The government’s mistrust of women in the UK is real and measurable. The repercussions of it weigh heavy across all of our lives. And the physical weight of it amounts to precisely one hundred and forty-three stone in paperwork every year.
I know this because that’s how much a year’s worth of abortion permission slips weighs, and I’m delivering that amount – all 406,108 of them – to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd today, with permission from people across the UK who have joined our campaign to scrap the existing abortion law.
It’s hard to tell which is more shocking: that women can be sent to prison for having an abortion if they don’t secure written consent from two doctors – or that many people in the UK are still unaware of this fact despite its very real repercussions: In 2015 Natalie Towers was sent to prison for two years and six months for buying pills online to procure a miscarriage.
Women in this country are still governed by a law written in 1861 – before women had the right to vote – that criminalises abortion. Campaigners in 1967 fought hard to create a loophole act, the 50th Anniversary of which we mark today, which enabled women in England, Scotland and Wales to have an abortion so long as they understood this was a special measure, requiring the permission of two doctors.
This measure was seen as a temporary fix, not a solution. The law did not legalise abortion: it merely forced women to prove twice over that their pregnancy would cause greater mental or physical harm to them than continuing it. And it did nothing for women in Northern Ireland whose rights are so restricted that abortions are near impossible to access: rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not considered sufficient grounds. (Though we hold out hope for the current Supreme Court case.)
Furthermore, since the 1967 Act was introduced, there have been 60 abortion bills put to the House in an attempt to restrict access to abortion. Only one has tried to expand it.
So long as our rights are subject to the whim of doctors, to technological development, to decisions made in parliaments where men’s voices drown out women’s – well, they are not rights at all.
Every time that a woman has to ask for permission, every time that a woman from Northern Ireland or Scotland – where women are being turned away from having abortions after 18 weeks because of resistance from their doctors – has to travel, every time that term limits are debated – our essential human rights are questioned.
Women can never have control of their lives until they have control of their bodies. The Women’s Equality Party has said from day one that WE see any attempt to restrict our reproductive rights as an act of violence against us, and WE will not rest until there is full decriminalisation of abortion in every part of the UK. No exceptions, no qualifications, no conditions.
WE are not interested in gaming the system, in Parliamentary power plays and piecemeal negotiations; in fiddling at the edges of legislation. WE believe that abortion should not exist at all in criminal law but be moved into healthcare, where it belongs.
And as the only political party for women’s equality, WE are taking these demands into the political space, to use the political will of the electorate, and the political voice of feminism, to demonstrate to other parties the need for change.
So that the choice of every woman can be realised. And in that choice, her liberty too.
Join our campaign to give Amber Rudd permission to change the law on abortion. Click here to sign a permission slip. It’s #TimeItsNotACrime