1861; The date of a law under which a woman was recently jailed. For what crime, you ask? Terminating her pregnancy beyond the legal time limit, or, in other words, making a choice about her own body. That these choices are even the topic of legislation is a matter for debate, but this woman's case brings abortion to the forefront of political debate - something I wish I'd never have to write.

The Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 was passed with the goal of simplifying all the laws covering offences against individuals into a single Act of ParliamentSection 58 of the Act reads:

Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent…shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for life.

Even the language is enough to question what this law is doing on our statute books, yet in 2023 a woman was prosecuted for taking pills to terminate her pregnancy at 32-34 weeks. An article from the Independent, however, along with other legions of the British press, describes the case as if another issue exists. They focus on the fact that this woman, already having three children, became pregnant again in 2019 - shifting the blame for this debacle onto her and her personal choices - choices which should never have come to national attention. The only advantage to be had of this public viewing of such private matters is the question of decriminalising abortion in the UK.

Currently, abortion is legal in Britain for up to 24 weeks, either administered by the NHS or through pills that can be taken at home. Yet, that leaves Britain behind Northern Ireland, a country with a long history of being plagued by religious warring and questionable social policy as a result. In 2019, MPs voted to extend access to abortion in Northern Ireland, along with same-sex marriage. However, following the recent case, MPs are now calling for decriminalisation, or, if not, liberalisation of abortion across the UK.

Britain has survived by centuries-old institutions and customs, and I believe it has done well to get to this point while we still have bishops, marquesses and viscounts in parliament and a Crown atop the pile. However, when such conservation of tradition seeps into modern-day social policy, we ought to take action. We, the people, are seeing the rights of individuals become fettered by culture wars similar to those that wreak havoc across the United States. These rights should never be the topic of national debate. In fact, they should be customs themselves. The right of anyone to make decisions about their own bodies and lives should never be frustrated by overbearing legislation, especially that which was written over 160 years ago. They should be so politically entrenched as to not arouse questioning or invite scrutiny, unless in their protection.

And this is not confined within the United Kingdom's watery borders. Our US counterparts are suffering from the same removal of rights, both legally and politically. Just days ago marked a year since the overturning of Roe v Wade - a Supreme Court ruling that effectively deemed abortion a constitutional right - and those in defence of the right to choose have organised protests. The fight continues.

Another problem that befalls the US, however, is that those on the other side are people who really shouldn't be a part of the battle altogether. Of the 1,572 US politicians that have helped ban abortion across the nation since the overturning of Roe v Wade, 86% are men. Those who need not be wary of the consequences of the decisions are the ones making them; this has disastrous consequences for those who do.

Warring with a culture of rights dismantlement should never have to be the political fate of our generation, but the abortion debate is one we should all be taking part in.

Archie Rankin
Archie Rankin

A young, pen-wielding Liberal with intellectual curiosities in all things politics, with huge appetites for history, philosophy and economics. Committed to making a positive difference for young people in my role as Associate Editor & Innovation Lead, constantly seeking out new ideas and approaches to drive innovation and progress.

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