My amendment is bigger than yours

Last week I reported on Nadine Dorries’ latest attempt to restrict access to abortion: she has tabled another amendment on reducing the time limit to twenty weeks onto the HFE Bill currently working its way through Parliament. Unity picked it up at Liberal Conspiracy and linked it to a real life example of why a twenty-four week limit, as a minimum not a maximum in my opinion, is so important.

I also reported on Evan Harris’ two pro-choice amendments, which Jess wrote about in more detail, and Kate at Liberal Conspiracy also discussed. Harris’ amendments effectively target two of the three key areas that some people believe need to be liberalized in the Abortion Act: the two doctor rule and who can perform abortions. The third is where abortions can take place. Abortion Rights and the Green Party have more on the pro side for all three proposals, and the BMA has a bit on the con on the latter two.

I speculated that Dorries’ amendment was in response to Harris’ (co-tabled by Chris McCafferty and Frank Dobson respectively), but was confused about her tactics, though some of you had some good theories.

Today I bring you the Amendment Olympics. On Wednesday and Thursday, six more amendments linked to the Abortion Act were tabled. Plus three additional ones by Vincent Cable that seem like they’re not related to the Act, but which I can’t be sure of because, frankly, I don’t understand them. And one by William Cash which really don’t seem related to abortions, but you never know. Here goes.

Frank Field has tabled two amendments, possibly in response to Evan Harris’, on the two doctor rule. The first reads:

(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), the required number of registered medical practitioners is—
(a) one, in the case of a pregnancy which has not exceeded its thirteenth week,
(b) two, in the case of a pregnancy which has exceeded its thirteenth week but has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week, or
(c) three, in the case of a pregnancy which has exceeded its twenty-fourth week.

So, to recap, Evan Harris has moved to remove the two doctor rule on the basis that, I imagine, (a) women are capable of thinking for themselves; (b) women should be able to decide what happens to their bodies without seeking permission from others, medical or otherwise; and (c) no other medical procedure needs two doctors’ permission, not even open heart surgery or something that could, you know, kill you.

Frank Field on the other hand seems to think that Evan Harris’ proposals are all a bit too revolutionary. Surely, some kind of check and control is needed to prevent women from rampantly aborting their unwanted pregnancies willy nilly. And evidently, the danger of willy-nillying gets worse the longer a woman has been pregnant, so more control is needed after thirteen weeks. Does anyone know what’s so special about thirteen weeks?

No wait, that’s not it, it’s not that women are less able to take responsible decisions about their own bodies and lives as time passes. It’s that abortions should be harder to get after thirteen and twenty-four weeks because, um… Hang on a minute, that sounds like the time-limit restriction argument!

It’s not that we’re against abortion or anti-woman, it’s that it all gets a bit more complicated the longer a woman’s been pregnant such that her body becomes less and less her own and more and more society’s/the state’s/the purview of pretty much everybody else.

It could be that Field is actually in favour of easing access to abortion, but feels that Harris’ proposals won’t pass and so has tabled amendments he thinks would be less controversial. But he voted to reduce the time limit to twenty and twenty-two weeks, which makes me suspicious. On the other hand, the introduction of a three doctor rule after twenty-four weeks, which he offers a second time in another amendment, is an interesting twist. Thoughts?

Frank Field’s second amendment reads:

(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), the required number of registered medical practitioners is—    
(a) two, in the case of a pregnancy which has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week, or
(b) three, in the case of a pregnancy which has exceeded its twenty-fourth week.

Nadine Dorries has introduced another amendment which reads:

(1)The Abortion Act 1967 (c. 87) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 1(1)(d) insert—
“( ) In section 1(1)(d) the term “seriously handicapped” does not include club foot, cleft lip, cleft palate or cleft lip and palate”.

I’m not trying to dismiss a conversation about the ethical dilemmas of abortion as they relate to disability rights, but I would argue that invoking these rights in this way is a ploy by Davies.

Jacqui Lait meanwhile has, helpfully, tabled two pro-choice amendment easing restrictions on where abortions can take place. The first reads:

(1) The Abortion Act 1967 (c. 87) is amended as follows.
 (2) In section 1(3), after “Service trust or”, insert “or in any location where a health care provider provides primary care under a contract with a commissioner of NHS services.”

The second, which only makes sense if you read it in the context of the actual Act, reads:

(1) The Abortion Act 1967 (c.87) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 1(3A) omit the words ‘consisting primarily in the use of such medicines’.

Chris McCafferty has also tabled an amendment but I’m not certain (I keep changing my mind) what it’s all about so will throw it open for any and all to debate:

(1) The Abortion Act 1967 (c.87) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 1(3) insert—
“(3A) For the purposes of subsection (3) such treatment for the termination of pregnancy consisting primarily of the use of medicines shall include the prescription but not the administration of a medicine which precipitates the expulsion of the products of conception provided that—
(i) medicines which end the pregnancy have been prescibed and administered in accordance with this section as part of the same course of medical treatment,
(ii) the administration is under the direction of a registered health care practioner, and
(iii) the pregnancy has not exceeded the ninth week.
(3B) The Secretary of State may make regulations which amend the provisions of subsections 3A of this section.
(3C) Regulations under subsection (3B) shall be made by statutory instrument.
(3D) No regulations may be made under subsection (3B) unless a draft of the instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

The date for the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Bill have also now been set for 14 July so we don’t have a lot of time to get our heads around these amendments so that we can start lobbying our MPs.

Photo by alexandralee, shared under a Creative Commons license