British women face new threats to their bodily autonomy
Concerns have been raised over the UK government’s quiet removal of abortion and sexual health rights commitments from an international covenant on freedom of belief and gender equality.
In the aftermath of the rollback of reproductive rights in the United States, British activists have raised concerns about the state of abortion laws in their own country.
Until now, the procedure has been widely accessible, despite its legal status more precarious than many think.
This is largely thanks to section 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which emphasizes freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) – including in relation to his own body.
Yet, while this year’s International Ministerial Conference urge increased global action protecting and promoting FoRB for all was underway, the UK government was quietly removing commitments to abortion and sexual health rights from an official gender equality statement signed by 22 countries.
According Humanists United Kingdomthe charity responsible for first identifying the gap, references to repealing discriminatory laws that threaten women’s bodily autonomy can no longer be found on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website .
Now, with any mention of such pledges removed entirely, only six countries have signed the declaration: the UK, Greece, Ukraine, Italy, Slovenia and Malta. The latter – who owns one of the the strictest abortion policies in the world – chose to do so only after modification.
In its defense, the FCDO called it an attempt to “resolve a perceived ambiguity in the wording,” stressing that it remains committed to maintaining universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health rights ( SRHR).
“I think the amendment reflects a disturbing trend behind the scenes of government to trade in women’s human rights because there is no ambiguity either you are committing to them or you are not.” , says the Labor MP, Stella Ceasy.
“The original statement makes a very clear commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, bodily autonomy and other laws, and recognizes them as a source of discrimination. The modified version does not.
In short, given that the purpose of the original declaration was to recognize the need to support the FoRB without allowing it to come at the expense of the human rights of women and girls, by removing the language, not only is its effect gravely compromise, but it suggests that religion trumps human rights.