Last Friday, the UK politician Diane Abbott walked out of an all-party group created to discuss rules on abortion counseling. Abbott claimed the group was a front for ‘Tea party Tories’ to push through an ‘aggressive, anti-choice campaign’ without legislation or parliamentary debate.
This all-party group was established following the politician Nadine Dorries’ attempts in 2011 to strip abortion providers of their role in counseling women seeking abortions. Dorries claimed these providers were not independent because they also carried out the terminations. However, her definition of ‘independent’ was not exactly comprehensive. Instead, her proposals actually made it easier for services influenced by pro-life groups to obtain government contracts for abortion counseling.
Widely denounced publically and politically, Dorries’ proposals were heavily defeated in Parliament. However, Diane Abbott believes the all-party group will allow these changes to be made through the back door.
This development is yet another attempt to chip away at UK women’s hard-won reproductive rights. Only two weeks ago, Dorries was due to put forward a sex education bill that required schools to offer extra classes on abstinence. But these classes were only for girls. This regressive approach viewed sexual politics as if from the 1950s: instead of sex being a mutual act where both parties are equally responsible, suddenly it is women alone who are the “gatekeepers” of sexual modesty.
Under international law, women have the right to make choices about their own bodies without undue coercion. Yet UK women are at risk of these rights being undermined without the protection of parliamentary scrutiny. Perhaps the 1950s will be revived after all.
Photo Credit: Patty Mooney