40 Days For Life
Lisa-Marie Ferla writes about the recent anti-abortion protests in Glasgow.
Last month, the first anti-abortion protest outside of a hospital began on Scottish soil. The campaigners, who are members of a group called 40 Days for Life, will be “praying for an end to abortion” near Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital until 20th March as part of what their website claims is a “coordinated international mobilisation” in defence of the unborn.
Although Glasgow is no stranger to such sentiments – national campaign group the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which is headquarted in the city, holds a candlelit vigil every year on the anniversary of the entry into force of the 1967 Abortion Act, for example – 40 Days for Life’s campaign feels like a different kind of beast. The group chose the hospital as part of a modus operandi which explicitly targets local abortion facilities – places where women will be arriving for private medical treatment which is nobody’s business but their own.
Of course, 40 Days for Life began in the US, where demonstrations like this are commonplace. Reproductive rights on the other side of the Atlantic are under threat to a degree that few readers of this site will have seen in their lifetimes: at the time of writing, the state of Ohio had just voted to end public funding for Planned Parenthood while the Supreme Court is due to rule on the legality of restrictive Texan medical admitting privileges laws in a case that is being described as the new Roe v Wade. Meanwhile, in Scotland, a group whose methods include “prayer, fasting and constant vigil” aren’t even permitted on hospital grounds.
So why should we think there is anything to worry about?
Well, for starters: because Scotland is about to be given the power to make its own abortion laws for the first time. If you’ve heard anything about the Scotland Bill, which is currently before the UK Parliament, it’s probably in the context of the Smith Commission and the notorious pre-referendum ‘vow’ – but, late last year, the legislation was amended so that abortion laws would be devolved to Holyrood. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that the current Scottish government has no plans to implement a distinct legal regime from that currently in force throughout the UK – but with a Scottish general election now weeks away and dissent even among members of her own party, that’s hardly a cast-iron guarantee.
The chances of Scotland turning into the UK’s new Northern Ireland when it comes to reproductive rights – or, at the other end of the scale, loosening the laws so that a woman’s choices don’t require the sign-off of two separate doctors – seem incredibly unlikely on an island of this size. But as yet another referendum threatens to drown out discussion of issues that could have an immediate impact on the lives of the residents of Scotland, I’d argue that the most important question you can ask of your prospective parliamentary representative ahead of 5th May is his or her position on abortion.
I confess that my interest in this goes beyond the hypothetical. The announcement that abortion laws would be devolved to Scotland was marked by a motion that the Scottish Parliament recognise “the fundamental importance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and commits to defend those rights against any attempt to undermine women’s access to safe and legal abortion in Scotland”, lodged by Green MSP Patrick Harvie. In response, another MSP lodged a counter-motion urging the parliament to instead recognise “what it considers the fundamental rights of babies to be protected both before and after birth as well as the importance of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and commits to achieving a proper balance between these respective rights”.
That MSP was John Mason of the SNP, and he’s already been around asking if he has my vote.
As with all TYCI articles, we encourage thoughtful and considerate discussion on the issues address in this feature.