Britain should offer free abortions to American women who can no longer get them legally, UK doctors have said. The British Medical Association (BMA) has agreed to lobby the Government on the issue following the US supreme court’s decision to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling.
That highly controversial move ends American women’s legal right to have abortions and leaves it up to individual states to decide if they are lawful.
Foreign patients are able to have abortions in the UK currently but can be charged up to £1,500, depending on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy.
But in an emergency debate yesterday, the BMA voted to lobby for free abortions for all nationalities.
Of the 80,000 women who receive abortions from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) each year, 4,000 are international patients.
Seven US states have already banned abortions in the wake of the landmark decision last week.
Britain should offer free abortions to American women who can no longer access them legally in their home country, UK doctors have said
While abortions are usually free for Britons on the NHS, international patients can expect to pay between £480 to £1,510 for a consultation and the procedure itself.
The cost depends on how many weeks pregnant the woman is and whether the procedure is done medically — using tablets — or surgically.
At the BMA’s annual meeting in Brighton, 57 per cent of members voted in favour of lobbying the Government for free abortions to all nationalities.
A third voted against it and 7 per cent abstained.
Marina Politis, the medical student who tabled the motion, said: ‘Abortion is essential healthcare … in [some] cases, the US supreme court decision is a death sentence.
‘In other, less risky pregnancies, this decision still removes an essential right of the individual to choose what happens to their own body.
‘In the context of a hostile environment, we have seen increased migrant charging.
‘We also need to provide safe abortion care to all nationals seeking this in the UK, without subjecting them to overseas patient upfront tariffs – and this must be regardless of borders going far beyond the US.’
Dr Lisa Egbert, speaking on behalf of the AMA, the American equivalent of the BMA, thanked British doctors for their support.
She said: ‘The AMA is thankful to the British Association for adding your voice recognising access to essential medical care as a fundamental human right.’
The US Supreme Court last week ended constitutional protections for abortion that have been in place for nearly 50 years by deciding to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling.
Seven states have already outlawed abortions in the wake of the decision, including Kentucky, Alabama and Oklahoma.
But more states could follow in the coming weeks due to ‘trigger laws’ that were set up to ban abortion as soon as the federal right to it was removed.
Boris Johnson over the weekend condemned the decision to overturn the ruling as a ‘big step backwards’.
‘It’s a very important decision. I’ve got to tell you, I think it’s a big step backwards,’ he told a news conference during a visit to Rwanda.
‘I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view and that is why the UK has the laws that it does.’
Roe v. Wade: The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy.
Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey’s privacy.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment.
In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental ‘right to privacy’ that protects a woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks).
Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously – or even fatally – ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.
However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.
One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
However, she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69.
‘The Heartbeat bill’
Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called ‘fetal heartbeat,’ part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.
Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.
Abortion-rights supporters see the ‘heartbeat bills’ as virtual bans because ‘fetal heartbeats’ can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.
Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.
Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted ‘heartbeat laws’ recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.
Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.