Defend the right to choose – decriminalise abortion now

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2023 National Women's Conference
11 October 2022
Carried as Amended

The overturning of Roe Vs Wade by the US Supreme Court is the biggest attack on abortion rights since the 1970s. There are over a dozen US states ready to bring in bans following this ruling. These bans won’t stop abortions. But they will stop safe abortions, and they will make it a crime to assist someone to have an abortion.

This means thousands of working class people face an unwanted pregnancy, an unsafe procedure, a jail sentence. Rich people will be ok – they can afford to travel to states or countries without bans, or to check in to a private clinic. The growth of far right parties in government around the world will make it far more likely that abortion rights will come under increasing attack.

We cannot be complacent here – our right to choose and access to abortion has repeatedly come under attack, and the Supreme Court decision will give confidence to those wanting to attack abortion rights. Nadine Dorries used the publicity around the Tory leadership battle to call for reducing the time limit for abortion, and Liz Truss has not supported the right to choose.

This makes it more important than ever for us here to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion. It’s an outrage that in the 21st century, the only medical procedure that requires permission rather than consent is an abortion, and that there are currently women facing legal action for having abortions. Earlier this year a woman was kept in police custody for 36 hours following an unexpected stillbirth because of a ‘suspicion’ that she had an abortion. She was then under investigation for 18 months without charge. A Freedom of Information request has revealed that in England and Wales, at least 17 women have been investigated by the police for alleged illegal abortions. This happens because of an arcane law passed in 1861 before women even had the right to vote that puts abortion as equivalent to murder without the permission of two doctors.

Working class people and the trade union movement have come together before to fight for our right to choose. The TUC called the biggest ever protest to defend abortion rights against the Corrie Bill in 1979, mobilising 80,000 people on to the streets. This made a huge difference to the campaign, and to women in the workplace.

This Conference calls on the National Women’s Committee to:

• Work with the NEC and other appropriate bodies within UNISON to highlight the campaign for abortion rights and decriminalisation in England, Scotland and Wales

• Explore the possibility of making links with international organisations sharing UNISON’s aims and objectives in the campaign to defend abortion rights.