Thursday, May 22, 2008

Choice under threat

Over the last two days, the UK Parliament has been voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Designed to set rules around experimentation with stem cells and genetic engineering, the bill had been hijacked by pro-lifers in an effort to use it to reduce the UK's current 24-week time limit for abortion to 20 or even 12 weeks. This would have significantly narrowed the window between the detection of a pregnancy and the time-limit in which termination was legal, creating a greater sense of pressure and making it easier to forbid abortions on procedural grounds. The result would have been more women forced to have children they did not want (unless they were rich enough to be able to afford to hop the channel or order some RU486 over the internet, of course).

Fortunately, they lost. But only narrowly. And what's scary is that according to one expert, a Tory victory would likely result in a majority for restricting a woman's right to choose. We may face the same problem here. In 2004, 23 of National's then-27 MPs (including the "liberal" John Key) voted unsuccessfully to require teenagers to notify their parents before being allowed to have an abortion. If National's new intake is anything like as conservative as its 2002 rump, then a National victory this election will dramatically shift the Parliamentary balance towards further restrictions and control over women’s' bodies. They won't repeal abortion rights - National has no appetite for that shitfight, even if its fundie hardliners do - but they will be in a position to nibble around the edges, increase the number of hoops people have to jump through, and force kids to have kids. All of which is monstrous enough.