Following the ruling made by the USA Supreme Court that there was no federal constitutional right to abortion and that it was a matter for individual states in the union to decide , a number of constituents emailed me to demand that the new Bill of Rights proposed by the Government should be amended to include a right to abortion here in the UK.
Unlike the USA, we do not have a written constitution, so we do need a Supreme Court to interpret the meaning of such a document. Our own -relatively new- Supreme Court has the quite different purpose of being the final court of appeal in determining the intent and purpose of our own common law and statute law as it applies in different situations.
Each and every act of Parliament has the same status, we have no special constitutional laws that have a higher value. No parliament can bind its successors: Parliament can amend or repeal any law that it made previously. The Courts cannot strike down laws made in Parliament, all they can do is point to any contradiction between our laws and statutory rights. It is up to Parliament choose when and if to remedy any supposed conflict.
The law on abortion in the UK makes it clear that there is no general right to abortion services. On the contrary, the default position is that abortion is a criminal matter unless two doctors sign a document about the necessity of the procedure for the sake of the health and safety of the mother to be. Even then, these provisions are circumscribed by the length of the pregnancy, with abortion being permitted in only exceptional circumstances after 24 weeks.
These conditions were debated and decided in Parliament with the intention of balancing the needs of an expectant mother with those of a child growing in her womb. They remain controversial. The 24 week limit was last reset in 1990, since when medical science has progressed, so much so, that the life of a child prematurely outside the womb is now viable at fewer than 24 weeks. Accordingly, many will argue that the law should change to reduce the time in which abortion can take place. Equally, clinicians have presented studies indicating that the child in the womb can experience pain much earlier than was previously thought, perhaps this should be a factor in changing the law.
These are matters over which people argue passionately and about which there is rarely a consensus. They need to be settled in a democratic and accountable forum, which means in Parliament. We should not contemplate handing such decisions to judges.