No turning back: Adam Boulton on the UK-US abortion divide | American News


Britain was ahead of the United States in establishing women’s reproductive rights.

The revolutionary Abortion The law, first promoted as a private member’s bill by future Liberal Party leader David Steel, was passed by Parliament in 1969.

It was a centerpiece of the ‘swinging sixties’, when Britain set the pace for social reform and, according to poet Philip Larkin: ‘Sex began. In 1963 (which was rather late for me) – between the end of the ban on ‘Chatterley’. And the first Beatles album.”

Another important factor in the “liberation of women” was the development of the pill. British voices led outcry over Pope Paul VI’s ‘Humanae Vitae’ in 1968 forbidding contraception to Catholics.

On issues of social and sexual freedom, the tide has not turned in the UK. The pregnancy length limit for abortion in Britain of 23 weeks and six days is longer than in many equivalent countries. It is 14 weeks in France and 12 in Germany.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has overcome its reservations about homosexuality and same-sex marriage and is officially joining in the Pride Month celebrations.

It is very different from what happened in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade, establishing by seven votes to two, the constitutional freedom of pregnant women across the country to choose to have an abortion, in 1973 – seven years after Britain.

The political divide over the importance of God

Most British politicians prefer to leave God out of it all. The United States went in the opposite direction.

Since President Richard Nixon, the Republican Party has embraced the Christian right more and more warmly for reasons of electoral calculation unique to the United States. No candidate elected to the presidency or to the high office today would dare to say that he does not believe in God.

In June of this year, the current Supreme Court, which now includes three conservative justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, overturned the earlier Roe v Wade decision by five votes to four. Their motives were that there can be no protected right to abortion because it is not mentioned in the Constitution, which was drafted by Christian gentlemen in the 18th century.

Half of the 50 states are preparing to ban abortion, often even in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality. Abortion clinics are already closing.

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“They murder babies”

Circumstances are very different in Britain, but that hasn’t stopped publicity-hungry politicians from joining the American abortion debate.

Tory MP Peter Bone has attacked the BBC for calling the protesters ‘anti-abortion’ rather than ‘pro-life’. Cabinet Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg reiterated his personal opposition to abortion under all circumstances.

On the other side of the argument, Labor MP Stella Creasy tweeted: “You think what you see in America couldn’t happen here? So you don’t understand who is organizing in British politics.”

She and Labor MP Dame Diana Johnston are now pushing an ‘all-party amendment’ to have abortion rights included in the government’s proposed UK Bill of Rights.

These politicians are looking for the live rail of the culture war.

More and more party leaders on all sides are desperate not to be drawn into the abortion debate. Replacing absent Boris Johnson in PMQs, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told feminist MP Rosie Duffield that the issue of abortion law is “settled” in this country.

As if to demonstrate that this is not an active battleground, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition used virtually the same words to comment on the Supreme Court decision. Mr Johnson said it was ‘a huge step backwards’, Keir Starmer ‘a huge setback’.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called it “one of the darkest days for women’s rights of my life”.

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“I had an abortion, I will talk about it”

Scotland and Northern Ireland are the two parts of the UK where the abortion ructions are most evident. This is partly because sectarian religious passions are sometimes running high – with diehard Catholics and Protestant Puritans being the most opposed to abortion.

In Scotland, there have been protests against those visiting clinics in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Ms Sturgeon is in favor of introducing exclusion zones around them, but warns it could be legally tricky. So far, it leaves it to local councils to act.

US religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom has spent around £1.6m in recent years supporting pro-life activists. Presumably, it is one of the shadowy organizers who worries Stella Creasy. But John Mason, the SNP Maverick MP for Glasgow Shettleston, is also a prominent campaigner.

Ireland has shed its Catholic heritage with the referendum in favor of abortion in 2018. But the Westminster government had to step in to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, in defiance of the opposition DUP and 61 Conservative MPs. Even so, the Northern Ireland NHS has yet to facilitate second trimester abortions in the province, forcing women to travel to mainland Britain.

The growing gap in women’s reproductive rights

Abortion rights activists demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2022.

America and the UK continue to move in different directions when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. As some states decide to ban the morning after pill, the government here allowed mail-in access to continue after the end of the COVID-related lockdowns.

There are other surprising consequences. Despite defending a British Bill of Rights, Mr Raab, the Justice Secretary, opposed the inclusion of the right to abortion because he said it was preferable, and more binding , that such matters be decided by elected Members of Parliament rather than by unelected judges.

Constitutional rulings out of America give Britain’s progressive thinkers pause to reflect on their long-running campaign to have a constitution written here. It all depends on who writes and interprets a constitution.

Read more from Adam Boulton:
The slow death of PMs and what awaits Boris Johnson
The ties that bind the United Kingdom are under tension

Rightly or wrongly, the predominantly male Supreme Court has stripped women’s rights at the behest of other male-dominated movements, whether the Republican Party or Christian groups.

Tory MP Danny Kruger told MPs he believed ‘women have no absolute right to bodily autonomy’ because the life of the fetus is also a factor in abortion.

Some older generation feminists who remember the swinging sixties hope that the threat to their gender will reunite them with younger women with whom they quarreled over the relatively peripheral issue of trans rights.

Adam Boulton writes a column every Friday for Sky News.

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