Current exclusive focus on making abortion easier is stifling positive change in Scotland - Stuart Weir

In the last few months, an increasingly febrile debate has emerged about pro-life advocacy outside hospitals and other settings where women may be accessing abortion. Campaigners want to see an end to this activity and make it an offence for any person to offer advice or support if they are doing so in the immediate vicinity of these places.

On May 12, Nicola Sturgeon agreed to hold a summit on so-called “buffer zones”. She told MSPs: “I am very happy to convene and indeed I will personally chair a roundtable summit to discuss buffer zones, and indeed any other matters that need to be addressed to ensure safe and timely access to abortion services in Scotland, within the current law.”

Whatever one’s views are on buffer zones, it is important that abortion itself is part of the national conversation. Debate on this issue must include alternatives, honesty about problems and dangers associated with abortion, and scrutiny of laws governing access to it. Our law is more permissive than in many other nations, permitting abortion to 24 weeks and to term in cases of disability.

Our government prides itself on being “progressive”. But is it truly progressive to allow preborn babies to be aborted up to birth on the basis that they have some perceived abnormality? Would we allow this if it was on the basis of skin colour, or sex? Is it progressive to allow abortions up to 24 weeks when medical science is allowing babies born at 21 weeks to survive? Surely a truly compassionate and forward-thinking society would rethink these rules?

Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland.

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Scotland also has a disproportionately high incidence of abortions. The number of abortions that took place in 2020 was the second highest on record, with 13,815 as the nation plunged into the coronavirus pandemic. Around a quarter of all pregnancies now end in abortion – a staggering statistic that demands interrogation. These numbers matter. They are not something to celebrate or dismiss.

Over the years, CARE, through its practical initiatives, has come alongside women to provide counselling and support in the wake of abortions, and miscarriages. It is not often alluded to in the media, but many women who go through an abortion do so against their true wishes. They want to keep their babies but feel unable to do so, because of the circumstances they face in life.

They may feel financially or emotionally unable to have a baby or see pregnancy as a threat to their education or career. Some women are even coerced into having an abortion by the men they are in a relationship with, or family members. This situation is not empowering. Women should never face the awful choice between financial security, education, employment, or family acceptance and having a baby. Yet they do, all the time.

In the society we live in, a child can seem like too much of a burden to countenance. Women who have been abandoned by a husband or boyfriend can feel particularly vulnerable – financially, emotionally, or otherwise. A good society will encourage and empower them to continue with their pregnancies, and champion various forms of support before and after birth. Scotland needs to be doing this far more than it is at present.

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Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland.

Abortion is, by definition, a deeply sensitive subject that demands to be discussed with care and compassion on all sides. The current exclusive focus on making abortion easier, and a refusal to engage with legitimate arguments about appropriate term limits, dangers associated with permissive laws, and the barrier to childbirth women in Scotland face is stifling positive change.

Stuart Weir is National Director of CARE for Scotland

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