Abortion Rights: Where Scotland’s MSP’s Stand

Would a woman’s right to choose be protected in an independent Scotland should the referendum result in us leaving the union?

After the comments from Conservative MP’s in England, namely Jeremy Hunt, Theresa May and Nadine Dorries (who’s since went off to Australia to eat kangaroo bollocks to “further politics in the UK”), I took matters into my own hands and contacted (mostly) female MSP’s to get an idea of where Scotland’s politicians stand on the current time limit.

This issue could really sell me on an independent Scotland, the knowledge that politicians in my home country are not looking to limit the choice I may at some point be forced to take should I fall into this unfortunate (for me) position.

My initial email went as follows:

Dear Ms _____,

As I am sure you will have read about, over the past weeks there have been a number of politicians both here in Scotland and from the Westminster Parliament who have come out in support of reducing the length of time a woman has to decide upon abortion. Obviously this is not an easy choice, although some politicians and religious figures in the media believe this to be so. Any woman who knows what abortion is like (through personal experience or otherwise) would easily be able to inform these people otherwise.

My reason for writing to yourself and the other female MP’s is that I would like some reassurance that in an open vote you would not vote to reduce your gender’s right to choose their own path. The current span of 24 weeks I find to be reasonable, given that women would have enough time to discover their pregnancy, and would be able to make an informed decision (given you can have the tests for possible genetic birth defects, etc) on whether to continue with the pregnancy.
Limiting this choice is not fair to women who do not find out about their pregancy early enough, and are thus forced into keeping a child they do not want and will ultimately resent. The woman who is forced to continue her pregnancy’s other option is to burden the already overladen care system.

I don’t understand why any woman would want to interfere with another woman’s choice. It is after all, a very personal choice. It is not for (mostly) male law makers to decide whether a woman can have that choice.

If I personally were to fall pregnant at this stage in my life, I could not keep the child. I am now in my early twenties, continuing my education and trying to earn a little money. I have never wanted children and do not see any reason for my mind to change at any point in the future. I would opt for an abortion, as it would be the only way to not literally ruin my life. I do not have the means to look after a child if it were forced onto me. I could not give up my child into the care system as I have friends who grew up, being passed around foster homes and never being adopted.

If the vote does come to pass, I ask you and your other female MSP’s that you remember the women of your constituency and beyond are not all in the same situation. Regardless of your own views, you should not use those to discriminate other women.

If this makes it to your desk, thank you for reading this, Hannah _____

I asked women as I do not feel as if a man can have the final say in a woman’s choice to continue or terminate a pregnancy.

I have organised the MSP’s responses by party, so you can get a fair picture of where specific parties stand on this issue.

Scottish National


Party:

Clare Adamson: No response.

Margaret Burgess: Thank you for your email.  Margaret has asked me to append below the comments made by Alex Neil following the press “story”:

“There is no government or party policy on the issue of abortion – either now or in an independent Scotland – because it always has been and always will be a matter for the conscience of individual parliamentarians. Therefore, by definition, there are no government proposals to reduce the current 24-week time limit.”

“This was a mischievous presentation of my comments on what everyone should remember is a serious and sensitive issue of conscience.”

This email was then followed up with: Margaret can confirm that she sees no need to reduce the current 24-week time limit and would not support any proposal to do so.  I trust this clarifies her personal position.

Aileen Campbell: No response.

Angela Constance: Wants to know I am a constituent.

Roseanna Cunningham: Wants to know I am a constituent.

Annabelle Ewing: No response.

Linda Fabiani: Hi Hannah – I’m already on record in the press with my personal view that I see no reason to change the current law. Thanks for your email.

Christine Grahame: I apologise for the glitch in receiving this and this is the first I have seen of your e-mail.

Firstly any decision by a politician on abortion has to be a matter of conscience.

Secondly, while I support a woman’s right to an abortion it is against the background that she has been given every assistance and time to consider alternatives.

Once her decision is made, I respect that.

With regard to lowering the bar I am not yet sufficiently informed of the medical details to take a view but can assure you if it came before me, and it is currently reserved, I would consider all the evidence first.

I trust this is helpful

Fiona Hyslop: Thank you again for your email to Fiona Hyslop MSP. Fiona has said that she agrees with the statement made by the Health Secretary Mr Alex Neil MSP. He said, “There is no government or party policy on the issue of abortion – either now or in an independent Scotland – because it always has been and always will be a matter for the conscience of individual parliamentarians. Therefore, by definition, there are no government proposals to reduce the current 24-week time limit. Thank you again for getting in touch on this important issue.

Joan McAlpine: I believe decisions about abortion should be made by women in consultation with their doctors. I do not favour any change in the law that would rob women of choice.

Christina McKelvie: I’m sorry you have not had a response but I did thought I had sent you one.

I have had a few people contact me on this matter.

Thank you for your original email.

My party policy is that we don’t actually have a policy as this is seen as purely a conscience matter, so no party whip if it ever came to the parliament for a vote.

That aside you can be assured that I see no reason to interfere with the current legislation.

I support a woman’s right to choose. Again accept my apologies with warmest regards

Fiona McLeod: Abortion is reserved to Westminster, so MSPs will not be voting on this.

That said, I am a firm supporter of Women’s Rights and of legal abortion.  The Abortion Act set the limit at 28 weeks, this was eroded under other legislation in the 1990s to 24 weeks.  As a former health librarian I know that there is no medical evidence of general viability of a foetus before this gestation, but this should not be about viability of a foetus but about a woman’s right to choose.

You don’t give your address so I don’t know if you are a constituent of mine in Strathkelvin & Bearsden.

Aileen McLeod: No response.

Shona Robison: Dear Hannah, sorry for delay in responding to you. Abortion policy is a conscience issue within my party but in terms of my own view, I support the current limits. Clearly after independence this would be a matter decided upon my MSPs within the Scottish Parliament.
Thanks,
Shona

Nicola Sturgeon: No response.

Maureen Watt: Thank you for contacting me in relation to your concerns over reducing the time limit on abortion.

Firstly, may I apologise for any upset caused by a perceived delay in responding to your enquiry. However, after running a comprehensive search for your original email, I can confirm that it was never received.

In relation to any proposed alterations to the abortion time limit, it is important to stress that abortion is currently a matter which is reserved to the UK government at Westminster, and the Scottish Parliament is unable to legislate on reserved matters.

Moreover, neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish National Party has a policy on the issue of abortion as it is, and always will be,  a matter for the conscience of individual parliamentarians. As such, neither the Scottish Government nor the Scottish National Party has any plans to reduce the current 24 week time limit on terminating pregnancies.

Clearly, abortion is a complex and emotive issue and if I were required to vote on proposals to alter the current time limit I would first need to consider all of the evidence which was available to me. Therefore, I am currently unable to provide you with a conclusive answer on how I would act in any prospective vote in an independent Scotland.

Sandra White: No response.

Scottish Labour:

Jackie Baillie: Dear Hannah, Thank you for your email.

I recognise that deciding to have an abortion is not an easy choice for any woman to make and it is an intensely personal matter. Debate in recent weeks has been disappointingly misinformed and I know has worried a number of women.

It is the case that Westminster considered the matter about 4 years ago and in particular considered whether to lower the time limit for an abortion. All the medical evidence was reviewed at that time and the professional view of clinicians was that the limit should not be changed. As far as I am aware, there has been no new evidence that would suggest that the limit requires to be reviewed.

You are also correct to point out that tests for birth defects are often not taken until late, in most cases at 20 weeks, and indeed only 1 to 2% of abortions occur in the 20 to 24 week stage of pregnancy.

I would not vote for a change to the time limit as medical evidence and the opinion of expert clinicians remains the same as when the matter was last considered.

Claire Baker: Automated response, no reply to second email at all.

Claudia Beamish: Awaiting response.

Sarah Boyack: No response to either email, sent a month apart.

Kezia Dugdale: Thanks for your email.

Rest assured that I fully support a woman’s right to choose.

I will always defend that and am deeply saddened to see such a hard fought right under attack once again.

Kind regards,

Kez Dugdale

Helen Eadie: Helen Eadie was among the few MSP’s who contacted me the day I sent my email out (Sunday 14th October), with a simple response: Dear Hannah, I strongly agree with you.

After replying to this email, she then followed up with her personal experience of such a choice: We had a surprise (our second daughter). At the time I very seriously considered the option of abortion. Today if you asked me I would say that she is the best surprise that we ever had. I had the very good fortune of choice and that is what is so vitally important. I shall never forget that my father-in-law was a signatory to give support to David Steel who brought forward the Bill that gave us the start of what we have today. Sadly too many people keep making attempts to change matters and to takes women’s rights away – I marched to give women the right in London and I would do so again.

I love my children – two gorgeous daughters – with every ounce of my body and now my grand children. That doesn’t make me blind to all the reasons in the world for there being sound reasons as to why a women should not proceed with a pregnancy.

If you need me to do anything more you only have to ask.

Mary Fee: Dear Hannah, Thank you for your e-mail about Abortion. I welcome the opportunity to hear people’s views and can assure you that I will always consider the views of my Constituents when voting on any matter.

Kind regards, Mary

Patricia Ferguson: No response.

Rhoda Grant: Thank you for your Email of 14 October 2012 relative to the above. Sorry for the delay in responding.

This matter is not a devolved matter ie MSPs will not be in a position to vote on it, this will be left to MP’s at Westminster. However, were this situation likely to change I would be guided by the advice of Health professionals.

Regards Rhoda

Johann Lamont: Automated response to first email, no response to second.

Jenny Marra: Dear Hannah, Can I firstly apologise as I don’t have a record of your email of 14th October or I would have replied sooner. It will be an error on my part.

Thank you for getting in touch about this important topic. I strongly believe that the current limit of 24 weeks should not be reduced and that the abortion law is adequate as it stands.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear UK Minister Jeremy Hunt challenge the current law on abortion and was even more surprised to hear this echoed by Scottish Government Minister Alex Neil.

I should clarify that the law on abortion is still reserved to the Westminster Parliament and so under the current constitutional settlement MSPs would have no vote on any proposed changes to the abortion law.

However, as the SNP is campaigning for independence and for the Scottish Parliament to have power over all these matters, I thought it important to seek the views of SNP Cabinet Ministers as to any possible proposed changes to the abortion law in the event of an independent Scotland.

I wrote to each female member of the Scottish Government (seven Ministers) to ascertain whether they shared Alex Neil’s view. I have received a response from Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson MSP, who said that Angela Constance MSP and Shona Robison MSP had passed him my letter as he has responsibility in the Scottish Government for sexual health. I attach his letter for your reference. I await the other responses.

Please be assured that I am against any change in the law, but as the Scottish Parliament currently has no power over this matter I would urge you to make your views known to your members of the Westminster Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Jenny Marra

The letter Jenny Marra received essentially tried to pawn her off saying “it’s not our problem at the moment, and I don’t know how I feel so this is how I will avoid your question”. Irritating, but contact with other parliament members have been this frustrating with me *cough* Anabell Goldie *cough*

Margaret McCulloch: Choosing whether or not to end a pregnancy is a deeply personal decision and I believe
that the law as it stands is adequate in recognising that this is ultimately a matter for the
women who are affected. I can therefore advise that I do not believe the time limits applied
to abortion should be reduced as to do so would be to unfairly limit a women’s right to make
that very important and very personal choice.

Margaret McDougall: Hannah, As you will know Abortion Law is a reserved issue so as an MSP I will not be involved in any Westminster vote. I personally have no problem with the 24 week span and see no need to change it.

As a Labour MSP I believe we are stronger as part of the UK and I think we should not separate.

Siobhan McMahon: Ms McMahon wanted to write me a letter, but I am almost certain this was to avoid answering my question given I am not one of her constituents. An opinion is too hard to get from people like this it would appear.

Anne McTaggart: Thank you for taking the time to contact me on such an important issue, and for sharing your personal story with me – it is greatly appreciated. I too feel very strongly about this issue, and was disappointed but not surprised to hear that it was two male politicians that have spoke on changing the terms of abortion (in what I perceive to be a negative way). Studies – such as one produced by the British Medical Journal – have shown that whilst survival rates have increased significantly for babies born at 24 and 25 weeks, they have not risen for babies born 23 weeks or less. This medical evidence quite clearly shows that 24 weeks is the appropriate limit; therefore I fully support the current span of 24 weeks, and would vote to reflect this should the issue ever come to the Scottish Parliament.
I hope this answers your question.

Elaine Murray: Thinks I am a journalist, so doesn’t want to talk to me.

Elaine Smith: Wants to know I’m a constituent

Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson: Ruth Davidson spent most of her emails talking of the SNP’s lack of competence to deal with such an issue, whilst trying to dodge my question. She also asked me if I was a journalist or compiling these responses for a project. Once I eventually got a response from her, this is what she said: I think you misunderstand me. Without seeing a bill or specific proposals to consider, I simply cannot be any more specific.

I think the current abortion laws are about right, but any bill coming to this or any other parliament that had the competence to deal with the issue would have to be considered on its merits, using all the evidence, information and testimony gathered through the pre-legislative process.

If Holyrood had such a bill to come before it, had the competence to deal with such a bill and I was a sitting member, I would consider any such bill on its merits along with the best medical evidence at the time.

I believe in a woman’s right to choose, I believe (on the evidence we have at the moment) that the abortion limit is set at about the right level, but if that evidence were to change, I may reassess my position according to the evidence.

I am sorry I cannot be more comprehensive in my answer, but this is my genuine position on this issue.

Annabel Goldie: The MOST frustrating MSP on this list, after demanding that I be one of her constituents, I eventually prised this out of her: Your email has been brought to my attention. Abortion is reserved to Westminster and therefore you should relay any concerns you have to your MP. Yours sincerely, Annabel M Goldie MSP

Nanette Milne: Thank you for your email regarding abortion.

This issue of abortion legislation is reserved to the UK Westminster Parliament and as such Members of the Scottish Parliament will not debate or vote on this issue.
I have noted your comments. Any proposal to reduce the period at which an abortion can be carried out must be evidence based and is I believe a matter of individual conscience.
I hope this helps to explain my position with regards to this very emotive subject.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Margaret Mitchell: Thank you for contacting me about abortion. Abortion is a matter for Parliament, not for the Government and therefore changes to the law on abortion are subject to a free vote for all Conservatives MSPs as with all matters of
conscience. The Government has no plans to change the abortion time limit.
I realise that comments made recently by several Cabinet members have prompted renewed
focus on this issue. However, it should be understood that these ministers were stating their
individual views and all stressed that the Government has no plans to change the law. In
my view I am in favour of retaining the current position.
I hope that this is helpful.

Mary Scanlon: I have not given this issue any further thought in recent timed. I am pro choice and would listen to all sides of the debate before supporting any change.
This issue is reserved to Westminster.

Liz Smith: Thank you for your email.

I am not an expert in medical issues but, as things stand at present, I do not believe there is sufficient medical evidence available to make it reasonable to change the current abortion laws. If there was to be a free vote tomorrow, I would not be in favour of reducing the time scale required to make the necessary decision,
I hope this helps.

Liberal Democrats

Alison McInnes: Alison’s regional office manager wanted to forward my question on to my local MSP (who I had contacted alongside the women listed here) and said it was not her place to answer the queries of someone not from her constituency.

Scottish Greens

Alison Johnstone: Dear Hannah,  Thank you for writing to me on this important topic.  The legislative change being discussed related to Westminster and so MSPs will not have a vote.  However I copy below the relevant extract from our party policy on the matter, which I hope will reassure you:

“The Scottish Green Party does not support any changes to current (as at 2007) legislation on abortion. Changes to legislation which would aim to make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions would do nothing to address the underlying factors which lead to women seek abortions. Instead, it is likely to drive women elsewhere for the operations, either overseas or to illegal practitioners in this country, which would increase both the distress and the health risks for those involved.”

Independent MSP’s

Margo McDonald: “I think the current limit of 24 weeks should stay as it is.”

Jean Urquhart: “First of all may I apologise for the lack of response to your earlier email.  I’m not sure how that happened, I do try and respond as timely as is possible.

I personally see no reason to change the current laws on abortion.  If there is a proposal to bring a debate to the Scottish Parliament, then I would be arguing for the status quo and as it is a matter of conscience for individual members I believe that there would be a ‘free’ vote for all members and no whip.

All the best, Jean”

To sum up, for those who haven’t the time nor the energy to read every individual response – most women who contacted me back are very positive about defending a woman’s right to choose. I believe that should this issue arise in an independent Scotland, the right to have an abortion before 24 weeks should be safe (clearly I myself support this right to choose, but would look with an open mind at any actual medical evidence stating the limit should be moved in either direction).

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4 thoughts on “Abortion Rights: Where Scotland’s MSP’s Stand

  1. Good job getting out there and doing some research. Some of the answers are really evasive.

    Also, since it would be a westminster-wide vote, you probably ought to get the male MP opinions on this.

    Good job

    • Thank you Tom. I considered contacting male MSP’s (given I was looking at where my rights would stand should the independence referendum result in Scotland leaving the union) but to be honest it took long enough to get this amount of response from women in parliament.
      Additionally, abortion is a women’s issue, and given no man will have to make that decision, I don’t believe the decisions concerning abortion should be in the hands of any man.

  2. trying to find up to date statements of policy and position 2015, and smith discussions ..
    part. focus on snp current…. finding little available and no responses from greens or snp contacted so far. found this and this is useful and congratulate you on effort..worryingly evasive (avoidant) …. would prefer that our representatives had to state their religious and sim. affiliations and state their own positions … with snp msp arguing for creationism .. the misogynist midwives case..and the spuc (!!) gen. see some rumblings on abortion …. i cannot get solid info…. snp has not replied to my letter we so need articles like this .. and current … if these female msps cannot be strong and clear we have a problem…we need toake abortion simpler and quicker for (poor) women..

    some of the responses are worrying …soutar sitn re snp always concern and was never confident re salmond and womens rights. we need more like this work of yours
    much appreciated….

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