Editorial: Florida abortion ruling might have lessons for the UK, including Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial on Thursday April 4 2024:
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Florida appears to be set to have some of the most restrictive abortion laws of any major state in America.

The state’s supreme court upheld Florida's right to ban most abortions after six weeks, from May 1. This would in effect amount to an almost total prohibition on terminations, because women often do not know they are pregnant until about then.

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The court also narrowly approved a ballot initiative that, if approved in November, would overturn the six-week ban and protect the right to abortion access in the state's constitution (in which case the state will not in fact have such restrictive laws).

This is a momentous decision that ultimately should help to shape the abortion debate in the UK. It comes in the wake of a 2022 ruling by the US Supreme Court, America’s top court, which overturned a ruling known as Roe vs Wade, which for almost the preceding half century had enshrined the right to abortion in the first third of a pregnancy. States could have varying termination policies but could not deny them in that first trimester.

What has happened in the US is significant because Great Britain has – in effect – abortion on demand far later in a pregnancy, up to 24 weeks. It is a dishonest policy because it is supposedly only given on medical grounds but is in fact on demand. NI now has a formal policy of abortion on demand in the first 13 weeks, which is more honest but we potentially have a similar policy to GB in the next third of the pregnancy.

Supporters of reform in NI were often disingenuous. They talked at first about making abortion legal in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, and not about terminations on demand, which is what we got.

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Sadly, NI could have compromised by introducing a much more restrictive new abortion policy than the one we got but more liberal than the one that existed, akin to what is being implemented in many US states.

Why is this happening in America? Because the old, convenient lie that a foetus is merely a ‘collection of cells’ is becoming more and more untenable as our understanding of medicine and emerging life gets ever better.

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