UK Public wants to see Abortion Law Reform ahead of General Election

by Laurence Wilkinson Ahead of the General Election in the UK on 8 June, a recent ComRes Poll indicated that the British public is dissatisfied with the current abortion law and wants to see reform on a number of issues. The Poll, commissioned by www.wheredotheystand.org.uk, represented the most extensive polling done on the issue in […]

by Laurence Wilkinson Ahead of the General Election in the UK on 8 June, a recent ComRes Poll indicated that the British public is dissatisfied with the current abortion law and wants to see reform on a number of issues. The Poll, commissioned by www.wheredotheystand.org.uk, represented the most extensive polling done on the issue in […]

by Laurence Wilkinson

Ahead of the General Election in the UK on 8 June, a recent ComRes Poll indicated that the British public is dissatisfied with the current abortion law and wants to see reform on a number of issues. The Poll, commissioned by www.wheredotheystand.org.uk, represented the most extensive polling done on the issue in the last decade.

The Poll surveyed attitudes on a variety of issues related to abortion, including time-limits, independent counselling, overseas funding and conscience protections. One of the more interesting revelations was that almost two thirds of those surveyed wanted to see the current upper limit of 24 weeks reduced – a result that would have come as a surprise to many ‘progressives’ in the UK who have argued that women in particular want to see less regulation of abortion.

As well as showing that the UK public wanted to see current abortion time-limits reduced, the Poll also revealed that 93% of women wanted to see a legal right to independent counselling for those considering having an abortion. Furthermore, 79% of general population wanted to see a five-day waiting period introduced before an abortion could be performed, and 65% of the public opposed UK taxpayer money being spent on overseas abortions.

A majority of the UK population also supported medical professionals’ right to conscientious objection – saying that they should not be forced to act against their strongly held religious beliefs. This was a key finding in light of recent developments in the UK which have seen the conscience rights for healthcare professionals come under increasing threat.

A 2014 Supreme Court judgment held that two Scottish midwives would be required to delegate, supervise and support junior staff who were involved in carrying out abortion procedures – making it difficult to see how midwives in the UK will be able to progress in their careers. Even more recently, the British regulator for pharmacists made a change to their standards – replacing the current ‘right to refer’ with a ‘duty to dispense’. Both of these developments would imply that the population wants to see healthcare services provided without any thought given to the deeply-held views of those required to provide the service, when in fact the opposite would appear to be true.

Stronger protections for conscience is an issue that ADF International has been advocating strongly on across Europe. ADF International filed an expert brief in support of Swedish midwife Ellinor Grimmark, who is considering taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights after the Swedish courts failed to protect her right to freedom of conscience. It makes very little sense for local authorities to force medical professionals out of their jobs when freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right guaranteed by every major human rights treaty. Rather, as the Poll results have suggested, the focus should be on safeguarding the deeply-held moral convictions of staff on a very sensitive topic.

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