An Opportunity and a Threat

June 29, 2010 at 5:52 pm (abortion, Lib Dems, Max Dunbar, Tory scum)

Via this gloriously strident piece from Laurie Penny, here’s a long article on the F Word about a fray that’s going to be reopened any time soon.

Lisa Ansell brings fresh points to what often seems like an over-rehearsed debate.

1) Rather than on the health and protection of the patient, the abortion debate is essentially focused on the rights of a fictional person that does not exist in any legal or medical sense.

2) There is not yet a satisfactory objective answer to the question of where life begins.

3) It is the only medical issue in which the patient is deemed unable to understand the moral implications of their treatment.

4) We think that ‘pro-life’ craziness is a vulgar American phenomenon that couldn’t possibly catch on here. Unfortunately:

We have an All Party Pro Life Group within the House of Commons, whose administrator is funded by the innocuous sounding CARE.

CARE is one of a number of Christian lobby groups within Parliament. ‘Christian Action, Research and Education’ has been described as ‘architects’ of various attempts to restrict abortion provision, and its establishment of a presence in Parliament has come under scrutiny from the Charities Commission. Its annual report shows that it has had 20 interns working within the House of Commons, at a cost of £70000, even though it is prohibited from political lobbying. Its interns are present in the offices of senior members of the Conservative party, in the office of a backbench Labour MP and the offices of several Liberal Democrat spokespeople. ‘Christian Concern for our Nation’ spends a great deal of time and money supporting MPs who will further its cause.

These groups are mirroring tactics of fundamentalist Christian groups in the US, with a concerted, long-term strategy of attacking gay rights and abortion. Their influence is being keenly felt within the Conservative party, and their presence is established in a House of Commons which has changed dramatically.

In recent political history, there has been little desire among the majority of politicians and pro-choice groups for abortion to become a political issue – these groups have pushed it back onto the political agenda.

Seventy one of the MPs who voted against the cut in the upper-time-limit for abortion stood down at the end of the last parliamentary session, and little is known about the views of the MP’s who have just taken their seats. It may be tempting to dismiss Nadine Dorries MP when she says that ‘the real opportunity for abortion law reform would arise with a Conservative government’, but pre-election polls showed a majority of Conservative MPs supported a cut in the 24-week limit.

Our Prime Minister and our Equalities Minister both support a cut in the 24-week limit, and regardless of Cameron’s murmurings of ‘abortion on demand’, it seems likely that this issue will find itself discussed in Parliament sooner rather than later.

While it has always been an issue where MPs vote with their conscience, the fragile nature of our coalition government means that the need to support its policies could take precedence over legal, medical and scientific arguments which support a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body.

Image of Argentinian pro-choice demo by Gabby DC

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Daftness, Dogma, Delusion and Dorries

October 25, 2008 at 12:56 pm (abortion, Feminism, reaction, religion, secularism, truth, voltairespriest)

Nadine DorriesRegardless of one’s view of the Brown government, it is generally agreed amongst people of progressive political views that the recent passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was one of Parliament’s better moments. Those who followed the debate will doubtless also agree that no harm was done to the bill’s passage by the sheer ineptitude of the campaign against it, which seemed to the lay observer to consist of dogmatic statements by conservative media figures and religious protesters waving placards covered in the usual bilious slogans. Furthermore, the leading figures in th anti-choice campaign were the most extraordinary collection of political gargoyles, with all the media appeal and rhetorical skill of chimpanzees throwing faeces at the camera. Except that the chimps would have been funnier.

Prominent amongst these desultory leading figures was the wacky Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and political one-trick pony who seems to devote an eyebrow raising amount of time to campaigning hysterically against a woman’s right to choose. Dorries was thoroughly politically worked over by liberal commentators in the run-up to the Commons votes on the bill, notably (amongst others) via a deliciously forensic week-long online crucifixion by Liberal Conspiracy. Eventually she found herself under such sustained attack that she closed off the comments facility on her website (though she’d have had to stop buying the papers as well in order to escape completely). But she hasn’t gone away, of course.

Idly flicking around the internet this morning, I came across one of Dorries’ latest articles, in which she appears concerned that the bill’s allowing the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes will create a race of Planet-of-the-Apes style “Humanzees”, who presumably will then take over the earth and remove all God-fearing anti-abortionists from the face of history. Here’s an excerpt from her comments in the Commons, as recorded in Hansard:

The Department of Health has argued that the insemination of animals with human sperm could never lead to a viable foetus. How can it know? Surely the nature of science and scientists is that they are incredibly experimental and inquisitive and constantly attempting to push back the barriers. How do we know what this would lead to in one, five or 10 years’ time?

How indeed? I have no doubt that the armies of Dr Frankensteins who have been just waiting for the excuse to create of a boy with the head of a stag beetle were cheering maniacally at the failure of Dorries’ valiant attempt to foil their diabolical plans. Still, it’s good to know that she (and perhaps the ghost of Charlton Heston) will be there to fight tooth and nail against the hordes of tank-driving marmosets if they should ever come racing up the cliffs of Dover.

There is a more serious point here though. It really is a matter of some concern that someone so manifestly ignorant of the most elementary facts in a debate such as this should be allowed to become so prominent. Dorries’ level of argument is not so far different from that which one would expect to find in an Evangelical super-church in the southern states of the USA, and it represents a cheapening of political discourse for even a wrong-headed and socially conservative campaign such as that against the HFE Bill to have allowed her to achieve such prominence.

One useful purpose is served by Dorries and her ilk, however. What she reveals is the reactionary, irrationalist and atavistic heart of the anti-abortion movement, the creeping desire for clerical control of the state which underpins its machinations, and the loathing of social progress which many of its protagonists harbour. It is to be hoped that this movement continues to be led by such clownish figures as Dorries, because one led by a charismatic and articulate individual would be truly terrifying.

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When “My Enemy’s Enemy” doesn’t apply

June 27, 2008 at 7:45 pm (abortion, Catholicism, Feminism, insanity, labour party, voltairespriest)

PhotobucketAs you all know, this blog is not supportive of the established Churches (nor indeed of most religious institutions). Indeed, that is one of the few points where I would assume Jim, Tami and myself to be unanimous. However it’s equally the case that none of us has ever simply endorsed the notion that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Ergo, I simply cannot help but link to a post which I noticed earlier today, by one of my own sparring partners on the abortion issue, Red Maria.

She appears to have acquired from one source or another (whether over wine at a bar or at Communion I couldn’t say) a proposal from the office of Mary Honeyball MEP, a member of the European Parliament Women’s Right’s Committee, for an opinion piece on the Catholic Church’s role in UK politics. It was sent to the editors of “prominent political publications”. It is, quite simply, one of the most astounding pieces of conspiracist paranoia that I’ve seen from a mainstream politician in all my time as an afficionado of these things. Have a look at Maria’s post and judge for yourselves.

Perhaps my favourite line (in the sense of that delicious gut wrench you got whilst watching a murder scene at a horror movie when you were a kid) is this:

Analyse this grip that the Catholic Church has on Parliament, media and public sphere and blocks to mounting a counter offense
Eg. Church has massive army dedicated volunteers who will blog, amend top google searches for abortion to only pro-life sites by their nature hummanists/non-religious people not as co-ordinated or spurred on to act.

Still don’t get why Honeyball’s article is so bad? OK, replace “Catholic Church” with “Jews” or “Muslims”. Feeling the bile rising now, in that vomit-belch way? You betcha, baby.

I’ll never support the stances of Catholic MPs who vote for laws which force the entire country in the direction of adhering to their own personal belief systems. But then I’d take the same attitude towards anyone of any religion, because I don’t believe in religious control of the state. That having been said, I also believe in freedom of religious belief and practice under secular law, and the notion of a Catholic conspiracy is as offensive as it is ludicrous.

Mary Honeyball MEP, please accept the Shiraz Socialist Order of the Tinfoil Hat. Congratulations!

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“No To This Sort Of Thing!”

June 22, 2008 at 6:55 pm (abortion, Europe, insanity, Jim D, perversity, strange situations, truth)

The political basis of the “No to Lisbon” campaign:

John Palmer talks sense about the profoundly reactionary nature of the “No” campaign,  here

…or, as Ollie says: “Thanks for the cash: now feck off!”

Unfortunately, the anti-Lisbon “Down With This Sort Of Thing” campaign succeeded.

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UPDATE: Left Women’s Network Issues Public Statement on HFE Votes

May 28, 2008 at 10:22 pm (abortion, Feminism, left, LGBT, liberation, TWP, women)

After an at times heated discussion on the Left Women’s Network list, the majority of sisters and comrades decided to go ahead with the proposal put forward as amended slightly by one of the members. The result is that the following was printed on the LWN website this afternoon:

Statement on The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

*The Left Women’s Network understands that 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs did not vote in favour of maintaining the 24 week time limit to ensure safe and legal abortions for women

* The Left Women’s Network understands that 1 LRC affiliated MP voted in support of a reduction to 12 weeks – something that would in effect make abortion illegal for many women

*The Left Women’s Network understands that, in addition, the 3 aforementioned MPs also voted against the right of lesbian and single women to have IVF treatment by supporting the amendment calling for “a father” to substitute “supportive parenting”

* LeftWN believes women’s rights and LGBT rights are not secondary to other political positions such as racism or war

* LeftWN believes that as the women’s affiliate to the LRC we must address that this has occurred

* LeftWN resolves to post our disappointment in the 3 LRC MPs on the LWN website

* LeftWN resolves to submit this to the LRC NC for immediate discussion at its next meeting for the LRC NC to agree to;

* LeftWN resolves to write to the 3 MPs concerned expressing our disappointment in the way they voted and clearly setting out our opposition to lowering the time limits

* LeftWN resolves to write to request that there is link put on the LRC website to the LWN statement on the positions of these LRC MPs

http://www.leftwomensnetwork.org/

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A Call to the Labour Representation Committee on Abortion and LGBT rights

May 25, 2008 at 12:54 pm (abortion, Galloway, labour party, left, LGBT, TWP)

This is re-posted from my blog Unknown Conscience at Volty’s request:

As my good blog readers will know, I have been out of blog land for the last few months due to a very heavy workload at university. I came back to discover that Andy Newman at Socialist Unity Blog – a blog I refuse to link to because of the behaviour of its moderator and a blog that I refuse to read – had launched an attack on me and the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) for my continued and principled oppsosition to George Galloway’s horrible position and record on abortion rights. He attacked me claiming that a conversation that I had in the comments section with people on Liam MacUaid’s blog meant that I was being a hypocrite for criticising Galloway because David Drew, an LRC affiliated MP, had a rubbish record on abortion rights as well. These were comments that I made months ago as anyone who knows me will know that I haven’t written anything on the abortion issue for some time. I had not known who David Drew was previously but Andy pointed out that he had a horrible record on abortion rights and LGBT rights.

“Fair enough” was my reply and I then said that I would raise it and speak with the LRC about it – and I did. I had informal conversations with a number of members over the last few months about what we should do about the issue and am now making a public appeal through the LRC women’s organisation, the Left Women’s Network (LWN), to release a statement about the 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs who voted to reduce the time limit and also voted in favour of a proposal which would make it impossible for single women and lesbians to have IVF treatment.

This is something that would have come about regardless but for Andy Newman scoring cheap shots by brow beating me for not knowing who David Drew was all those months ago, calling me a “liar” for pointing out that he did not include my original response in his attack on me and now attacking me once again for an article I wrote defending the Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) organisation from the Stop the War Coalition last year are more important than having a civil discussion and work rather well to deflect attention from the record of his own MP over which he and his orgainsation have full control, George Galloway.

I have been consistent in my call for MPs to be held to account. Andy Newman has been all over the place on his blog about women’s rights, sexism and LGBT rights. Far from creating “left unity” his blog does nothing but divide the ranks of those who should be working together. Hold your MP to account Respect Renewal – don’t allow an opt out for women’s rights!

Here is a letter I wrote yesterday to members of the Left Women’s Network:

Hello Sisters and Comrades,

Many thanks to all of you who worked so very had to ensure that the right wing was not able to push women’s rights further backward with the recent prosposed amendments on to the Human Fertalisation and Embryology Bill. However sisters, I am afraid that there is an elephant in the room with the results that we need to address urgently. Of the 9 affiliated LRC MPs 3 voted to oppose keeping the 24 week time limit. These were Bob Wareing, David Hamilton and David Drew. The first two voted for a reduction to 22 weeks with David Drew voting for a reduction to 12 weeks. Further, the 3 aformentioned MPs voted in favour of a proposed amendment to deny IVF treatment to lesbian couples and single women.

While it may be difficult to do, we must be openly critical of these MPs. The Left Women’s Network is seen as the women’s section of the LRC. We would be completely remiss to not say a word about the votes of MPs who we are affiliated with. In light of this, I propose the Left Women’s Network adopt the following as a matter of urgency and print it as a matter of public record on our website:

*The Left Women’s Network understands that 3 of 9 LRC affiliated MPs did not vote in favour of maintaining the 24 week time limit to ensure safe and legal abortions for women

*That 1 LRC affiliated MP voted in support of a reduction to 12 weeks – something that would in effect make abortion illegal for many women

*That, in addition, the 3 aforementioned MPs also voted against the right of lesbian and single women to have IVF treatment by supporting the amendment calling for “a father” to subsitute “supportive parenting”

*That given that the LWN believes women’s rights and LGBT rights are not secondary to other political positions such as racism or war

*That as the women’s affiliate to the LRC we must address that this has occurred

*That the Left Women’s Network will post our opposition to these votes publicly on our website

*That we call on the LRC as an organisation to publicly state its opposition to the positions of these LRC affiliated MPs

*That we submit this to the LRC NC for immediate discussion at its next meeting

I hope that LWN is going to be the kind of organisation that not only fights for women’s rights, but is able to be critical of our allies when they have taken the wrong position. Too often abortion rights and LGBT rights are seen as simply “matters of conscience” but the reality is sisters, that war, racism and discrimination are all “matters of conscience” and we do not allow our political allies “opt out” clauses on these issues. This is an extension of the false belief in the distinction between the “private” and “public” sphere and we must reject the Victorian notion that these issues are somehow outside of the realm of “real politics”. Our sisters in the 1970s taught us that “the personal is the political” and I believe that this is in fact still the case. We must ensure that we address these issues both inside and outside of our movement in order to have a strong socialist feminist organisation in the coming months and years.

Comradely and in Sisterhood,

Tami Peterson

You will see no such letter from Andy, Liam or anyone else in Respect Renewal about George Galloway – that’s because although they have the power to hold him to account, they prefer to allow him the ability to opt out on women’s rights. Some of us are consistent with our principles and if that is something that others want to continue to attack me for then that must mean I am doing something right. I will continue to fight until women’s rights are not seen as “optional” or “secondary”. It’s a fight worth undertaking – both inside and outside the left and one that I hope we will eventually win.

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Feminist Fightback Conference – This Saturday!

April 11, 2008 at 8:47 am (abortion, Feminism, liberation, sex workers, TWP, women)

Feminist Fightback presents…a Teach-In for Reproductive Freedoms

Discussing ideas and planning action for a woman’s right to choose
12 April, 12-5pm, Clement House Building, London School of
Economics, Holborn (Holborn tube)

http://www.feministfightback.org.uk
rebecca.galbraith@yahoo.co.uk

12.00pm
Registration

12.30pm
Opening speech by Sofie Buckland (NUS National Executive)

1-2.15pm
a) Imperialism and Motherhood
Speaker: Anna Davin (founding editor of History Workshop Journal)
Facilitator: Gwyneth Lonergan
b) From Abortion Rights to Reproductive Freedoms
A panel discussion with Charlotte Gage (Abortion Rights), Cathy Nugent
(Workers’ Liberty), Rosie Woods (NHS worker)
Facilitator: Anna Longman

2.20-3.35pm
a) Getting your message across
Jill Mountford (former organiser of the Welfare State Network) and
James House (TV documentaries producer)
Workshop facilitator: Rachael Ferguson
b) How to campaign
Workshop Facilitator: Anne-Marie O’Reilly (trade union organiser)

3.45-5pm
Planning for a National Day of Action
Facilitators: Laura Schwartz and Rebecca Galbraith

* Food: cheap vegetarian food will be served from 12 noon
* Free creche: Please register with rebecca.galbraith@yahoo.co.uk for
a free creche place
* Social with X-talk: 7pm @ The Ivy House, Southampton Row, Holborn
* The teach-in is free to attend but a suggested donation of £1.50
unwaged and £3+ waged is encouraged.

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Join Us to Defend A Woman’s Right to Choose

February 1, 2008 at 11:06 am (abortion, Civil liberties, Feminism, TWP, women)

Abortion Rights
Join the
pro-choice protest!
Protest
London – Wednesday 6 February
assemble 6.30pm outside Central Hall Westminster
Abortion Rights is determined that all anti-abortion amendments moved as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently in Parliament are defeated, and that any opportunity to advance the abortion law for women is maximised.In opposition to the pro-choice agenda, Ann Widdecombe MP, Lord David Alton and others are speaking at a national road show ‘Not on your life… or anyone else’s’ organised by Care, Life, and Right to Life Trust to drum up anti-abortion lobbying around the Bill.

Abortion Rights has called peaceful pro-choice protests against the tour and as a proud public reminder that those who support a woman’s right to choose are in the overwhelming majority.
Directions:
Nearest tubes Westminster or St James’s Park. The Hall is on Victoria Street in London, just off Parliament Square, next to the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre and facing Westminster Abbey.

For pro-choice updates on the Bill and campaign visit www.abortionrights.org.uk

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Abortion Rights Rally Launches New Fightback

January 17, 2008 at 12:05 pm (abortion, anonymous, Feminism, liberation, TWP, women)

Last night, nearly 300 women and some men gathered in committee room 14 (and the neighbouring room for the overflow) to show their support for the upcoming battle in parliament for a woman’s right to choose. It really was inspiring to see so many women, and so many young women in particular, ready to stand up to those who would take us backward.

The three main parties spoke from the platform with female representatives from the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats and a male representative from the Conservatives. Many issues were discussed including precisely how we got to the point where Conservative Baroness Masham has used the unrelated Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to attempt to tack on an amendment restricting a women’s right to choose.

In particular they are attempting to restrict abortion in the cases of “foetal abnormality”. Many in the pro-life, anti-woman movement claim to be speaking on behalf of disabled people. However, a rousing speech was given by Alex Kent from the NUS Disabled Students in defence of a woman’s right to choose and with a certain amount of indignation at those who would use disabled people as an excuse to restrict abortion access. Baroness Jenny Tonge (LD) spoke of how this restriction would require women who were carrying foetuses with no brain to full term and this was a condition she had witnessed herself as a medical professional.

There were a number of mentions made of the statistics such as those showing an 83% support amongst the British public for a woman’s right to choose and this led to references to “the silent pro-choice majority”. In addition, MP Evan Harris (LD) spoke about the scientific report which was produced in October of last year and overwhelmingly passed by a majority of MPs which concluded that there is no evidence to change the 24 week time limit and in fact further restrictions to access, like the requirement of obtaining two doctor’s signatures, should be scrapped.

Emily Thornberry MP (LP) who was sponsoring the meeting ran through a list of private member’s bills which have been presented but which have all, fortunately, failed. These included the proposal to have a “cooling off period” before the woman could proceed with an abortion, forced informing of parents for teenage women under a certain age, and a combination of the lowering of the time limits coupled with a cooling off period.

By far the most rousing speech of the evening was by Diane Abbott MP (LP). Diane wondered if this new fight around a women’s right to choose would involve MPs receiving plastic foetuses in the mail as they did in the 1990s when the issue was being debated. She then went on to utterly condemn those who claim that being opposed to abortion has to do with the right of children. “Where is this support once the child is born?” Abbott asked. She noted the hypocrisy, particularly concerning asylum seeker children and to much applause stated “This is an anti-woman campaign!” In addition, Diane was one of the few speakers to mention that there remained a fear of women’s sexuality which was woven into this debate. Finally she claimed, to more applause, that if these campaigners were so concerned about abortion rates, why did they also oppose sexual education?

Other speakers included representatives of the Fawcett Society, the Voice for Choice Network and Doctors for a Woman’s Choice. Each added their own unique perspective to the debate and educated all in attendance.

There was a discussion period afterward in which we heard from the Green Party, various NUS representatives and a very good showing from trade union activists. By the time one left there was a feeling of a new movement being born.

Having said this, there will obviously be struggles ahead. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it is a tragedy, and nothing less, that George Galloway will not participate in this movement nor speak out in favour of a woman’s right to choose. While there was a comrade there from the ISG (of whom I continue to have a tremendous amount of love and respect for), I continue to believe that the fact that a party which claims to be to the left of Labour cannot send its only MP to such meetings a great detriment to the left.

In addition, a comrade from Permanent Revolution was in attendance and was speaking to other comrades from Feminist Fightback after the meeting who were wholeheartedly in favour of direct action, demonstrations and loud protests. It is clear that others in the movement rely more on lobbying and writing to MPs. Having lived in the US and participated in clinic defence as well as pro-choice rallies in the face of very hostile and right-wing opposition, I am inclined to agree with those who want more of an emphasis on direct action to beat back the right.

To be fair, Abortion Rights has in fact called for some direct action against Anne Widdecombe’s “road trip” to whip up support for the anti-choice amendments. I am listing the dates, times and venues in full in the hope that it will help to gain support for protests across the country. I plan on being at the London counter-demo and encourage everyone to join us in this crucial fight for a women’s right to choose against the forces of reaction. Anne Widdecombe’s Anti-Woman Road Show Dates:

Glasgow, 23rd of January @ The University Union, 7:30pm
Southampton, 30th of January @ Univ of Southampton, 7:30pm
London, 6th of February @ Central Hall Westminster, 7pm
Liverpool, 12th February @ The Liner Hotel, 7:30pm
Coventry, 13th February @ Coventry Cathedral, 7:30pm
Widnes, 18th February @ The Foundry, Lugsale Rd, 7:30pm
Cardiff, 4th March @ TheCity Temple, Cowbridge Rd, 7:30pm

Join us! Let’s build this new fightback against the anti-woman campaigners in parliament and in the streets! Please consider joining and financially supporting Abortion Rights UK

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Defend a Woman’s Right to Choose: 16th of January, Parliament, 7pm

January 7, 2008 at 3:02 pm (abortion, TWP, women)

Defend the
Abortion Act

Campaigning for a woman’s right to decide
Balloons
Public meeting
big_ben Wednesday 16th January 2008
7pm for a 7.30pm start
Committee room 10, House of Commons
Nearest tube: Westminster
The meeting will hear a range of short contributions from invited speakers followed by time for contributions thoughts and ideas from the floor.Speakers include:
Baroness Joyce Gould; Baroness Jenny Tonge; Emily Thornberry MP; Katy Clark MP; Diane Abbott MP; Frances O’Grady, Deputy General Secretary TUC; Wendy Savage, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion; Anni Marjoram, adviser to the Mayor of London; Alex Kemp, NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign; Katherine Rake, director Fawcett Society Parliamentarians opposed to women’s right to choose on abortion would like to use the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, currently speeding through the House of Lords, to restrict the Abortion Act. Already, Baroness Masham has tabled an amendment to restrict abortion access. Other parliamentarians are expected to try to lower the legal abortion time limit from 24 to 20 or even 13 weeks. Any such restrictions would be devastating for women and must be defeated. Pro-choice MPs are also expected to table amendments to improve the law. These should be fully supported.

Please allow plenty of time to clear security on entering the Palace of Westminster and tell the police outside Parliament that you are attending a meeting sponsored by Emily Thornberry MP

The room is wheelchair accessible and has a hearing loop system. Please let us know of any additional access requirements.

This meeting will launch the pro-choice campaign around the Bill.
Have your say and get involved – all pro-choice supporters welcome!
www.abortionrights.org.uk

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