… or even South Dakota, come to think of it. In these places the compulsory pregnancy lobby are dominant and the law is on their side.

But that doesn’t mean we are the liberal, woman-respecting, pro-choice nation that some of us like to think. Bodily autonomy is not something we should assume we have, even here in the UK.

Currently, although the restrictions in this country are as nothing to those faced in many parts of the world, there are serious and important restrictions.

For example (summarised from BPAS here and here):

  • There is a time limit of 24 weeks for most abortions.
  • Abortions are only available to women if TWO doctors certify that the risks to her mental or physical health if she continues the pregnancy are greater than if she has a termination.
  • Doctors who object to abortions can be obstrutive, need not declare their moral concerns and can thus disable women from obtaining a termination if that is what they want – at least, they can if the women is sufficiently disempowered (aren’t we all?) that she can’t or doesn’t seek help from another doctor.

This isn’t reprodcutive choice. This is reproductive control. A woman cannot demand a termination unless she can find two doctors who agree that it would be medically beneficial.

A woman cannot request an abortion because she wants one – she must persuade two doctors that (usually) her mental health will suffer in some way if she is denied one. She must play the mentally unstable card and perpetuate the patriarchal myth of women as weak and hysterical, simply in order to exercise the bodily autonomy that others (i.e. men) can take for granted.

Yes, if you have money you can buy an abortion because private doctors tend to be more sympathetic to a customer’s (sorry, I mean a patient’s) own asessment of their needs. But why should women have to pay for this procedure?

Contraception is free. Care for pregnant women is free. Yet terminations, falling somewhere inbetween, are only free if you find the “right” doctors within the NHS. Otherwise, if you are poor, or if you believe your GP when (as a conscientious objector) he assures you that because of your circumstances, you aren’t allowed to have one, what then?

As BPAS eloquently put it:

By allowing doctors to exercise wide discretion and make personal judgements over women, the 1967 Abortion Act creates a climate of uncertainly and the potential for unfair and arbitrary discrimination. It places an additional, unjust emotional burden on women who may already be facing one of the most difficult and traumatic decisions of their lives.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable, often delaying an approach to doctors in fear that their confidentiality may be compromised or that they will be lectured. Delay leaves them to experience the physical and emotional trauma of later abortion.

The law must be amended to recognise that the only person capable of deciding whether or not a pregnancy should continue is the person most directly affected by that decision – the woman herself.

One last point. Who are these doctors that have such control over women’s bodies and their reproductive choices? Mostly they are, of course, MEN.

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