Militant celebration marks abortion act anniversary

abortion act2 by Norman Lockhart In Edinburgh on Saturday 25 April there was an international militant celebration of the 47 years since the passing of the Abortion Act which started to decriminalise women taking control over their own bodies and fertility. Since 1967, there has been a positive campaign that means many trade union bodies such as the STUC, UNISON and PCS have been convinced this is a class as well as a feminist issue.

Even when illegal, the rich could often afford to get abortions through private clinics that would record another procedure, while the poor relied on the secret help of so called “back street abortions” that were often the source of infections and worse.

Ann Henderson, STUC Assistant Secretary, said: “We owe a great deal to those women and men who came before us, campaigning for the provision of abortion services, family planning and contraceptive services, provided free and without judgement in our communities.

“For working class women on lower incomes, this has always been particularly important. There is no other access to safe, legal services, if not provided through the NHS. These are the voices that must be heard today, not those who seek to roll the clock back, endangering women’s lives.”

In Scotland, it is an anomaly that while the NHS is a devolved matter, abortion is reserved to Westminster. Some try to argue this is to safeguard the limited progress, once welcomed, by the 1967 legislation.

However, that is certainly not true for women all over Ireland where it is still totally illegal. Neither does it account for the constant attempted attacks on women’s rights from the 1970s to now and the restrictive amendments to unrelated laws.

Abortion is often the source of heated debate amongst socialists but it is worth looking at the example of Canada—one of the very few countries in the world that has NO criminal law restricting abortion at all.

The law there against abortion was first liberalised in 1969, then their Supreme Court threw it out completely in 1988. Since then, they have managed without any limitation on women’s choice, providing fully qualified medical support and professional facilities. This would be a fine example of a future independent Scotland committed to social progress for women.

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