Journalists at The Boar have been reporting on abortion since the paper’s launch in 1973 – the same year the Supreme Court deliberated on the landmark Roe v. Wade case. This ruling, decided by a 7-2 margin, protected women’s right to abortion in the United States. Just over a year ago, this was overturned, with five conservative Supreme Court Justices voting to do so.
As we reflect a year on from the historic overturning of Roe, it is important to not look singularly at its impact on women’s right to abortion in America, but also as it pertains to those living in the UK. In 1967, abortion legislation was passed in the UK. Today, around 200,000 abortions are carried out in England and Wales each year.
58.2% responded that they were very familiar with the Roe v. Wade case, and 79.7% believed that it should not have been overturned
As part of this investigation, The Boar News launched a poll that was answered by over 60 Warwick students across a variety of year groups and courses. Of those polled, 58.2% responded that they were very familiar with the Roe v. Wade case, and 79.7% believed that it should not have been overturned, with 6.3% being unsure.
A letter written in a ’70s edition of The Boar saw Barry Myers, then a student at the University of Warwick, complain about pro-life activists on the rampage. He emphasised that those campaigning for sexual freedom simply want a life that can be lived “free of guilt, shame and despair” – arguing they in no way are campaigning for a “promiscuous and disease-ridden” world. Myers also commented that, whilst abortion is not an outcome most people wish to resort to, the “anti-anti-abortionist abortion is a necessary evil, which at the time should be regarded as the unfortunate but essential final means of contraception.”
In the poll carried out by The Boar News, 12% said that they had encountered pro-life pressure or criticism whilst at university
It appears that today, the British public lean more towards this opinion than ever. In a report by the National Centre for Social Research, it was found that an “overwhelming majority” of people were in favour of a liberalised approach to abortion. The report also found that public attitudes have substantially liberalised during the last 50 years. In 1983, 37% of those surveyed held the view that women should have a right to an abortion – this has risen by over 30%, with 70% of those surveyed in 2017 shown to have this view.
In the poll carried out by The Boar News, 12% said that they had encountered pro-life pressure or criticism whilst at university. One student said they had seen “talks by pro-life speakers in association with religious societies”, whilst others spoke of debates they have had with “more conservative people”. One student faced significant pushback with this issue, describing how “pro-life speakers in association with religious societies, usually men from America invited to talk”, would weigh in, “commenting on the value of human life they didn’t create or carry”.
It prevented pro-life groups from affiliating with other organisations and ensured a new policy: that the SU’s Equal Opportunities Committee would regulate pro-life publicity
While 50 years have passed since the letter written by Barry Myers was published, it is clear that pro-life advocates still exist at the University of Warwick. It is also apparent that the implications of the Roe v. Wade overturning are inescapable for UK students.
28.4% of responses said that they do not find space for debate and discussion surrounding abortion at universities today, with a further 37.3% saying that they are unsure as to whether there is any. Given the outcome of the Roe v. Wade overturning, it is unsurprising that students would be hesitant to engage in abortion debates. A report by Varsity showed Cambridge Students for Life, an organisation at the University of Cambridge, faced severe backlash due to its pro-life stance. The organisation’s Vice-President suggested that some students not only refuse to tolerate pro-life attitudes, but also that attitudes towards pro-life campaigners were prejudiced at times, commenting that students “had their own ideas of who we were and didn’t give us the opportunity to actually show who we were.”
Ultimately, it does seem to be the case that there is a significant amount of apprehension amongst students towards pro-life campaigners. In Leamington Spa specifically, there is a history of extremist pro-life views. The maternal support charity Life, which is still in operation today, was especially vocal during the 70s. In a 1973 issue of The Boar, Rob Whitehouse reported on Life issuing 15,000 anti-abortion leaflets in a bid to shut the abortion clinic River Park Nursing Home. Acts like this have been restricted in legislation implemented this year, with ‘safe access zones’ being put in place to protect women accessing abortion services.
In 1997, the cover of The Boar was titled: “Emergency meeting decides on abortion”. Students witnessed a pro-choice group successfully get a motion passed to limit the activities of the pro-life group at a Students’ Union (SU) Emergency General Meeting. This motion was the latest in a term-long battle between the pro-life and pro-choice groups on campus. It prevented pro-life groups from affiliating with other organisations and ensured a new policy: that the SU’s Equal Opportunities Committee would regulate pro-life publicity. This blatant challenge to pro-life campaigning shows how passionately Warwick students of the past have felt about abortion, to the extent that motions were passed to challenge pro-life campaigning. This remains relevant in the present day, as 74.6% of responses in the poll said that they believe university students of today would put forward similar motions if pro-life movements were to reemerge on campus today.
It may be the expectation for students to turn to the University of Warwick’s own Health Centre – however, they were found to only provide a “limited service” for the testing of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
The legislation around abortion isn’t the only stumbling block women face today. Accessibility to contraceptive and preventative healthcare is an international struggle. However, despite living in a country where abortion is legally available, only 16.3% found sexual health services accessible in Warwickshire, and 48% said that they did not fully know how to access these sexual health services. It may be the expectation for students to turn to the University of Warwick’s own Health Centre – however, they were found to only provide a “limited service” for the testing of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This proves to be an issue, especially for freshers living in a new location away from their family and friends.
The overall poll results, especially the fact that 65.7% feel women’s healthcare in the UK is under-prioritised, are evidence that perhaps the abortion situation in the UK is not quite as rosy as it seems to be on the surface. In Davina McCall’s Pill Revolution documentary, from earlier this year, McCall interviewed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women’s Health Strategy, Maria Caulfield, to discuss the £25 million the government has devoted women’s health hub expansions. Caulfield acknowledged that the policy may only be “a start”, but that importantly it will be “the first time in generations that women’s health will be a key priority for the government.”
The inadequacy of UK abortion law can be highlighted across a variety of surveys, including our poll of Warwick students
Abortion law in the UK may appear more unwavering than in the US, but UK legislation technically only allows abortions in “restricted circumstances”, and they are still considered to be a criminal act in England, Scotland, and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act. Many believe that more could be done, and many live in fear that, as it has been in America, this right could be taken away at any given moment. The inadequacy of UK abortion law can be highlighted across a variety of surveys, including our poll of Warwick students. Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) suggests that present legislation is “vastly out of step with public opinion”.
The updating of abortion laws in the UK is being pushed for by BPAS among others, though with such drastic shifts in legislation as the Roe v. Wade case, it remains uncertain how the treatment of women’s healthcare and the discussion around abortion will evolve in the coming years – both in the UK and abroad.