Photo by Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Artillery Row

The tide has turned on abortion

The overturning of Roe v Wade is an opportunity for the UK to reflect on its own abortion laws

On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered its long-awaited judgement in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. In a highly anticipated and hugely significant 6-3 decision, the Justices of the top American court overturned the controversial Roe v Wade ruling from 1973. This ruling had put the U.S. on a list of only six countries to have legalised abortion “on-demand” throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Now, everything changes. 

Dobbs considered the Mississippi Gestational Age Act that protects unborn life at a lower stage of gestation than the rest of the U.S. SCOTUS made it clear that there is no constitutional right to abortion and has now recognised the authority of each American state to decide its own abortion policies. In delivering the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Alito summarised: 

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe [has] enflamed debate and deepened division. It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives. 

In some States, voters may believe that the abortion right should be even more extensive than the right that Roe…recognized. Voters in other States may wish to impose tight restrictions based on their belief that abortion destroys an “unborn human being”. 

The significance of this decision cannot be underestimated. Inevitably, it represents an enormous paradigm shift in the U.S. that has sent shockwaves across the world. 

While the decision does not directly impact British abortion laws, it certainly reopens a debate that many people have feared too controversial to enter into. 

The law in England and Wales permits abortions up to 24 weeks gestation, and up to birth for cases of “serious handicaps” — a term that includes minor facial disfigurements such as cleft lips.

Today, an abortion is performed every three minutes, totalling over 200,000 each year. The loosening of abortion restrictions during Covid-19 has also allowed for a wave of women aborting at home in their own bathrooms, flushing the remains away without seeing a medical professional or being offered counselling or support. 

Being pro-woman does not equate to being aggressively pro-abortion

While the guiding intention of the Abortion Act was to legalise abortion as a last resort, there has been a surge of abortions in recent years due to “lifestyle” decisions which the law inadvertently allowed. In 2021, selective abortions (where a twin or triplet is aborted) were up by 35 per cent, and repeat abortions were up by 3.85 per cent compared to the year before. 

There has also been a steady increase each year in the number of women choosing to abort because of a foetal abnormality. Around 90 per cent of Down Syndrome babies are now aborted annually, a figure which rises year after year.

Our abortion law is used far more widely than ever originally anticipated, and it is de facto being used to selectively remove certain disabilities from our society. But, is that what women voters in our country think is right?

Polling reveals that 70 per cent of British women want to see the time limit for abortions lowered from 24 weeks, and nearly 80 per cent think that a five-day cooling-off period is needed to allow women a chance to consider her other options. While aggressive pro-choice campaigns regularly advocate for on-demand abortion up until birth, this only accords with one per cent of national voters’ views. 

To British women, being pro-woman does not equate to being aggressively pro-abortion. 

Since our Abortion Act was passed in 1967, many medical advancements and scientific research have enabled us to appreciate the human qualities of unborn life, bringing the suitability of the law into question. We now know that an unborn child has a beating heart at six weeks gestation and can suck his or her thumb at fifteen weeks. Clinical research shows foetal sentience and the ability to feel pain by at least twelve weeks. On top of all this, babies born at twenty-one weeks — three weeks below our current limit for non-disabled babies — can survive outside the womb if born prematurely. 

It is ludicrous to argue that being unborn equates to being un-alive. 

As the U.S. fundamentally recalibrates its abortion landscape by ruling that there is no constitutional right to abortion, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at our law, too. We owe it to women, and we owe it to babies.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover