Our bodies, our choice: The case for a Scottish approach to abortion

Women’s reproductive rights incorporate the right to bodily autonomy and integrity, to reproductive choice and healthcare, and to legal, safe abortion. Access to safe abortion is fundamental to women’s economic and social rights, to women’s autonomy, employment, education and access to resources, and therefore to women’s equality. Abortion is vital, routine healthcare that around one in three women will experience in her lifetime. It is one of the safest and most frequent medical procedures used by women across the world, but laws and policies do not yet reflect this reality.In Scotland, we have a publicly funded and delivered abortion care service. Nonetheless, women’s reproductive rights are currently undermined as a result of legal restrictions and service delivery issues that impede access to abortion. Women’s right to choose is still predicated on the legal authorisation of two doctors, without which both women and health practitioners are subject to prosecution under th e 1967 Abortion Act. Our organisations support women’s bodily autonomy and the decriminalisation of abortion. We believe that abortion law in Scotland should be removed from the criminal justice system and provision should be regulated in line with all other healthcare. Women should have the legal right to choose with adequate information and support and without intimidation, coercion, harassment or stigmatisation.The devolution of abortion law as part of the Scotland Act 2016 also provides Scotland with the opportunity to develop a Scottish approach to women’s reproductive rights, incorporating improved, modernised and standardised service provision underpinned by a progressive devolved legal framework. Such a change to the legal framing of abortion should reflect international best practice and be developed following engagement with women, practitioners, and human rights and gender advocates in Scotland.In the immediate term, the Scottish Government could address a number of issues that would improve Scotland’s abortion care services. These relate to provision of abortions from 20-24 weeks, modernising approaches in line with technological advancement, and ensuring equality of access. As some of the barriers to accessing abortion in Scotland relate to geography and financial status, as well as other protected equality characteristics, the need for such action is a matter of equality, as well as of women’s rights.This joint report from Engender, Amnesty Scotland, NUS Scotland, Close the Gap, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance sets out women’s international and domestic reproductive rights, including the case for decriminalisation, the implications of restricted access to abortion for women’s equality and for diverse groups of women, current gaps in service provision in Scotland, and the political and social context in Scotland.We make the case for action on some service delivery issues, but we also have a broader aim. We want to bring women’s equality and rights into the heart of the public conversation about abortion in Scotland. Although the new powers over abortion that have transferred to Scotland do not require us to act in haste, they do open up an opportunity for us to think creatively about how we might better regulate women’s reproductive health care.The report concludes with 14 recommendations on women’s rights, services, medical advances, and equality of access.FULL REPORT