The international abortion wars

Sunday 29 October, 14:0015:30, Garden RoomScience and ethics

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2017 sees the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act. While this is often described as legalising abortion, technically it only creates exemptions to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, a piece of Victorian legislation that continues to criminalise abortion unless two doctors certify that the woman’s reasons for having the abortion fall within approved grounds. Campaigners argue that abortion should be decriminalised altogether, making it a matter for the pregnant woman and her doctor, and not for the law.

Abortion has been a focus for overt political battles since the 19th century, then. Women’s desire to control and regulate their fertility this way has brought them into contest with church, state and the medical profession for a very long time. More recently, despite social, cultural and global shifts that have acted to create new levels of equality for women, abortion remains a source of great contest and controversy. This century, renewed efforts to criminalise abortion have led to large protests in Poland. In Ireland, women’s use of miscarriage-inducing drugs has brought the question back to fore and there is talk of a referendum to amend the constitution and make abortion legal. In the US, the election of Donald Trump has given new impetus to those who seek both bans on abortion and restrictions on funding for services that provide abortion.

A panel of pro-choice campaigners from around the world will discuss what is at stake in the battle for abortion rights. Who or what is it for ‘for’? And who or what is it ‘against’? What does it mean to argue for a woman’s right to choose? Is abortion a purely private matter? Is it right to think about abortion as ‘just like any other medical procedure’, or do wider moral issues arise when a woman chooses to end her pregnancy? Is opposition to abortion rights the same the world over? Is it essentially religious or based on a more universal moral intuition? Is it simply about the sanctity of life or does it imply a continued view of women that sees ‘maternity as destiny’?