Warwick students support the ‘right to choose’: 88% say they support abortion in ‘all cases’

Five decades after the US Supreme Court guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, America was shaken to its core in July 2022 when the Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade in a controversial move that has left citizens fearing for their safety. While the overturning doesn’t make abortion illegal nationwide, (like it is in El Salvador, Jamaica, and the Philippines), it grants states the authority to set their own abortion policies, which means that abortion will soon be prohibited in a total of 17 states. More could follow. Meanwhile, other states have tightened restrictions on access, making it much more difficult to obtain an abortion than it was previously. It’s been estimated that, as a result of Roe v. Wade being overturned, 36 million people may lose access to safe abortions 


Since the constitutional right to abortion was revoked in the US, in a move which seemed impossible and too medieval for the modern age, concerns have arisen that a similar law could be passed in other countries, such as the UK.  


Abortion is already a criminal act in England, Scotland, and Wales.


However, abortion is already a criminal act in England, Scotland, and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act: the only way to avoid criminal charges is to meet a particular set of requirements (the abortion must take place within 26 weeks and six days of gestation, as well as being condoned by two doctors). It’s still possible to be prosecuted for illegal abortion if the pregnant person doesn’t meet the requirements listed above, and several organisations are currently campaigning for abortion to be decriminalised in the UK. While abortion isn’t a constitutional right in England, Scotland, and Wales, it’s currently more accessible than it is under the new legislature in the US and is publicly endorsed by the NHS as well as by other official bodies.  


Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US, The Boar Features wanted to investigate what students at University of Warwick thought about abortion, both personally and politically.  


Compared to 29% of US adults surveyed following Roe v. Wade was overturned, a much higher percentage of Warwick students (88% of those surveyed) thought that abortion should be permitted in all cases. In this instance, ‘all cases’ refers to the eight possible reasons that people might seek an abortion: the pregnancy is a result of a crime, the child would have poor quality of life (due to either economic reasons, disability, or parents’ ability to care), the pregnancy is unwanted (either by the carrier or both parties involved in conception), or the pregnancy would be harmful to the carriers’ health (either physical or mental). Similarly, while 33% of US adults thought that abortion should be legal in ‘most cases’, 92% of Warwick students thought abortion should be permitted in ‘most cases’ (defined here as agreeing with five out of eight options). While The Boar suspected that the survey would attract more ‘pro-choice’ opinions due to the nature of the survey, it was interesting to see just how liberal students were compared to the average person.  


Nearly all Warwick students (98%) surveyed were likely to support abortion if the pregnancy was the result of a crime, such as rape or incest. In the UK, rape is one of the conditions under which abortion is legal, as the pregnant person’s physical and mental health could be at serious risk if they carry the pregnancy to term. Some countries, which don’t allow abortions under any other circumstances, will even make an exemption under the circumstances of rape or incest, something which is also recommended by The World Health Organization (WHO). However, this is no longer true in the United States: headlines were made recently when a 10-year-old girl was blocked from having an abortion in her home state of Ohio, despite the pregnancy being the result of her being raped by a 27-year-old man.  


If you are truly pro-life then you should support the right to access an abortion

–Warwick Student

Those who are anti-abortion argue that terminating a pregnancy after rape is “misdirected anger”, which should be directed at the rapist instead, and that a foetus shouldn’t be “punished” for how they were conceived. Adults who were conceived through sexual assault argue that they have a right to exist and some parents, whose children were a result of a crime, say that their child was the only good thing to come out of the rape” 


However, these arguments miss the meaning of ‘pro-choice’: those who support abortion laws don’t believe that all pregnancies should be terminated if a crime took place, only that the carrier of the pregnancy should be the one to choose whether they want an abortion or not. Forcing anyone, let alone someone who was sexually assaulted, to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term against their will is taking away their autonomy. One Warwick student explained: “if you are truly pro-life then you should support the right to access an abortion, whether you would have one or not”.  


Students were also just as likely to allow abortion if the pregnancy would harm the carriers’ physical health (98%). This lines up with the findings of the British Social Attitudes survey (2017) which found that 93% of UK adults think abortion should be allowed if the carriers’ health is seriously endangered. This figure has been consistent since data started being collected in 1983, suggesting that the UK views the physical health of the carrier as the most valuable reason to pursue an abortion. It’s also interesting when taking into consideration that there has been an increase in women over 30 having abortions, as carriers of an Advanced Maternal Age (AMA) are more likely to experience physical health complications as a result of pregnancy. For example, people of an AMA are at higher risk of labour complications (such as early labour), preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.  


Choosing to abort on the basis of disability alone could be considered a form of eugenics.


In contrast, only 96% of Warwick students supported abortion if it posed a risk to the carriers’ mental health, rather than physical. This could be due to the social stigma that surrounds mental health, which causes people to view it as ‘less important’, even though it could potentially be more dangerous than physical health problems. In the US, suicide deaths are a leading cause of maternal mortality, with Black or low-income parents being most at risk.  


Despite overwhelmingly supporting the right to abortion, students were least likely to support abortion if it was because the child (rather than the carrier) would have health or disability issues (88%) and some respondents to the survey believed that every foetus should have the chance to live, irrespective of how short the life”. Abortion is permitted, in the UK, if there is substantial risk that the child would “suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.” 1.51% of abortions were carried out in England and Wales in 2020 on these grounds. In fact, while abortions aren’t typically permitted after 24 weeks of pregnancy, this can be overridden if the child is discovered to have a “severe disability”, such as Downs Syndrome. Disability Rights UK argue that this is discriminatory and suggests the lives of disabled people are less worthwhile than those of abled people, as the rules of abortion should apply equally regardless of disability. For instance, people with Down Syndrome have the same potential to live healthy, happy, and long lives as anyone else. Some activists also argue that choosing to abort on the basis of disability alone could be considered a form of eugenics. However, the choice to abort because of disability might not always be malicious: it may be that a parent feels incapable of providing the level of care needed by a disabled child, which could be due to financial reasons or their own health, or because social care and disability services in the UK are undervalued and underfunded 


With abortion rates being the highest among ‘women aged 21’ in 2020 and ‘women aged 22’ in 2019, categories that the average undergraduate student would be likely to fall into, and one that was heavily represented by respondents to the survey (70% of Warwick students responding to the survey were aged 20-22), The Boar Features not only wanted to explore the opinions of Warwick students, but also if any students themselves had experiences with abortion.  


Respondents who said they had reason to consider an abortion at some point in their life cited “access” as their main concern. Nowhere on the University of Warwick website is there information on how students would access an abortion, if it was necessary during term time, despite the fact that “how to get an abortion” has been Googled an average of 46.6 times1 a week in the UK this year.  


Warwick haven’t taken the time to promote information regarding abortions.


With polls showing that a third of women don’t know how to get an abortion in UK, it’s surprising that Warwick haven’t taken the time to promote information regarding abortions — surely, this is a vital healthcare issue? There is only one abortion clinic in Coventry (information provided by a student rather than Warwick University) and one in Leamington Spa, which seems too few considering 3% of 21 year olds got abortions in 2020. Generally, it’s difficult to access abortions in the UK, with people travelling “hundreds of miles” due to “untenable” waiting times, a fragile situation which grew worse during the pandemic. MP Stella Creasy, who has been campaigning for abortion to be decriminalised, has called it a “human rights matter” and argues that the difficulty of accessing an abortion arises because “abortion starts from a criminal perspective and so provision is made that much more complicated” 


Other concerns that were cited by students were “stigma” (50%), pain, and fertility, which may raise the question of whether the University of Warwick has done enough to educate and de-stigmatise healthcare. Studies have found that most people considering abortion perceive some stigma towards them, which has been associated with psychological distress in the years following an abortion. People are also more likely to keep their abortion a secret if they consider it to be “socially unacceptable”. Being raised in a family with anti-abortion attitudes is associated with greater perceptions of abortion stigma, which is interesting when considering how many University of Warwick students surveyed thought their parents held anti-abortion attitudes. Students felt that a friend was more likely to support them (96%) than a parent or guardian (70%) if they wanted to get an abortion, (not including the 7.5% who were unsure if their parents would support them or not).  


One student even said they would contemplate suicide if the ruling passed [in the UK].


In the current political climate, with access gradually being tightened in the US, it was impossible for The Boar Features to investigate abortion without asking how students felt about the situation. A ripple effect of Roe v. Wade being overruled was anxieties about what might happen in other countries, such as the UK, if governments felt inclined to follow in the Supreme Court’s footsteps.  


When asked what their response would be if the UK introduced a similar policy to the US, (meaning that abortion would no longer be available nationwide, but policed separately in different areas), Warwick students expressed that they would be “outraged”, “disappointed”, and “disgusted”, with 36% of written responses saying they would feel “anger” at the decision. Some said they would work to make abortion more accessible, such as through “stockpiling abortion pills… for people I know” and “publicising abortion aid organisations”, as well as protesting the government even if they “don’t protest usually”. Notably, many students had already mentioned that they would be willing to help a friend (94%) or even a stranger (66%) with accessing an abortion, if they were asked to— one of the most interesting findings in this survey was the amount of compassion and empathy that Warwick students had for other people who wanted an abortion, which was relieving to see in a world where healthcare rights seem to be in reverse. Other respondents said that if the right to abortion was taken away, they would “leave the country” as they “do not want to live in a place that doesn’t respect… basic human rights”. One student even said they would contemplate suicide if the ruling passed.  


Many students also felt that outlawing abortion was a “slippery slope” and that they would be “worried about what other rights would be stripped away next”, with several participants citing “same-sex marriage” specifically as a major concern. This is also a worry in the US, following the changes in abortion legislation, as same-sex marriage is “in the same class of legislation that isn’t protected by [the] constitution.” It is being predicted that other bills will be targeted next by the Supreme Court. People have worried about other forms of autonomy, (particularly bodily ones), being taken away, although many in the US already feel powerless when it comes to healthcare, voting, or LGBTQ+ rights.  


Several respondents also stated they would feel “more unsafe” as a woman or nonbinary person, which reflects the current state of human rights in the UK. Many people already feel unsafe and like the law doesn’t protect them, (especially if they belong to other minority groups, such as being a person of colour, transgender, or a sex worker), even though abortion is still ‘permitted’ here. Anyone who isn’t a cisgender man already feels endangered in the UK— if they weren’t, people wouldn’t take precautions before they walked down the street, fear being attacked by anyone (even ‘friends’), and take sometimes painful, sometimes dangerous forms of birth control because it’s ‘easier’ and ‘less risky.’ For who?  


The anxiety surrounding abortions, both legally and socially, is tangible in 2022.


Not only did abortion seem vital to research in the shadow of recent US politics, it was enlightening to find out just how little people (including the writer) knew about how the system worked in the UK. Even if abortion laws have the potential to impact someone directly, they still seem so distant from everyday lives, until someone has reason to consider seeking one out. Although the struggle of the NHS is common knowledge, especially after the pandemic, it seems relatively unknown to the student population how other areas of healthcare (such as abortions) have been affected too. It was also interesting to learn both the personal and political views— which is, arguably, a tautology— of students at the University of Warwick, especially considering that they’re the most likely to be impacted by abortion legislation and also have the potential to shape it in future. The anxiety surrounding abortions, both legally and socially, is tangible in 2022 and the best everyone can do is hope the situation improves, rather than worsens.  


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