Earlier this year, I visited MSI Reproductive Choices Clinic in Brixton Hill to hear about the important work staff undertake to support women in our area, providing contraception, abortion and other family planning services. Rising demand and restricted access to care in many areas is putting unprecedented pressure on reproductive healthcare services, with some women now waiting weeks or travelling miles for appointments.
Alongside the staffing and funding pressures afflicting our entire health service, staff also contend with the added pressure of frequent anti-abortion protests outside the clinic. The presence of a vocal minority of individuals seeking to shame those accessing the clinic has been a regular occurrence for some time but I was very concerned to hear this has become a weekly feature in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade.
With no shortage of politicians piping up from the Tory benches, the anti-abortion movement in the UK seems emboldened. Disgraced former Tory MP Scott Benton retweeted a Republican Party post celebrating the Supreme Court verdict. Another, Danny Kruger, also defended the decision, suggesting that the status quo of abortion provision was a “proper matter for political debate”. Meanwhile Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg recently called abortion a “cult of death”.
While the issue is not polarised along party political lines in the same way as in the US, we should not be fooled into thinking it can’t happen here. By cracking down on the right to protest, curtailing workers’ rights, and passing voter suppression legislation, the Tories have already shown they are all-too comfortable stealing from the Republican playbook.
Meanwhile, abortion has never been fully decriminalised in the UK. Just this year, a mother-of-three was jailed for 28 months after terminating her pregnancy. While this sentence was rightly overturned, it is a reminder that women can still be prosecuted under Victorian-era laws for abortion.
Right of assembly, expression and religion should not come at the expense of other rights; not least a woman’s legal right to healthcare. Women should be able to access medical services without fear of harassment or intimidation. That is why I have raised these protests with Lambeth council and supported legislation to introduce safe access zones around local clinics. I am also supportive of efforts for legal reform to recognise abortion as a healthcare issue foremost; not a criminal one. Finally, we have to address the wider crisis in our NHS so that women can access these services in a timely manner. A woman’s right to choose is not up for debate.
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