It is 50 years since the 1967 Abortion Act.
But despite half a century passing, abortion is still not openly discussed and women are vilified and shamed if they share their story of having an abortion.
And when abortion is discussed, the narrative is all too often about a women’s right to access abortion if she has been raped. That is the starting position for too many of the debates. That is how much society is weighted against women.
She must have suffered the trauma that is rape, for her to have the audacity to not want to continue a pregnancy and have a child.
Every female should have legal access to abortion – for whatever reason. Her individual reason is enough.
Already, the Abortion Act only allows terminations to be carried out once they have been agreed by two doctors and carried out by a doctor in a government approved hospital or clinic. Most abortions are carried out before 24 weeks.
And let’s not forget. Having an abortion is still a criminal offence. The Abortion Act merely set the parameters under which abortion could be legal.
Before the Act came into force, backstreet abortions were the leading cause of maternal death in England and Wales.
Government figures show that in England and Wales last year, 190,406 abortions were carried out – a slight drop from 191,014 in 2015.
Just under 5,000 of those abortions were to non-residents of England and Wales. Figures show 724 women made the journey from Northern Ireland, 3,265 from the Irish Republic and 110 from United Arab Emirates.
On Teesside, the Department of Health figures show that last year 559 females had an abortion in Middlesbrough and 549 in Stockton.
The number of under 18s having abortions in 2016 was 30 in Middlesbrough and 37 in Stockton. This compares with 52 women over the age of 35 in Middlesbrough and 79 women in Stockton. Every one of those females had their own reason for ending their pregnancy. And that is enough reason.
No woman uses abortion as a contraception method. That pathetic argument used by some is simply not true.
Accessing abortion facilities is often made more difficult for women thanks to anti abortion groups who gather outside with the sole purpose of intimidating those using the clinic.
As the Abortion Act marks its 50th anniversary, Ealing Council has recently voted in favour of banning protests outside abortion clinics. This positive move will allow women in that Borough to access legal health care without facing harassment from strangers waving placards.
These ‘buffer zones’ should be introduced outside all clinics – women’s right to abortion should not include facing a barrage of abuse. Both staff and women accessing the service should not fear harassment or being filmed or followed as they enter or leave the premises.
Language is powerful and using terms such as ‘pro life’ suggests any woman who supports abortion rights is therefore ‘pro death’. It’s about being pro choice – allowing women to make a choice. Their choice.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) has recently won Charity of the Year. The Charity’s Chief Executive, Ann Furedi, said: “This is fabulous recognition of the work done by a marvellous team of staff who do everything in their power to help women with problem pregnancies. But most importantly, it marks that abortion is no longer seen as something shameful, to apologise for.”
It is a fact there will always be abortion. You can never ban abortion. Only safe abortion. And while there is no wholesale appetite for the Government to ban abortion outright, it is vital we ensure they do not make it harder and more restrictive for women. Reducing the time limit and increasing medical approval can only impact negatively on women and girls.
Many women are fertile for up to 30 years. That is three decades of hoping whichever form of contraceptive is used, works or is available when needed.
Every woman is different. Every woman has her own story and her own circumstances.
Every woman should have the right to decide what happens to her own body. Period.