Gina Davidson: Make abortion easier not harder

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‘IT is not for any government to legislate what a woman chooses to do with her body. And that is the bottom line.”

So said Canada’s new prime minister Justin Trudeau during his election campaign which saw his Liberal party sweep to power earlier this week. His stance on abortion was obviously welcomed by voters but in 2015 it seems an odd thing to be asked about.

You would think that was a battle long fought and won. Abortion after all is a human right – ask the United Nations.

And yet, and yet. . . here we are on the brink of having the debate all over again in Scotland.

During last year’s referendum there were fears by those on the No side, that a more inward looking independent Scotland could bring to the fore, give greater voice to, the more extreme sections of Scottish society. Not all Yes voters, after all, were of a liberal mindset.

Similarly there were fears when the idea of devolving abortion legislation to Holyrood was first raised that it would allow those voices to suddenly find a topic around which they could coalesce; those who would like to see Scotland become more like Ireland in its approach to women’s reproductive health.

It was a particularly concerning move given that previous health minister Alex Neil had voiced his belief that the 24-week time limit should be shortened – a view which was supported by the then first minister Alex Salmond.

No matter, current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s emphatic reassurances that the Scottish government was not (and is not) looking to change abortion legislation, devolving abortion law would just re-open a debate long thought settled by the 1967 act which has worked solidly for the last 40-odd years and removed the danger of back-street abortions.

And so it has come to pass. Already SNP MSP John Mason has lodged a motion at the parliament stating that it should recognise “the fundamental rights of babies to be protected both before and after birth as well as the importance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights”.

You’ll notice that it’s apparently not a “fundamental right” for women to have control of their reproductive systems in his view. The United Nations would disagree. You’ll also notice that he wants babies protected after birth – who is advocating against this? Abortion is not infanticide.

He also fails to mention that he, like Neil and Salmond, is in favour of shortening the time in which women can have access to abortion. His motion has, at present, zero support from any other MSPs but let’s not pretend that interested parties will not use this as a springboard to reheat the debate. So let’s spell it out again: without safe, regulated abortion women die. It’s been sadly proven over and over and over. In the UK (with the hideous exception of Northern Ireland) that fact has been accepted.

The current time limit is 24 weeks and women looking for abortions at that late stage are generally drawn from two categories: young, vulnerable girls who were too terrified to tell anyone they were pregnant earlier or women who learn that their child has a life-threatening medical condition.

The vast majority of abortions in Scotland – 72 per cent – take place at nine weeks or earlier. But that does not mean that later abortions should not be available for women who need them. Yes medical procedures mean babies born at 23 weeks can be saved, but why should that preclude medical procedures for women 23 weeks pregnant who do not wish to be so? Why should their fundamental rights of deciding what to do with their bodies be ignored?

The idea that abortion is a an easy option, that women use it as form of contraception, is also bogus. Scotland saw the lowest number of abortions since 1995 last year at 11,475 terminations – the lowest rate was among the under-16s. Perhaps sex education on contraception is finally working.

John Mason is a man who wears his religious beliefs on his sleeve. But we are a nation which has moved on from being cowed by the priest in the pulpit. Thankfully there is an opposing motion to Mason’s put down by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

If there’s any debate to be had around abortion it should be how we make it easier for women to access it; how we make it easier for them to live with their decision; how we finally remove the stigma which is still surrounds the procedure.

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