The Royal Courts of Justice, London The Royal Courts of Justice, London. Photo: Public Domain

The shockingly unjust imprisonment of a woman for an abortion after the 24-week time limit shows the need to mobilise for full abortion rights, argues Steph Pike

‘A woman seeks medical help following an abortion. Instead of care and understanding, her hospital bed is surrounded by Police. She is questioned, charged, taken to court and imprisoned.’ This is not a paragraph from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; this is the sinister reality for women in the UK in 2023.

Yesterday a woman was jailed for 28 months for terminating her pregnancy after the 24-week time limit, leaving her with a criminal record and separating her from her children. She was prosecuted under an archaic law from 1861. It is outrageous and inhumane that any woman under any circumstances should be prosecuted, let alone jailed for ending an unwanted pregnancy.

The Police could have decided not to charge her; the CPS could have decided not to prosecute her, and the Judge could have decided not to imprison her. Instead, the state actively decided to pursue this woman. It is especially galling to women that the state is choosing to prosecute and criminalise women in this way while at the same time systematically failing to pursue and prosecute rapists and perpetrators of violence against women.

What this case shows us, apart from the cruelty and misogyny of the state, is that the few abortion rights we have are flimsy and need not only to be protected but also extended. We have to learn from the USA, where a combination of complacency by the left and a highly organised, well-funded and persistent anti-abortion campaign saw the shocking roll-back of women’ rights with the overturning of Roe v Wade.

In the past twenty years, there have been numerous attempts to reduce the time limit for abortions in the UK. So far, these attempts have failed, but with anti-abortion campaigns gaining confidence from the Roe v Wade decision, we must not only actively defend the abortion rights we already have, but campaign to extend them.

It is outrageous that any woman can be prosecuted for having an abortion; we must demand the immediate decriminalisation of abortion and the immediate release of the woman imprisoned yesterday and the quashing of her conviction.

We also need to campaign for full abortion rights. Women should not have to persuade two doctors that they need an abortion. At the moment there is no legal requirement for the NHS to provide abortions. With the Government starving the NHS of money and resources, women are increasingly having to travel long distances to have an abortion, or having to resort to paying for abortions at private clinics. The delays this causes means abortions will be carried out later and disproportionately affect working-class women who are less likely to have the money to travel or pay for a private abortion.

We must campaign for free abortion on demand. This includes having a fully funded and resourced NHS so all women can get a free abortion as early as possible. This campaign is vital; without full control and freedom to make decisions about our bodies, women will not be free.

Join the demonstrations in Manchester and London this Saturday to demand the immediate decriminalisation of abortion. If there isn’t a protest in your area, organise one.

London: 17th June, 1pm outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Manchester: 2pm at the Emmeline Pankhurst Statue

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Steph Pike

Steph Pike a is a revolutionary socialist, feminist and People's Assembly activist. She is also a  published poet. Her poetry collection 'Petroleuse' is published by Flapjack Press.