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Accessibility and Abortions: Exeter University Society Sets a Troubling Precedent

Holly Phillips explores the history of abortion accessibility in the United Kingdom, and the controversy sparked by Exter University’s ‘Pro-Life’ society.

tw: abortion, rape

Unfortunately, there has always been an ongoing debate surrounding whether abortions should be legalised or not. Luckily, in most parts of the UK, abortions can be carried out legally before 24 weeks of preganancy and free of charge by the NHS.

Despite abortions being readily available in three forms in most parts of the the UK, either self referral to an abortion provider, through a GP or via a sexual health clinic (more infomation can be found here), there are still major accessibility struggles within the system. People who are using these facilities to seek abortions are usually met by unhappy anti-abortion protestors.

Accessibility struggles is an issue that is raised. These struggles most likely arise from the topic being a taboo and the ongoing stigma that society, for years, has enforced upon women getting abortions.

However, the law differs in Ireland. Abortion law in Ireland is regulated by the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. The Act states that abortion is permitted in Ireland during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and after, but only if the mother’s health or life is at risk. Ireland has come a long way to get to this stage, nonetheless, there is still a long way to go. Twelve weeks is not enough.

Recently, Exeter University students sparked controversy when they assembled a pro life society. This created a huge conversation across the whole country. The society, named ‘Exeter Students For Life’ sya on their website that it “exists to promote and encourage cultures of life among the students on our university campus at Exeter. We advocate against abortion, promoting the dignity of human life and striving for its protection. We will equip our members with the tools to confidently share the pro-life message in a sensitive and respectful way”.

The society is made up of one woman and three men. In one of the posts featuring on the society’s Instagram page, the President states “I am pro life and anti abortion becasue I want to end the murders happening everyday and because I want to see people saved” and ends the post with “#prowoman”. In another post, the Vice President of the society says “I do not believe that any woman wants to have an abortion”.

The words that members of the society are preaching are a direct attack on women’s rights. It is appalling that in 2021, women's bodily autonomy is still up for debate, despite, in the UK, having laws to support us.

The society claims that they are participating in free speech, which is a defence many anti-abortion agencies use. Firstly, men should not be implementing moral restrictions on women’s bodies. Secondly, what about the freedom of women to be in control of their own bodies? It is completely unfair to impose moral restrictions upon women and overload them with guilt for doing what is best for them. It may not be a pleasant process to go through, but it is a process people go through for many reasons that I need not mention. If people wish to not have an abortion, that is okay and if people wish to have an abortion that is okay. What is not okay is people, specifically males, stating abortion is wrong and should not be allowed. Women should have a legal and a moral choice.

The society claims to have unfortunately received death threats and calls for the university to take immediate action but shouldn’t the university have foreseen how much upset and damage to society that a society of this nature might cause? The university allowing this society in the first place is a complete breach of university policy to put the students’ welfare first.

Despite gaining 9000 signatures to ban the society and students carrying out a peaceful protest, the society still remains and memberships can still be bought. Despite this outcry from people around the country, once again, powerful instsituations, such as universities, fail to listen.

Alas, some places around the world are not as fortunate to even have the opportunity to have a legal abortion. In the United States, there has been ongoing worry for years regarding the legalisation of abortions.

A woman’s right to abortion was established in the case of Roe v Wade 1973. The ruling allowed women across the whole of the US to legally have an abortion within three months of pregnancy and allowed limited rights within the second three months. Despite this huge step in the US history of women’s rights, this year, the Supreme Court heard one of the most life-changing abortion overrulings in US history.

In the previous weeks, the Court considered a Mississipi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, including those caused by rape and incest. If Mississippi is successful in overturning Roe v Wade, many states are expected to introduce their own bans, with more than 50% of the states planning on implementing similar restrictions.

The Supreme Court’s final ruling is due in June 2022 and many people are worried that conservative judges are believed to set tougher restrictions on abortions.

The fact that in the US, they are taking a step back and restricting women’s rights, is harrowing. What is even more frightful, is that this will not stop abortions from happening. According to WHO and the Guttmacher Institute, at least 22,800 women die annually as a result of complications of unsafe abortions. These abortion laws will not proetct the lives of unborn babies, they will put the unborn babies life in danger, as well as the mothers.

These laws are forcing society to move backwards and will cause many women to live in fear with a lack of freedom over their own bodies. It will create a complete situation for many. If you can, sign petitions, educate yourselves and help raise awareness.


Words: Holly Phillips

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