Abortion Access in Scotland – some recent history & the current situation

⚠️ After the disgraceful decision in the US to overturn Roe vs Wade, I think it’s important to remember that anti-choice sentiment is not an exclusively American thing – more than ever we need to make sure that access to abortion in Scotland is not only defended but improved. We’ve made hard-fought progress over the years, but we still have quite a way to go to make sure all people in Scotland can access this kind of healthcare when they need it. In fact, there’s no right to abortion recognised by law anywhere in the UK which many people don’t realise…

Did you know that although abortion has been a devolved issue since 2016, Scotland is still following the older – frankly outdated & extremely paternalistic – 1967 Abortion Act, which is regarded as one of the most restrictive in Europe?

This means that instead of the right to choose to end pregnancy being enshrined in law as recommended by international human rights organisations, it actually remains an illegal act for which both the abortion seeker & provider can be prosecuted for *unless* they meet very stringent guidelines, such as the agreement of 2 separate doctors. This ultimately takes the choice away from the pregnant person & puts it in the hands of doctors, which not only causes delays but also puts them at the mercy of individual doctors’ personal views on abortion, & in some cases even lack of knowledge about local abortion services. Scotland in particular has unfortunately had issues historically with doctors deliberately delaying or refusing to approve abortions due to their personal beliefs, even in big cities like Glasgow where you might not expect it.

Another issue is the provision of late-term abortions. While abortions can be performed at up to 24 weeks according to the Act, in Scotland they are not performed after 18-20 weeks (depending on area) for non-medical reasons. This means that although the facilities are there – you can get them for medical reasons – people seeking abortions for non-medical reasons later on, such as rape victims who may not have sought help sooner due to trauma, are forced to make the decision to either pay to travel to England for one or continue with an unwanted pregnancy. While there is a process in place for claiming back these expenses later, it’s difficult to navigate & the upfront costs can be prohibitive, especially for people on lower incomes. While most abortions in Scotland take place before pregnancy reaches 9 weeks, the situation is obviously unacceptable for those who have not been able to seek help until later for whatever reason.

🌈 As mentioned in the beginning there have been some positive changes in Scotland, & abortion being devolved along with widespread public support for the right to choose means we have a real chance to change things for the better. For example, while the “abortion pill” used to only be available to take at home for those suffering miscarriages, it’s now allowed to be taken at home for abortions, either after collecting in person or via telemedicine. Before this the pill had to be taken in a medical setting, so risked the abortion process starting before reaching home for those who lived further away &/or relied on public transport. This is a good example of an existing framework, in this case for miscarriages, being adjusted to include abortions. So, why not adjust the current framework for late-term abortions due to medical reasons to accommodate non-medical reasons too, so no-one has to travel to England? I feel in Scotland we often like to think of ourselves as being more progressive than other places so it’s ridiculous that our abortion access is still not up to par, especially for a healthcare service that is accessed by 1 in 3 women in their lifetimes globally. It clearly needs to be decriminalised & made accessible for all on the NHS in Scotland.

⭐️ Links for sources of info, further reading & action you can take:

Answer the *current* consultation on establishing ‘safe zones’ around healthcare sites that provide abortions in Scotland on the Scottish Parliment’s website – see Back Off Scotland for more info

Current NHS Scotland information on abortion services can be found on NHS Inform Scotland

Engender report & recommendations to the Scottish Government – a brilliant, comprehensive read (though from 2016 so at least we can say that at least one of the recs, to be able take the “abortion pill” at home, has now been enacted) – can be read here

Fantastic paper published in 2020 on the Scottish Abortion Campaign (SAC) from 1975-1990 – it covers feminism, trade unions, national identity, & wanting to improve things in Scotland – such as removing the need for 2 doctors, which sadly still hasn’t happened yet – rather than just defending the 1967 Act is available through Open Access online here

News article telling the stories of women who had to travel to England for an abortion in The Scotsman

2020 report comparing abortion rights & access across Europe here

⬆️ “You can’t make people use their body to keep someone else alive” – bang on. Even if we’re dead we have to have given prior consent for organ donation, plus certainly when we’re alive no-one would argue that we should be forced to donate organs, give blood etc against our will to keep someone else alive (& that would be a fully formed, conscious person). So why when it comes to pregnant people who don’t wish to be pregnant is this any different? That anti-choicers would give them less rights than a corpse is mind-blowing to me 🤯

🏷 I’ve tagged this post under the “History” & “Religion & Spirituality” tags as it’s very much part of social history & access is very much affected by religious views. In future I’m planning to write about older abortion methods & birth control too.

📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel

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