2007 - 2022

Trust Scotland with Abortion Law

Scotland-map-web2The opposition to devolving abortion legislation to Holyrood has been both insulting to Scotland and ill-informed. The implicit reasoning behind this opposition (apart from knee-jerk unionism) appears to be the assumption that Scotland would be more likely to have a less liberal approach to women’s reproductive rights. The other argument – that there should be uniformity across the UK – would not presumably be supported if Westminster introduced much more restrictive legislation.

There is nothing in Holyrood policy since its formation that supports the assumption that it would take a less liberal view on abortion. On the other big litmus test of liberal opinion – homosexual equality – our Scottish legislation has been exemplary. It abolished Westminster’s ‘Clause 28’ despite a massive hostile campaign. It led on civil contracts and equal marriage despite strong lobbying against. If we look at the historical background on reproductive rights, the Scottish picture is mixed and no worse than the rest of the UK. It was a Scottish MP, David Steel, who successfully got his Private Members Bill on abortion reform through the Commons in 1967 and this certainly did not damage his political career in Scotland.

One area in Scotland had the most advanced provision of women’s reproductive health in the UK from the 1930s onwards with access to birth control and abortion. Professor Dugald Baird moved to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in the thirties and developed an integrated health service for women with birth control provision and a liberal therapeutic abortion policy. ( See Dr. Gayle Davis ‘The Great Divide – the Policy and Practice of Abortion in Scotland’ Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh) Under Scottish common law, it had long been possible for a doctor to abort in good faith if it was in the interests of the woman’s health. Professor Baird sought and received senior legal advice reassuring him that he could pursue his approach without the threat of prosecution. Aberdeen, although a poor city at that time, became over several decades a women’s health model. Fewer women died in child birth there than in affluent areas in the south of England and fewer babies died in their first year.

The Glasgow experience was at the other end of the spectrum. Ian Donald, Professor of Obstetrics from the 1950s, was very hostile to abortion. He was not trained in Scotland and his first job was in London so in that respect he was not particularly the product of the Scottish medical system. Women in Glasgow had the lowest choices in relation to abortion even in very grim circumstances of many in the city. But overall the Scottish situation was not less liberal than England.

One of the big Yes arguments in the Referendum campaign was that we needed to trust Scotland. The politicians we have elected to our parliament have been every bit as liberal as Westminster. On feminist issues, we can argue that we have been better. So why this refusal to trust Scotland?

Comments (23)

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  1. Anton says:

    I genuinely don’t understand why anyone should oppose devolution of abortion law to Scotland, though it seems that many do.

    Can anyone explain?

    1. John Mooney says:

      It’s because of Labours pathetic adherence to “Bains Law”to oppose any proposition posited by the SNP.even if the position taken by the SNP. is good and practical for Scotland.The rest of the Britnats go along with this nonsense to screw anything they can to do down Scottish aspirations.This motley bunch of unionist have learned nothing from the General Election!

    2. Iain McPherson says:

      Because they can / will oppose it and ultimately prevent the powers being transferred.

      Scots are play things for them, exactly the same relationship westminster had with the colonies.

      Scots have known this relationship of master and servant existed between tory rule and Scotland. However, what has changed recently is that Scots can now see a similar relationship exists between London based labour and Scots.

      We are second class citizens in our own country, that westminster can not let go of meaningful powers to Scotland’s Parliament, will ultimately.ead to end of union.

  2. Lolly says:

    It’s because they want to open the door to taking women’s rights away rights in England, it’s quite a calculated move.
    The MPs involved in this in Westminster are known to be anti abortion.

  3. Lolly says:

    Sorry about the above typos! Eyesight problems.

  4. hindmost says:

    The three MPs who have proposed this amendment to the Scotland act, John Pugh, Fiona Bruce and Robert Flello are all opposed to abortion on ethical grounds. The groups who are opposed to the amendment are:
    Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance, Rape Crisis Scotland, the National Union of Students Scotland, Close the Gap, YWCA Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Convention, Women’s Support Project, Scotland Amnesty International, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, the Scottish TUC and Abortion Rights Committee Scotland.
    Their concern is that the Scottish Government would introduce a stricter time limit than the current 24 weeks. John Masson MSP has already stated that he would be proposing to reduce this limit. Currently there is absolutely no chance of having the law amended in Westminster so it looks to me like they are pulling a fast one here. If they could get the 24 week limit lowered in Scotland they could then use that to argue for “rationalising” the legislation to eliminate discrepancies.

    1. Lolly says:

      Of course they would, and then keep chipping and chipping away at it until there’s nothing left again, and that is what those fanatics want…back to hot baths, gin and coat hangers.
      This stupid assumption that late abortion is somehow a frequent occurrence, it is NOT…I don’t mean you personally here!…and it is for very sound medical reasons when it does happen.
      Those people would outlaw it completely if they had their way and they will lie about things like late abortion being used all the time.
      There’s a very good reason those groups have opposed this and I agree with them.

  5. C Rober says:

    Does that mean we can retroactively do abortions? I’m all for it can we Start with David Cameron?

    Its not just Abortion law that needs devolving , Surrogacy , fertility , Gene therapy too , but I would still want things like 3 parent Frankenstein egg fertilization to remain banned , as well as two mother fertilized eggs – whether that’s A Westminster or Hollyorod question or not.

    I am all for a woman s choice being exactly that , a decision left to the future mother.

    But what about the future father’s voice , could they then force an abortion say after a Downs test , or to prevent it?If we have sexual equality , does it not then become sexual inequality without the other side of the argument?

    Hollyrood isn’t just arguing for the powers to be given to them for abortion , but like tax powers being devolved its a poison chalice , It wants IVF powers too.

    We already have two high profile cases in the Uk with two different gay men couples trying to force the payment and treatment costs of gestational surrogacy funded by the Nhs for them in India or Ukraine.

    Hollyrood and its fertility/abortion policies need to be laid out even before the starting block , or we could end up spending 10s of millions in Surrogacy tourism for the RUk , straight and gay , and also for the EU as long as we are in it.

    If that political hot potato stays at Westminster then its their problem.

  6. Mary says:

    I wondered the same thing too! Why on earth would a Holyrood parliament, led by a feminist, be restrictive on abortion laws?!
    Anyone trying to argue that point looks a bit of an idiot in my opinion

  7. sandy ritchie says:

    It seems strange to me that Holyrood can discuss assisted suicide presumably with the view to implement legislation if the majority of MSPs voted for it but unable to legislate on abortion?

  8. Marsha Scott says:

    I am uncomfortable with some of the tone of this commentary. As someone who worked in reproductive rights in the US when clinic staff were being shot, when our clients had to pass by shouting people waving signs of foetuses at them, when millions and millions of dollars were spent by the anti-choice lobby to change the minds of an essentially pro-choice country, a request for time to plan for devolution of abortion seems sensible. Absolutely nothing in anything written about the amendment was meant to imply that “trust” was at issue, nor that devolution of abortion was being opposed in principle. I agree with many of the statements above, and I do trust Scotland to get this right, I just want us not to be naïve about the storm that will come and to take time to batten down the hatches.

    1. Lolly says:

      You are absolutely right, Marsha, and come it would, with knobs on. And if anyone thinks otherwise the they are very naive. Look at the carry on with protesters outside clinics as it is, I signed the petition about that and I sent the info to my MP as requested, Mr Blackford…silence was the loud reply. There are many religious nuts out there only waiting their chance to pounce.
      I don’t believe for one minute that Nicola Sturgeon would be anything but pro women’s rights, but there are very many who are not and this would allow them to make the most of that.
      And the pro lifers will lie through their teeth in the most disgraceful manner to get their so called point across…and we have just seen what happens then with the referendum.
      I am not against Scotland having this…I’m pro Indie, for heaven’s sake…but it is purely
      so that those three MPs in England can then start to set about the destruction of women’s rights there and believe me, they want to.

  9. Josie Marshall says:

    isn’t it time we started to trust women to make their own personaland ethical decisions about when they should have abortions – and take all politicians / clergy etc out of it!! women can actually be trusted to do this and it grossly insulting to all women that politicians, social commentators etc feel they should be having a say in women’s lives in this way. the fact that women still need two doctors to agree to their personal decision is bad enough – and can act to prolongue access to the precedure causing even more distress to a woman- please take all our [largely male!!] politicians out of this!!

  10. Neil says:

    I am not interested which parliament sets abortion legislation – I am more interested in the legislation. It really isn’t a matter of national pride – that’s just stupid.

    However, I will point out that the idea of devolving it to Holyrood is mostly being pushed by anti-abortionists. I think we can guess why. But there is no mention of that in the article?

  11. James Campbell says:

    Innocent human beings have a right to life, no matter where they are conceived or born, Scotland, England, anywhere. Sad to read this article and comments but not surprised.

    1. Lolly says:

      And there, dear readers is the problem already mentioned, that of interference in a woman’s bodily autonomy…I will say this only once, just because abortion is illegal does not mean it will not happen, it will and it will be back to the back street abortionists and all that comes with it. Watch Up The Junction, do some reading of social history, and much much more. But, no, that might interfere with the arguments of the blinkered and the ignorant and the controllers.
      You do not have the right to tell a woman she can’t choose a termination if she needs or wants it.
      It is also remarkable how all these pro lifers will then make ignorant right wing remarks about children in poverty, do nothing to help and why are there so many children who are in care and never fostered or adopted. Pile of crap, sir, pile of crap.

      1. James Campbell says:

        The issue is clear – is an unborn child a person or not? If not a person, then as you say euphemistically, restricting abortion amounts to “interference in a woman’s bodily autonomy”.

        If an unborn child is a person, then killing him or her is killing a human person and is manifestly wrong.

        It’s pretty obvious to me that an unborn child is a person, but if we can’t be sure, then preventing abortion at least minimises the risk of killing.

        The social arguments (e.g. poverty) are separate grounds for opposition, however, none of them go to the central point of the personhood of an unborn child. Further, they apply equally to numerous other people and groups who are already born.

        There are numerous pro-life charities who help expectant mothers in difficulty and their families.

      2. Doug Daniel says:

        If Scotland had voted for independence last year, would you have been calling for Westminster to retain power over abortion law?

        1. James Campbell says:

          If Scotland becomes independent, then it follows that its laws on abortion will be made in Scotland.

  12. Kim nicoll says:

    It was interesting during the independence referendum that the none of the violence against women’s groups publicly supported either the union or independence.

    It may have been that they didn’t think they could be seen to be taking a political stance, however I don’t remember the same reticence when Scotland was asked to vote on devolution.

    I think there is a reluctance to fully embrace decision making in Scotland by these organisations. Perhaps because much of the advancement in women’s rights followed on from actions initiated in England and elsewhere and perhaps there was/is a fear of the religious vote. Something that I think is much exaggerated.

    I’m heartened that Marsha Scott, who, if I’m not mistaken, is the new head of Scottish Womens Aid, is making it clear that she trusts the people of Scotland. In the new landscape that is Scotland today there’s no point in arguing for more economic powers while being fearful on social matters.

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