Facing the future of reproductive rights
As part of our #FaceHerFuture campaign, we’re running a series of blogs from our partner organisations to explain their concerns and ideas for furthering women’s rights as we prepare to leave the EU. This week, bpas, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, discuss what impact Brexit might have on reproductive rights for women in the UK and Ireland.
Bpas is delighted to come together with so many allies to support the #FaceHerFuture campaign. Women’s rights must be safeguarded during the Brexit process, and ensuring continued protection for pregnant women – who have seen significant benefits as a result of EU law – must be paramount. No woman should ever have to consider ending a pregnancy because she fears she will lose her job if she continues. Reproductive choice must always mean the ability to continue a wanted pregnancy as well as the ability to end an unwanted one.
Whilst we need a keen eye on what we might lose, we should also use this opportunity to make the case for the future we want. Amid the political uncertainties that have been generated by the Brexit vote, we should seize the initiative to shape the future of reproductive rights in the UK. We want to make Britain a better place, where no woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion, and all women can access the sexual and reproductive healthcare services they need. Reproductive choice – from the contraception we use to prevent a pregnancy to how we give birth to a wanted baby – must be at the heart of all efforts to secure gender equality.
We are on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act in the UK. The act, which was in any event never extended to Northern Ireland, did not remove abortion from the criminal law. It simply created exemptions to prosecution if a woman met certain criteria and 2 doctors approved her decision. Under legislation dating back to 1861, a woman anywhere in the UK can be imprisoned for life for terminating her own pregnancy. It is absurd that these last vestiges of Victorian legislation still cast a shadow over women’s lives today. Decriminalising abortion would promote women’s health, safety and autonomy. The message is clear: women can and should be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies and do not need a criminal framework to regulate those choices.
Brexit has the potential to further obstruct women’s ability to make reproductive decisions elsewhere. Every year, thousands of Irish women travel to the UK mainland to access safe and legal abortions. Currently, Ireland and the UK form part of the Common Travel Area, which allows freedom of movement between the two. No passports or visas are required, and many airlines allow alternative forms of ID, including bus passes. If Brexit involves pulling out of the Common Travel Area, Irish women might be forced to jump through even more hoops to access legal abortion services. Even now, travelling to the UK is a difficult, costly, and emotionally draining process that many women cannot afford. Plenty of Irish women do not have passports, and if a passport becomes necessary to travel to the UK, women would incur extra costs and risk further delays, disproportionately affecting low-income women and those without networks of support. At present, everything is uncertain and entirely contingent on government action. Brexit negotiators must consider the needs of Irish women in the course of negotiations and ensure they can continue to access the services they need.
Help us move forward into this future. Please share your abortion stories, and celebrate the doctors, nurses and midwives – many of whom have come to this country from abroad – who have cared for women when they need it most. Meanwhile, we will continue to work towards a brighter future for women, whatever reproductive choices they make.
Find out more about the bpas #WeTrustWomen decriminalisation campaign here, or share your story here. The #FaceherFuture campaign is ongoing – you can sign up to be involved in the campaign on the Face Her Future website.
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