As someone who has always been pro-choice and supported increasing and improving the protections, rights and freedoms of women and girls across the county, I found this vote an incredibly difficult one to decide on, as there are strong and valid arguments to be made for both sides.
Ultimately, I decided to vote against Lords Amendment 92 (The Sugg Amendment) to the Health and Care Bill, which would make the temporary Covid policy of ‘at-home’ abortions permanent. Although I do accept the House voted in favour of it. Last night is a big step when it comes to accessing abortion services for women and girls, and in that sense, I am pleased. However, I want to explain why I felt I could not vote in favour of the amendment, which I did in the best interests of ensuring the safety of vulnerable women and girls.
I personally feel this was a vote on how we protect the most vulnerable women and girls who may access these services. The at-home abortion provisions have enabled abortion providers to send abortion pills through the post to women and girls without any face-to-face contact with a clinician. This temporary approval was only granted in the context of a public health emergency, to help people social distance and isolate, preventing people from bringing Covid into GP practices. This amendment will permanently remove the vital protection of a one-to-one, face-to-face consultation with a clinician.
However, my concerns centred around the fact that, perhaps without a face to face consultation, it would not be possible to determine:
- The gestation of the pregnancy
- Whether or not the women or girl is being coerced into abortion or sexual relations
- Whether the woman or girl with whom the clinician consults will be the same person who takes the pill – there is a real risk of these pills being taken by someone else, sold or forced upon a woman or girl
I am concerned this poses a risk to women and girls in coercive situations, such as those who:
- Are in abusive relationships
- Are being sexually abused by family members
- Are being trafficked
I want to protect women and girls, and that is a core value I always consider when voting. If the amendment had failed, they would still have access to the abortion services in place prior to Covid-19. This is another key reason why I did not feel comfortable voting for this amendment.
Furthermore, my voting against this amendment is a vote purely to take us back to where we were pre-pandemic on abortion legislation – I do not believe it would have been a backwards step, but breathing space to learn from the last two years going forward.
If the amendment had not passed, I would have wanted to see further debates, data-gathering and consultations on this matter in the weeks and months ahead, so we can look again at improving the access to abortion services for women and girls, while protecting their safety.