives-may-have-been-beaten-but-theyre-re-grouping/