UNISON backs abortion rights and decriminalisation

Abortion is still illegal in the UK, with a recent report revealing that a woman was arrested straight after a stillbirth in Cornwall and remains under investigation

Hundreds of protestors hold pro-abortion placards

UNISON joined thousands of people marching in central London at the weekend to protest against the recent overturning of abortion rights in the US and to demand the decriminalisation of abortion in the UK.

The Supreme Court decision to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling has meant that millions of women across the US have been stripped of access to abortion.

Saturday’s march was organised by campaign group Abortion Rights, which demands that abortion is decriminalised in the UK. UNISON is part of the We Trust Women coalition, a group of organisations demanding the decriminalisation of abortion in the UK.

Abortion remains illegal in the UK and not available on request. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – a Victorian law passed 67 years before women won the right to vote – classifies abortion as a crime that carries a punishment of up to 12 years in prison.

UNISON Camden branch secretary and chair of UNISON international committee Liz Wheatley delivered a speech at the rally.

Liz Wheatley addresses the crowd

Liz Wheatley addressing the rally

Ms Wheatley said: “The biggest ever march to defend abortion rights was organised by the TUC against the Corrie Bill [in 1979], and 80,000 people took to the streets.

“UNISON is affiliated to Abortion Rights and has supported all the protests, and immediately after Roe v Wade was overturned, our general secretary Christina McAnea wrote about why abortion is a trade union issue.

“Rich people will always be able to get an abortion, it’s working class people like us who are left having to use unsafe methods. So in the same way that trade unions are fighting low pay that keeps working class people in poverty, we will keep fighting for abortion rights, and we will keep fighting until we win.”

In February 2022, UNISON women’s conference passed a motion to support the total decriminalisation of abortion in the UK, stating “abortion is a class issue.”

Last week, the Independent reported that, after delivering a stillborn baby, a women in Cornwall was arrested as she was discharged from hospital and held in a cell for 36 hours after being accused of “procuring an illegal abortion”.

She has been under investigation for a year and a half without being charged with any crime.

In 2019, Northern Ireland decriminalised abortion. However, due to a lack of clinics in Northern Ireland, Northern Irish women still have to travel over to England in order to access a clinic to have an abortion.

The 1967 Abortion Act gives women in the UK access to abortion, but only under specific grounds, with permission from two doctors. 

Ms McAnea said: “With over a million women in UNISON, we believe passionately in defending a woman or person’s right to choose. The right to have a safe abortion, in private and with dignity, should not depend on where you happen to live”.