The Silent Rise of the British Anti-Abortionists

A cross-party group of MPs recently introduced a bill to clarify that gender-based abortion is illegal. We take a look at some of the troubling consequences of beginning to limit access to legal abortions

Feature by Tasha Lee | 15 Dec 2014
  • The Silent Rise of the British Anti-Abortionists

Led by an evangelical Christian MP, Fiona Bruce, the cross-party group seized upon suggestions that sex-selective abortions are taking place in Britain to argue that the practice is discrimination against women.

While the British Medical Association recognises gender-based abortions could be justified on the grounds of protecting the mental health of pregnant women, the bill wasn’t really about sex-selective abortions at all. It was about reducing access to abortion generally.

Fiona Bruce is the chair of the all-party parliamentary pro-life group. They are supported primarily by the Pro-Life Research Unit, which provides research, document drafting and access to specialist medical, ethical and legal advisors. The group and the research unit are funded by Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), who receive more than £2,000,000 in donations a year that they spend on pushing a fundamentalist Christian agenda.

Taking inspiration from the pro-life lobbies in the United States, organisations like CARE spend a lot of time and resources trying to chip away at access to abortion. Although they are explicitly against abortion itself instead of campaigning for the Abortion Act 1967 to be repealed completely they seize on particular aspects of abortion legislation.

For instance, last year Fiona Bruce chaired a parliamentary inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability. Using the Equality Act 2010, the subsequent report argued for the extended time limit in cases of disability to be removed. She claimed the issue was about ending discrimination against disabled people, saying at the time: “I do not accept that a disabled baby should be aborted purely because of the existence of the disability. Lives of disabled people are in general of great value and quality and medical advances are such that it (abortion on grounds of disability) seems unnecessary.”

However, aborting a foetus on the grounds of disability IS sometimes necessary after the standard 24-week limit. Abnormality scans are generally offered when a woman is between 18 and 20-weeks pregnant, but results take time to come back, young children in the woman’s care can become unwell, demands and deadlines at work might delay the appointments, or it might just take a woman a few weeks to make a decision whether to abort an unborn child with severe disabilities.

In the same way, campaigning for the law to be clarified in terms of gender-based abortion shows an astonishing lack of sympathy or empathy with the pregnant women involved. At its core, whatever reasons a woman might have for wanting an abortion are valid. Abortion doesn’t exist in isolation – sex education, domestic power dynamics, societal expectations all influence the options a woman has and how she may approach her fertility.

And without the option of safe abortion on demand women are condemned to carry and birth a child against their will or to seek out an alternative way of inducing a miscarriage. Either way a woman’s mental and physical health is put at risk, for the sake of someone else’s moral compulsions. 


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