Petitions that gain over one hundred thousand signatures can secure a debate by parliamentarians in Westminster Hall. These clash with legislation being debated in the Commons Chamber, so it often isn’t possible to attend Westminster Hall, irrespective of the number of emails from constituents and lobbyists asking one to do so.
Last week however, I did manage it. The petition -prompted by the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Rowe versus Wade- demanded a human right to abortion services in the UK.
The petitioners and the MPs who supported them were quite misguided in their belief that legislating for such a right would have any effect whatsoever.
Unlike the USA, we do not have a written constitution that is subject to the interpretation of judges. In the UK there are different sources of law, but the supreme law is statutes enacted by Parliament. One such, is the Abortion Act 1967 which sets out the restricted terms on which an abortion can be lawfully had. The establishment of a new ‘human right to abortion’ would not alter the Abortion Act in any way and would not empower activist judges to set it aside: It would be pure gesture politics.
Only an amendment to the Abortion Act can change the terms on which abortion is made available.
What escapes the judgement of the promoters of a ‘human right to abortion’ is that there is more than one human life to be considered.