This week MPs voted on a series of alternative limits on abortion at 12,16, 20 and 22 weeks – all of which were rejected. These proposed amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill also sanctioned the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.
The topic of abortion is always described as “emotive”, but in this case it seems that the majority of MPs voted for scientific reasons and fact rather than with any subjective emotional or religious instincts. Similarly, our own student union is broadly pro-choice, and the stem cell research which currently goes on at the University would suggest that the academic arm of this institution is in agreement with the use of human cells for the progression of scientific understanding into disease.
Students are traditionally seen as diehard liberals, but the presence of activists from both sides of the debate on campus, prove that a core of committed individuals will always keep the issues around abortion or embryo research in discussion. Our student population, however, voted overwhelmingly for the Right to Choose Fund to remain when its existence was threatened by a motion proposed last summer.
Anne-Marie Canning, YUSU President, said that the retention of the limit was “great”. She added that “people aren’t pro-abortion, they’re pro-choice, and for those students who get to 24 weeks and need an abortion there’s a reason for that.” The Women’s Officers, Sophie Harrison and Eilidh McIntosh, declared themselves to be “pleased” with the result of the bill.
Here on campus, motions to improve access to abortion, and the Right to Choose Fund are examples of the environment of tolerance and progress that characterises the student population, as well as UK politics.
The advantages of this are twofold. Firstly, we are at the forefront of technology, and the benefits our generation can hope to gain from this research are happening right here. Research at the YCR Cancer Research Unit is into human prostate carcinoma, which currently ranks second amongst male tumours in incidence and mortality. Research into Parkinson’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the use of human-animal embryos, and should the researchers succeed, we will be the ones who will have the option of the right treatment to combat these diseases.
The £10,000 budget of the Right to Choose Fund is split into £1,000 for the procurement of an abortion should a woman decide that she needs an abortion as soon as possible, with the rest devoted to childcare for student parents. Canning says that “a couple of cases a year” arise in which the woman involved needs an abortion, and says that the childcare portion of the Fund is “very well used”.
These examples are characterized by their practical usage in improving the everyday lives of students and the general public alike. Despite what the right wing press and some religious traditionalists purport to be the truth, abortions are not taken lightly, and the tiny number (1.9%) that occur between 20-24 weeks are often, according to the charity Marie Stopes International, the women in the most desperate circumstances. These women include those on methadone as part of drug rehabilitation programmes, (methadone stops periods) whose lives are in danger if the foetus continues to develop, or victims of rape and abuse whose emotional state prevents them from seeking help earlier in the pregnancy.
The bill served as a reminder of the genuinely progressive country in which we live. We will benefit from its practical implications, and for that we should be glad.