Photo by Majd Forrest
Artillery Row

Bring abortion bans to Britain

The move to restrict abortion reflects public opinion on both sides of the pond

This week, Texas ushered in the most restrictive abortion law in the United States since before Roe v Wade, the legal challenge that paved the way for liberalisation. From this month, abortion will not be available after a foetal heartbeat has been detected. Doctors and others who assist in procuring are abortion are liable to be sued by private citizens. The move prompted outrage from pro-abortion voices in the US and the UK, quoted in a plethora of massively partisan articles in the media. What the media hasn’t covered, is the extent to which the move to restrict abortion reflects public opinion in the US.

Pro-life groups have waged a successful campaign to convince legislators of the humanity of the unborn child

Polling of Texans before the Texas Heartbeat Act came into force demonstrated that around half of adults in the states supported a dramatic lowering of the legal threshold of abortion to just six weeks. The wider US public also favours stricter limits, including the younger generation. Polling of millennials and Gen Z found that more than 7 in 10 young Americans support limits on abortion, whilst less than 2 out of 10 want unlimited abortion through all 9 months. Interestingly, 6 out of 10 young Americans also think doctors should check for a heartbeat before offering or performing a termination.

Media commentators often fail to appreciate, or deliberately ignore, the extent of pro-life opinion in the US, including amongst young people. The “pro-life generation”, as it is sometimes referred to, is bucking the pro-abortion trend. Pro-life groups have waged a successful campaign to convince legislators in Texas and other states of the humanity of the unborn child. A forthcoming case in the US Supreme Court could overturn Roe v Wade, allowing individual states to forge their own path on abortion laws and resulting in more “heartbeat acts” in the future.

Developments in the United States pose questions for the United Kingdom. What will the trajectory be here in the years ahead? More restrictive legislation or less? Pro-abortion campaigners have mounted several attempts to widen our laws in recent years to allow abortion up to term for any reason. However, they have not succeeded in winning over parliamentarians. Perhaps this is because their demands do not sit well with the British public. To the dismay of abortion campaigners and campaigning politicians, it appears that the British public is much more aligned with their American cousins.

The UK public also believe that checks and balances on abortion should remain in place

A 2018 poll by ComRes for CARE found that less than a quarter of women in England and Wales are in favour of a more radical abortion regime. The poll of 1,863 people in England and Wales revealed that when offered the choice of the status quo, tighter restrictions on abortion, or making abortion available on demand or for any reason up to 24 weeks, only 21 per cent of women and just 26 per cent of men supported abortion on demand. Almost 1 in 4 women said abortion is already too easily available and would support a more selective approach to when abortions are permitted.

The UK public also believe that checks and balances on abortion should remain in place. An earlier ComRes poll of over 2,000 adults in Great Britain showed that 72 per cent of the public think abortion should continue to be subject to a legal framework, including the requirement to get the consent of two doctors and not allowing abortion after 24 weeks unless the child is disabled or the mother’s life in danger. Just 12 per cent disagreed. There is also evidence of public disagreement with current legislation on issues such as sex-selective abortion and abortion access.

Other SavantaComRes polling shows that 9 in 10 British adults agree that sex-selective abortion should be explicitly banned. As many as 8 in 10 agree that women who want to continue with their pregnancies, but are under financial pressure to have an abortion, should be given more support. Also 8 in 10 support the introduction of a five-day cooling off period to ensure that a women considering an abortion has had enough time to consider all of the options available to her.

Polling of the British public on abortion suggests that they are more pro-life than many in the political and media establishment, although you wouldn’t get that impression by reading the news or listening to debates in parliament. Could it be that over time, like the United States, Britain moves towards a lower limit on abortion and greater empowerment of women to pursue other choices? If politicians truly followed the public mood on this issue, this is the direction they would take us in.

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