This lecture delves into the history of abortion in English law, from common law to the Abortion Act 1967.
Professor Thomas KC critically examines the current state of abortion law in England, the Commonwealth Caribbean, and recent developments in the US. Is there a case for further liberalisation of abortion law?
Support the show
This lecture was recorded by Leslie Thomas KC on 30 November 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London.
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
Gresham College has offered free public lectures for over 400 years, thanks to the generosity of our supporters. There are currently over 2,500 lectures free to access. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds. To support Gresham's mission, please consider making a donation: https://gresham.ac.uk/support/
In today's lecture, um, we're going to delve into an emotionally charged and ethically complex legal topic of abortion. This discourse evokes strong sentiments and confronts individuals with profound moral and ethical dilemmas. It's crucial to approach this subject with the utmost respect for the diverse perspectives and deeply held beliefs that people hold. Uh, abortion is inherently a hard-edged question, which forces us to grapple with the challenging intersections of law, morality, and personal autonomy. Gresham College lecture that you're listening to right now is giving you knowledge and insight from one of the world's leading academic experts making it takes a lot of time, but because we want to encourage a love of learning, we think it's well worth it. We never make you pay for lectures, although donations are needed. All we ask in return is this. Send a link to this lecture to someone you think would benefit. And if you haven't already, click the follow or subscribe button from wherever you are listening right now. Now, let's get back to the lecture And as we traverse through the historical landscape of abortion laws in the uk, examining their impact on the Commonwealth Caribbean and drawing comparisons with global developments, we must be mindful of the profound implications this discourse holds. The urgency of addressing the decriminalization of abortion becomes apparent, I would suggest underlying the need for the law to confront this intricate and contentious issue. Let me start with a brief note about terminology. In this lecture, I'll be using the term pregnant women. Now, that might sound, uh, straightforward to some, but it's not straightforward to others because I realize that this is controversial or can be controversial in some circles, and some people might prefer pregnant people. What do I mean? You see, the intention of this is not to raise all those who might be able to bear and have children. And of course, I recognize that there are some trans men and non-binary people who are able to get pregnant and who are also affected by abortion restrictions. To say this is not to diminish the obvious fact that abortion politics is heavily gendered, but my stance is simply to accept that most people affected by abortion restrictions are women. But I do think it's important to acknowledge that trans men and non-binary people exist too and have a stake in the right to abortion. That said, I will be frequently quoting statutes case law and academic works, which do refer exclusively to women History, the history of abortion law in the uk. I'm going to give an overview of the history of abortion law in the uk. That law differs between England, wells and Scotland, Northern island. Uh, my main focus will be on the English and Welsh position, but I do have a few things to say about the law of Scotland and northern island. There is uncertainty and controversy over how the English common law regulated abortion prior to 1803. It's clear that a common law, the point of quickening, was an important threshold. I come back in a moment to what that means. A very early text, the leisures hen Henri key preemie dating from the early 12th century said, quote, A woman shall do penance for three years if she intentionally brings about the loss of her embryo before 40 days. If she does this after it is quick, she shall do penance for seven years as if she was a murderous. End of quote. This passage would appear to be concerned with the penance of Ecclesia ecclesiastical law rather than temporal criminal penalties. In the 13th century, Henry de Bracken wrote in his famous treaties on, on laws and customs of England, if one strikes a pregnant woman or gives her poison in order to procure abortion, if the fetus is already formed or quickened, especially if it is quickened, he commits homicide. As Neil Jones writes, in the 17th century, the common law tide began to turn against the view that abortion was a felony, rather, by then it was viewed as a misdemeanor. Edward co Koch's Institutes of Law Laws of England said, quote, if a woman be quick with child and by a potion or otherwise kill, if in her womb or if a man beat her whereby the child die in her body and she's delivered of a dead child, this is a gr great, uh, miss prison and no murder. But if the child be born alive and die of the potion battery or other cause, this is murder for in-law, it is accounted a reasonable creature in rerun Tria when it is born alive. William Blackstone said in his 1765 Commentaries of Law of England, quote, life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature or in every individual, and begins in the contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother's womb. For if a woman is quick with child and by a potion or otherwise kill, if in her womb or if anyone beat her, whereby the child die of in her body and she's delivered of a dead child. This though not murder was by the, uh, antit law, homicide law, uh, manslaughter, but at present, it is not looked upon in quite so atrocious, alight that it remains a very heinous misdemeanor. So in early modern England, abortion was a crime after quickening, although probably not a felony. However, there was a debate between about when quickening occurred as well as how the common law viewed abortion before quickening. Here in England, wells, that debate is largely only of historical interest. However, in the United States, the state of the pre 1803 English common law has become the subject of intense political modern controversy because of its role played in the modern US constitutional jurisprudence in Roe versus Wade, the well-known case in which the, uh, US Supreme Court found that there was a constitutional right to abortion. Mr. Justice, uh, black mum wrote, it is un it is undisputed that at common law abortion performed before quickening. The first recognizable movement of the fetus in neutral appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy was not an indict offense. However, opponents of abortion have since counterattacked on this issue. They have, for example, cited the 1838 English case of Crown Against Witchery Witch Lee, forgive me, which may suggest that quick did not mean the same thing in every context. A woman was convicted of murder and the question arose whether she was excused from being executed because she was pregnant or quick with child. The law report records that Mr. Baron Gurney said, quick with child is having conceived With quick child is when the child has quickened. Do you understand the distinction? I make end quote in a ne micas brief submitted by the conservative legal scholars, John Finnis and Robert George in the recent case of Dobbs against Jackson's women Dobbs against Jackson's Women health organization. The authors argued this, that a fetus would have to be viewed as quick from the sixth week of pregnancy and not from the time that the pregnant woman felt movement in their womb. In contrast, and the micas brief in the same case by the American Historical Association Organization of American Historians supports the view that roe in Roe that quickening was the point at which the pregnant woman felt the fetus move. This debate was alluded to by Mr. Justice Alito in the footnote, in the opinion of the court, but he did not find it necessary to resolve it. Mr. Justice Alito also referred a approvingly to the work of Joseph Della Pena. Della Pena's work has, however, come into robust scholarly criticism from Carla Spy who states that Della Pena quote distorts the evidence to press an ab evolutionist position about legal history. Another complicating factor is the relationship between the common law and Eccles ecclesiastical law. As we've seen the Legis Henrique addresses abortion in the context of penance rather than temporal criminal penalties. Commenting on the Dobbs judgment, RH helm Holts argues that abortion in medieval times was principally Concerned with Iisa Casal law and within the jurisdictions of those courts, and that the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the subject lasted well into the 16th century, whereas the jurisdictional history becomes more tangled. Now, I don't propose to attempt to resolve the historical controversies. Instead, I will move on to 1803. When the English law against abortion was put on the statutory footing by Lord Ellen Barr's acts, the act was very severe. It made it a capital offense to cause and procure the miscarriage of any woman, then being quick with child. It also criminalized abortion before quickening, which made it punishable with fines, imprisonment, the pilly whipping or transportation, but not with death. According to Dickens and Cook, it was not clear whether a pregnant woman performing an abortion on themselves or on herself was criminalized by this act. The 1803 Act was superseded by Lord LANs Down's Act of 1828, which in turn was superseded by the offenses against the person's act of 1837. The latter abolished the death penalty for abortion and also abolished the distinction between pre quickening and post quickening abortions. The next major statute enacted was Section 58 of Defenses against the Person's Act 1861, which is still enforced today. The section provided in relevant part quote, every woman being with child who with the intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent and whoever. So with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or not be with child, shall unlawfully administer to hurt or cause to be taken by any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent shall be guilty of a felony. An important caveat here is the word unlawfully, which left open the possibility of a defense that there was such a thing as a lawful abortion. The case of Crown against Bourne in 1939 established that such a defense existed inborn. An obs obstetric surgeon was indicted for performing an abortion on a 14-year-old girl. According to the law report, she had been raped with great violence and had become pregnant as a result of the rape. Mr. Justice McNaughton relied on by analogy on the separate offenses, a separate offense of child destruction under the Infant Life Preservation Act of 1820 of 1929, which provided a defense where the relevant act was done in good faith for the purpose only of preserving the life of another and preserving the life of the mother. He accepted that the 1929 Act did not apply directly, but he said that the proviso that it is necessary for the crown to prove that the act was not done in good faith for the purpose of only preserving the life of the mother, is in accordance with what has always been the common law of England with regard to the killing of an unborn child. He went on to take a relatively expansive interpretation of what is meant by preserving the life of the mother. He said, quote, It is not contended that those in the words mean merely for the purpose of saving the mother from instant death. There are cases we are told where it's reasonable reasonably certain that a pregnant woman will not be able to to deliver the child which is in her womb and survive in such a case where the doctor anticipates basing his opinion upon the experience of the profession that the child cannot be delivered without the death of the mother. It is obvious that the sooner the operation is performed, the better. The law does not require the doctor to wait until the unfortunate woman is in peril of immediate death. In such a case he's not only entitled, but it is his duty to perform the operation with a view to save in her life. As I've said, I think those words ought to be construed in a reasonable sense, and if the doctor is of the opinion on reasonable grounds and with adequate knowledge that the probable consequence of the continuance of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a physical or mental wreck, the jury are quite entitled to take the view that the doctor who under those circumstances and in that honest belief operates, is operating for the purposes of preserving the life of the mother. The born case was the lead in authority in England and wells on the construction of Section 58 offense until 1967 elsewhere in the Commonwealth. It continues to be relevant today, as we will see. I need to say a little bit about Scotland. The 1861 Act never applied to Scotland and up until the 1967 abortion up until 1967, forgive me, abortion in Scotland was a wholly a common law matter. The Scottish legal scholar, Jonathan Brown, writes that prior to 1967, Scot's law recognized the legitimacy of therapeutic termination. Abortion was treated primarily as a medical matter and the dearth of Scottish case law concerned an abortion may be attributed to the fact that the legal profession was reluctant to interfere with decisions made by doctors. Brown cites the case of, uh, her majesty's advocate against Graham in 1897, which holds that the abortion must have been carried out wickedly and felonious to be criminal. He states that there was only one case in the Scottish in which a Scottish medical practitioner was prosecuted. The case was, uh, crown against advocate against Ross, in which the central issue was the fact that the termination occurred in the patient's home. In the absence of professional medical guidance. He further notes that Dr. Ross pleaded guilty and the case did not therefore establish any precedence that Ross's actions were criminal. The pre 1967 abortion law of Scotland was therefore in Browns word, far from clear. Although abortion was a crime known to law, it appears that there were, there were circumstances in which abortion could lawfully be carried out. The next major development was the abortion Act of 1967, which continues to be the governing law today in England, Scotland, and Wales. It does not extend to Northern Ireland. The 67 Act did not repeal section 58 of the 1861 Act, but provided an exception to it under the act as originally enacted, an abortion could be performed, it could be performed by doctor up to the 28th week of the pregnancy. If two doctors form the opinion that risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family, greater than if the pregnancy was terminated. I'm using the word pregnant woman here because that's the language of the act, but the act also applies to trans men and non-binary people who are also pregnant. It also allowed abortion at any stage of the pregnancy where two doctors form the opinion that quote, there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. End of quote, the human fertilization and embryology act of 1990 amended the act significantly. Abortion was now allowed up to the 24th week, not the 28th, where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater than if the pregnancy were terminated of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of the family. It was legalized, legalized at any stage of pregnancy where quote, the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, or where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. It remained the case that the opinion of two doctors was required pause in there. Although there are relatively liberal grounds for abortion, they fall a very long way short of permitting abortion on demand. It remains doctors not the pregnant woman who are the primary decision makers as to whether the criteria are met. As Fran Amery states quote, abortion is still governed, albeit by the medical profession rather than directly controlled by the state. End of quote. This is therefore entirely possible for a pregnant woman to be denied an abortion under the 1967 Act, in particular where they've missed a 24 week deadline and don't meet the more restrictive criteria for abortion after the deadline. Those pregnant who perform illegal abortions on themselves can be and sometimes are prosecuted. According to Zoe Williams writing in The Guardian, there were only three prosecutions in Great Britain for illegal abortions between 1861 and November, 2022. But since December 20, 22, 6, women have been charged for illegal abortions. In June, 2023, Carla Foster was sentenced 24 months in prison, reduced on appeal to a suspended sentence of 40 months for self-administering mifa pre stone when she was over the 24, uh, week limit. As an aside, given that the 1861 act does not apply in Scotland, the question might be thought to arise as to whether the Scottish common law defense to which I refer to earlier, has survived such that abortion might be lawful in Scotland even where it's not authorized By the 1967 Act. However, the in-House of Court obsession in Dugan against Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Health Board in 2013 held that there was no such residual ability at common law to carry out an abortion. The case went on appeal to the Supreme Court in 2015, but not on this point. Let's turn to Northern Ireland. The 67 Act was never extended to Northern Island. Abortion remained generally illegal in Northern Ireland until recently in re Northern Island Human Rights Commission application for judicial review in 2018, the Supreme Court was deeply divided on the challenge brought by the Northern Northern Island Human Rights Commission on Northern Island's abortion laws. The majority held that the commission had no standing to bring the challenge. However, all the justices expressed their views on the merits anyway. A majority held that the prohibition on abortion in cases of a fatal fetal abnormality and rape or incest breached Article eight of the Human European Convention on Human Rights, the right to private and family life, two justices went further. They said that they would have to, they would've found it incompatible with Article three, the prohibition on in-human and degrading treatment as well. Another two justices found no breaches of Article three or Article eight. Parliament has since stepped in the Northern Island Executive Formation Act 2019 repealed sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act under the law of Northern Island with retrospective effect regulations were subsequently made in 2020 and approved by both HAR Houses in Parliament, which provide for a new legal regime regulating abortion in Northern Ireland, which is significantly different than in England and Wells. So that's the UK's position in a nutshell. What about the Commonwealth Caribbean? Well, as you know, I, I touched upon the Common Commonwealth Caribbean in many areas over the course of my lectures and in the case of abortion. It's just as interesting. The short answer is, is that it varies widely in some Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdiction such as anti and Barbuda, where I practice, as well as in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the relevant law is copied from the English 1861 Act. The law in these jurisdictions is therefore that which applied in England prior to 1967, including the born judgment. Conversely, some other jurisdictions have enacted legislation that has significantly liberalized their abortion laws. This includes the medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1983 in Barbados and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1995. In Guyana. Time today doesn't permit an exhaustive survey of these laws, but one can see therefore that the British and Commonwealth approach to abortion law is not uniform. However, the general approach has to be to criminalize abortion, but to carve out exceptions to that criminalization and the extent of those exceptions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The international context, these developments have happened against a backdrop of a highly contentious international debate on abortion. Recent years have seen the liberalization of abortion laws in some jurisdictions and a tightening of restriction in restrictions in others. A September, 2023 paper by Cardnis Singh and Harin and Zinsky highlights the development of international human rights law around abortion. They highlight that in 1999, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women or CDO r committee published its general Recommendation 24, which called for the decriminalization of abortion. In 2003, the African Union enshrined the right to abortion in certain circumstances in the MTO protocol, the UN Human Rights Committee in KL against Peru, communication number 1153 of 2003 found that the denial of abortion to a teenage girl, uh, carrying a a, a severely disabled fetus had violated her rights under international covenant, on human, uh, on civil and political rights. Specifically Article seven, the prohibition of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Article 17, the Right to Privacy, article 24, the Right to Children to Special Protection and Article two, the Right to Illegal Remedy subsequently Melet Against Ireland. In, uh, 2016, the committee found that a woman in the Republic violin carrying a non-viable fetus who had had to travel abroad for an abortion, suffered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Contrary to Article seven of the Covenant, her rights under Article 17, the Right to Privacy and Article 26, the prohibition on of discrimination had been violated for context since 1983. The eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution enshrined a general prohibition on abortion in Irish constitutional law. The committee reached a similar view in other, in another Irish abortion case, Whelan Against Ireland in 2017. In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights had taken a more restrained view in an earlier case, A, B, and C against Ireland. In 2011. That was a case bought by three Irish women who had to travel abroad for their abortions. They claimed that under Article two of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life and Article three, prohibition against inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment were held inadmissible. The court found that there was no violation of Article eight, the right to private and family life in relation to the first and second applicants. However, it did find, uh, such a violation in relation to the third applicant who had a rare form of cancer and had undergone chemotherapy. This was on the ground that there was no accessible and effective procedure by which she could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland under Irish law. As it then stood, this case led to the enactment of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013, which set out a legal framework for when people would qualify for abortion in Ireland. Finally, in 2018, after the melet and Wheland decisions, the Irish electorate voted to repeal the eighth Amendment to the Constitution passed, passing the 36th Amendment. Let's travel to Canada. The criminal law has effectively imposed no restrictions on abortion since the judgment of Mor Morgan Tallah in 1988, which struck down the provisions of the criminal code governing abortion as unconstitutional. Conversely, the United States has recently seen highly controversial changes in the opposite direction in Dobbs against Jackson's Women's Health Organization. The US Supreme Court overruled its own judgment in Roe against Wade and held that there was no constitutional right to abortion. Dobbs did not impose a national abortion ban. Rather, it left it up to state legislatures to decide whether or not abortion should be legal in their respective states. Ottley and Fletcher writing in the medical law review have reviewed the consequences of Dobbs one year on. They highlight that following Dobbs, the landscape of abortion access across 50 states has become disparate and reflective of state-based preferences. So whether a pregnant woman can access abortion in the United States is now postcode lottery depending on which state they happen to live in. This of course, disadvantages, poorer people who are less likely to be able to travel to another state to access abortion for that matter, even before Dobbs, there was already a significant practical, practical restrictions on abortion access in some states, which were permissible under the pre DOB case law. As Leslie Regan states, these included quote, mandatory 24 to 72 hour long waiting periods, parental notification requirements for people under 18, false reading of false scripts about the dangers of abortion to patients in advance of the procedure, vaginal ultrasounds and state-mandated sexual assaults. We have seen that Mr. Justice Alitos lead in judgment in Dobbs drew heavily on English and early American legal history, but that history is contested terrain. Leslie Regan states that the majority opinion gets the history egregiously wrong reform of abortion law. So having looked at the present state of abortion law, we're now going to consider how it could be reformed. Now, time does not permit me to do justice to the moral philosophical debate around abortion, But I'll attempt to sum up my position briefly. Generally, the classic argument about abortion is simply that a fetus is a human life and that it is wrong to take an innocent human life. As many opponents of abortion are religious. This is often coupled with the idea that a fetus has a human soul and from the moment, and that's from the moment of conception. Conversely, from a secular perspective, many people would argue that an embryo or fetus in the early stages of development cannot meaningfully be called persons. And this naturally leads to that thorny debate about when a person becomes a person at conception, at birth, at some point in between and invites the drawing of arbitrary lines. But the main argument made in practice by most proponents of abortion is simply based on bodily autonomy. They say that even if a fetus is a person, the pregnant woman has an absolute right to decide what happens to her own body and therefore not obliged to carry the fetus to term. The most powerful expression of this argument is in Judith Thomas Thompson's famous violinist. Example. I'm going to quote it, quote, I propose then that we grant the fetus Is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from there? Something like this, I take it every person has a right to life, so the fetus has a right to life, no doubt. The mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body. Everyone would grant that, but surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother's right to decide what happens in and to her body and so outweighs it so the fetus may not be killed and abortion may not be performed. It sounds plausible, but now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist, a famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of music lovers has camba canvas all available medical records and found that you and you alone have the right blood type to help they have therefore kidnapped you. And last night, the violinist, violinist circulatory system has been plugged into yours so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. Now, the director of the hospital tells you, look, we're sorry the Society of Music lovers did this to you. We would never have admitted it if we had known, but still they did it. And the violin violinist is now plugged into you to unplug you would be to kill him, but nevermind, it's only for nine months. By then, he will have recovered from his ailment and you can safely be unplugged from you. Is it morally incumbent, incumbent on you to ace to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did a great kindness. But do you have toce to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says, tough luck. I agree, but now you've got to stay in bed with the violinist plugged into you for the rest of your life. Because remember this, all persons have a right to life and violinists are persons granted. You have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him. I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something is really wrong with that plausible sound and argument. I mentioned a moment ago, end quote. This is a very powerful argument. Its attraction is that it does not require us to engage at all with the question of when a fetus becomes a person. Because even if it is a person, the pregnant woman has no obligation to carry it to term. If that is right, it follows that a pregnant woman who wants an abortion is in principle entitled to one or at least that the criminal law should not interfere with her choice. This inexorably leads to the question, the proposition that abortion law should be further liberalized as to decriminalize abortion in all or almost all circumstances. As we've seen, this is not merely a theoretical issue as there have been many numerous, or I should say, an increase in prosecutions in England and Wales for illegal abortions. Another key point is that restrictive abortions do not necessarily lower abortion rates, and that conversely, they lead to many more unsafe backstreet abortions. This can have devastating effects on the health of pregnant women, usually from poorer sections of the community who have no choice but to resort to such abortions. In the context of Trinidad and Tobago where the English pre 1967 law still prevails, Glenys Heith and Crystal Brean wrote in 2012 quote, the criminal law is a major cause of the public health problem relating to abortion in Trinidad and Tobago, and may be seen as a lead leading cause of maternal morbidity. The interpretation of the criminal law makes it impossible for women, for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy to obtain safe medical care in hospitals and oftentimes drives poor women to risk their lives with dangerous procedures. End quote. I do want, however, to make a final point, which is no less important than the other issues I've addressed in this lecture. While some may argue that abortion should be fully cri decriminalized, I also don't want you to think that that's a complete answer to the issue. We need to address the social and economic context in her landmark 1983 essay, racism, birth control, and reproductive rights. Angela Davis makes clear that birth control, including abortion, is a fundamental prerequisite for the emancipation of women. However, she also criticizes the abortion rights movement of the time stating that quote, arguments advanced by birth control advocates have sometimes been based on blatantly racist premises that the historical record for this movement leaves much to be desired, and that the ranks of the abortion rights campaign did not include substantial numbers of women of color. She makes a powerful if not uncomfortable point about the history of abortion amongst enslaved people. Quote, black women have been aborting themselves since the earliest days of slavery. Many slave women refuse to bring children into a world of, of forced labor where chains and floggings and sexual abuse of women were the everyday conditions of life. Why were self-imposed abortions and reluctant acts of infanticide such common occurrences during slavery? Not because black women had discovered solutions to their predicaments, but rather because they were desperate abortions and fantasized with the acts of desperation motivated not by the biological birth process, but by the oppressive conditions of slavery. Most of these women, no doubt, would've expressed their deepest resentments to, uh, had someone held their abortions as stepping stones towards freedom. End of quote, she goes on to say, quote, what is urgently required is a broad campaign to defend the reproductive rights of all women, and especially those women whose economic circumstances often compel them to relinquish the right to reproduction itself. End quote. She goes on to describe the practice of forced sterilizations of black, native, and Latinx people in US history. Reproductive rights shouldn't begin and end with the right to abortion and contraception. Important, though those things are, they should also extend to change in social and economic conditions so that those who want to raise children are able to do so. All too often, black people, people of color and working class people are not afforded the same range of choices as those who are more privileged. In conclusion, we need the full decriminalization of abortion. Section 58 of the 1861 Act should be repealed, and the remaining restrictions on abortion access should be swept away. This is particularly present for those in the Caribbean jurisdictions who have not liberalized their abortion laws and where the pre 1967 English law still applies. But we also need to change the social and economic conditions under which many marginalized people who wish to raise their children are unable to do so. The that means a radical redistribution of wealth and power and the policies that support working class parents, such as a universal basic income council, housing, rent control, free childcare. But hey, maybe I'm just talking pie in the sky. Thank you Professor Thomas. Thank you. That was a absolutely fascinating lecture. Really, really interesting, and we've got time for a few questions. I've got some questions that have come in, and interestingly enough, they're kind of grouping around certain themes, so I'm gonna have a go at trying to kind of pull them together. I'll Trust one of them, <laugh>. Okay. No guarantees. So, um, really interesting final point. I think we'll probably, um, want to come back to that at some point, but just going back to the larger overall framing of the election, you took us through sort of a genealogy, if you will, of the, of the laws. And what was interesting, and I think you mentioned it yourself, was that the direction of travel has to been to become, to have more legislation around abortion and getting more and more specific about the caveats Yes. Or the conditions under which, and yet there seems to be a slight, almost paradox here because as the law's doing that, it seems to have been that changes, especially in different parts of the world, has have almost become more, almost conversely more arbitrary according to who's in power, who wants what, who shouts the loudest in the lobby, for example. So some of the questions, and then also, you know, how politicized this has become with the growth of the women's movement and things like that. So what's the Lord doing in all this? I mean, you know, there seems to be, on the one hand, very specific a process becoming more specific legally, and yet this is becoming more kind of fraught and arbitrary in politics and fraught in social politics. How are these spaces talking to each other? You know, um, let, let, let me look at this from what's happened in the United States. It, abortion has become such a political football that from my stance, from my point of view, it's not so much about, um, the rights of the woman, the rights of the the child. It's a populous view, which has been, you know, if you look at some of the leading politicians, um, I'm not gonna mention names, but you'll see that at one stage they were, you know, um, in favor of liberalization. And then all of a sudden because, uh, uh, it's become fairly popular, uh, in, you know, particularly on the right to become less liberal, uh, there's been that switch switching. So it's really, and, and you, and you can see strands of that coming through in other legis in other parts of the world. You know, there's a touch of that here in the UK as well, although, you know, we've got fairly liberal laws compared to other parts of, of the world. So I, I, I don't know, um, is the real answer as to why the, it's moving in certain directions and it appears to be like this moral, ethical football. But I suspect that as opposed to some grand philosophical debate, politics really enters into it. And I, and, and that's the feeling that I certainly have when I look at this, um, in a depressing, um, way, and I look, look to see what's happening in the states, But are we moving into a space where someone who comes to power like can just, just change everything, you know, sort of how, how, how vulnerable are a, is the legislation we've got, because it seemed, I mean, that was a potted history, right? So we're probably not seeing a lot of the kind of leg work that went in between changes. If you had, if you had asked, if you'd asked, um, if you'd asked an American, uh, and you know, uh, when I say an American, I'm talking about someone from the United States, um, a couple of years ago, how entrenched they thought their abortion rights were. They would've said, these are untouchable. The, these are constitutional, this is, you know, constitutionally entrenched. Um, we've got Roe versus Wade, you know, um, there isn't a problem. Um, couple years later you, there's a real panic as to whether or not, you know, um, abortion might be banned outright. And it is, and in certain states, that's certainly the aim. So I suppose it's what we would say in relation to all our rights. I don't think it can ever be complacent in relation to the rights that we fought for. Rights that can be given, can be taken away. You listed a lot of the case law referring to Ireland, but the biggest, Um, impetus for change in Ireland was the death of savita, halvar of sepsis in hospital when doctors refused to, uh, give her a termination and, and killed her. Um, is, is, does that happen in other countries or, you know, you talked about how restrictive it is in the Caribbean, you know, how how come that hasn't happened elsewhere already? Well, that case was really extreme and, and, um, I think what it takes, it, it takes for big cases, um, to move politicians to act. And, and therein lies the problem. You know, we shouldn't have to have women, um, lives literally put on the line before. Um, you know, there, there's movement in the law, so changes will happen, um, in a similar way when people die. That, that, that's a tragedy. I'd like to come back to your final point about the larger social, um, economic context in which we are having this discussion. So, and again, picking up on earlier this idea that our current legal and political systems, they're quite vulnerable to, to change, um, possibly not adequate enough separation of powers. Who knows, maybe we won't go down that line, but what can the law sort of, where can the law kind of, can the law intervene in changing anything about the larger context in which this debate is happening? Or does law always come out as a sort of servant of the context that's producing it? Can anything be done from a legal point of view to create the kind of equity that you're talking about? Well, hearing lies the problem, and this is why I chose abortion. Um, can I, can I just bring everybody back to the, um, the, this series of lectures that I'm doing hard edge questions and you know, where hard edge questions the law morality intersect. There's always gonna be, there's always gonna be, um, problems with it. But you know, you, you've got, on the one hand, even if you look at how, um, the European court, uh, o uh, on human rights has been dealing with this tiptoe around the edges trying to, um, reconci reconcile decisions with, um, you know, the, uh, member members of, of the court. Um, and what that, what that says to me is judges struggle to get this right. Um, we looked at Roe versus Wade and how it was changed by the Dobbs decision. One would've thought where, where you have years and years of precedence where, where something is apparently very clear, why is it that judges would suddenly change years of, you know, decades of, um, uh, of precedent. And that's because, and this comes back to an earlier lecture. Judges are subjected to the same influences and pressures all of us face. I repeat it. Rights that can be given are rights that can be taken away. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. So the, um, philosopher Amio also talks about how before we can really go further with the abortion question, that if we address some of the socioeconomic, um, problems that you're talking about, actually we'd be having a very different conversation altogether and that we wouldn't be sort of splitting hairs about which week and when and who may do this and how many opinions are required. We would be having a completely different conversation. What do you think about that point Of view? Yeah, I think we, I think we would and, and, um, what's philosophically I think, um, Angela Davis and the point that she makes about black women and their experience and how they see the, um, you know, the abortion debate, if I can put it in that way, is very, very different from, um, those who are considered to be more privileged. Um, yeah, Sorry, I'm a hospital doctor and a lawyer. And the question about can the law come up with an answer? The, the, the, the, the example is Holland, we have this debate in Holland 55 0 years ago when I was a medical student in Holland. And the way Holland has dealt with it is completely liberalizing the law in saying, you don't need a reason. You can have an abortion up to X weeks. And after X weeks, it becomes a debate of is this a fetus, a person or not? The rights of the unborn child against the rights of the mother. And I think if you take the example of America, it is religion. The fundamentalist Christians in America of whom there are many in politics who have moved this debate completely to the opposite in modern times. So it can be done Holland is the example of it. Thank you. Thank you. We'll take that as a comment and I just hope to goodness that the recent election result in, in the Netherlands does not change that <laugh>, please join me in thanking our speaker, professor.