Why UK feminists should care about new Texas anti-abortion laws
In 2019, when the clock struck midnight on Monday the 21st of October, abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland. London MP’s voted for the legislation that forced Northern Ireland to ban criminal charges against women who underwent an abortion and the medical professionals who provided the procedure.
Despite the many and ongoing political issues that Northern Ireland had faced throughout the years prior to this, the Northern Ireland Assembly had remained suspended since 2017. However, when the pro-abortion legislation came from Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly cast aside it’s differences to fight against the legalisation of abortion. It failed, of course, however it illuminated the similarities that conservatives in the UK still share with conservatives in the United States of America.
Places like the state of Georgia, and most recently Texas, have been more successful than Northern Ireland in reversing a woman’s right to make decisions about her life and her body. This issue went viral last week when Martin High’s Paxton Smith defiantly spoke against Governor Greg Abbot’s new ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban in her valedictorian speech.
This law would make it illegal to abort any fetus with a heartbeat, which often occurs in the time before the woman is even aware she is pregnant. This law prohibits any abortions after only 6 weeks whether or not the patient is a rape victim or if the mother is at high risk of complications such as death.
“I have dreams and hopes and ambitions.” stated Paxton in her valedictorian speech. The school had pre-approved a different speech, but Paxton switched at the last minute to speak out against the Texas anti-abortion laws that were passed just days before.
Paxton continues, “Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working towards our future. Without our input and without our consent, that future has been stripped away from us.”
The New Feminist asked Paxton what she felt her generation of women should strive to achieve in feminism and her answer was one that in 2021 should not still be an issue, but due to the Texas anti-abortion legislation, sadly remains pertinent.
– to want your rights held in the same regard as your male counterparts. –
States like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, South Dakota and many more have effectively outlawed abortion. This is the most pressing weapon against women’s rights, and, to date, the United States has taken two steps back for feminism by refusing to federally mandate pro-choice laws.
Throughout the UK, though abortion is now partially legal across Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland, conservatives are still fighting to strip women of their rights. This became more apparent when the Covid-19 shutdowns began in 2020.
The UK government guidance updated the rules around abortion law to ensure that women would have access to abortion pills while in Covid-19 quarantine and isolation. The changes stated that women would be allowed to take both abortion pills in their homes, without being required to travel to a clinic.
This guidance lasted a few hours. Gov.uk posted these changes and then deleted them only hours later saying that it was an error. No changes would be made to help the women in need of these pills who were not permitted to travel to the clinics. The Guardian reported that the government’s sudden change to restrict help and access to women in need of these abortion pills had ‘staggered women’s health charities’.
Throughout Great Britain abortion is still regulated under criminal law. It is only legally available under the Abortion Act of 1967 which states that abortion is allowed if there is risk to life or health of the mother, or substantial risk that the child would suffer physically or mentally if born. This is still often contested by doctors and law makers in the court of law against the pregnant woman.
Abortion laws are still very much intertwined with politics in the UK, and abortion is not wholly a woman’s decision regardless of her reasoning. With Northern Ireland’s fight against the legalization of abortion, the refusal to help women in need of abortion pills during the Covid-19 lockdown, and the limitations of the Abortion Act of 1967, developments in Texas could be closer to home than we might have thought.