Union must continue to support women’s right to choose

Davena Rankin

Davena Rankin

Conference agreed to call on all relevant national bodies to encourage our members to hold events to promote the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act and to raise the profile of the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Speaking for the NEC, UNISON Scotland’s Davena Rankin reminded delegates that UNISON has supported a women’s right to choose from the first debate in the early years of our union.

“We take this position in support of our national women’s conference, which has consistently called for UNISON to lobby and campaign for an extension to the existing law to Northern Ireland, and for the liberalisation of UK laws”, she said.

The motion was not calling for a celebration of abortion, but a celebration of women taking control of their lives.

“It can be no coincidence that the opportunity to control our own fertility came at the same time as increasing equality in the workplace and economic liberation”, said Davena.

Government cuts to our public services have drastically reduced the number of clinics offering the procedure, forcing women into long, stressful waits or expensive private options.

“In fact, in Scotland, women seeking an abortion after 18 weeks are forced to travel to England as there no provision of this service in Scotland despite promises made by the Scottish Government” added Davena.

“We are also seeing an increase in the number of anti-choice demonstrations near hospitals and clinics – which is an unwelcome import from the US and in UNISON we have grave concerns for the safety of our members who work in those clinics and hospitals.

“This vocal minority do not reflect the fact that 95% of people in the UK believe that access to free, safe and legal abortion is necessary.

“Which is why, when you pass this motion, we will continue to support the right to choose, and be clear that UNISON is part of the majority. We are a union of one million women and the right of women to control own own fertility is fundamental to our empowerment and equality.”

Davena reminded delegates that it has been and always will be easier for the well off to access birth control and when necessary abortion services. For working class women, who may be on precarious contracts, being unavailable for work can have substantial financial consequences for them.

The 1967 Abortion Act has never applied to Northern Ireland. Davena told of testimony from a woman at a recent Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ women’s conference. She was in her mid 20s and at the age of 18 she had been forced to travel to London for a termination. It had cost £1,000 which was over two thirds of her monthly salary.

“She was alone, frightened and stayed in a multi bed hostel dormitory”, said Davena.

With no money she had to travel straight back home after the procedure and despite being in pain, had to go to work and keep it secret from her manager who was a vocal opponent of abortion.

“In the end she lost her job because there weren’t the appropriate workplace policies and practices to support her. She lost her job because as a working class women living in Ireland she was unable to access abortion services when and where she needed them”, said Davena.

“She is one of many stories that highlight why we need to use the 50th anniversary to reflect on what we have gained but to recognise that there is still much to do to ensure all women in the UK are able to access abortion services when needed and in a location that is convenient to them.
Please support the motion.”

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