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What we'll be watching in 2020

Thursday 06 February 2020 Bethan Cobley Opinion UK, USA

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Twenty five years ago, the United Nations, supported by women’s rights organisations, launched a progressive blueprint for achieving gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

In the years since 1995, progress has been made for women and girls across the globe, particularly in women and girls’ reproductive rights. The direction of travel has been mainly positive, with over 30 countries liberalising their abortion laws and medical abortion expanding access across Asia, Latin America and Africa. A particularly successful grassroots campaign to ‘repeal the eighth’ in the Republic of Ireland removed the constitutional ban on abortion and, in an historic vote, Westminster politicians passed an amendment to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, finally removing abortion from a Victorian criminal law after years of campaigning.

Despite this progress we are seeing a bolder, more aggressive and well-funded opposition to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). A galvanised anti-choice movement in the United States has made the constitutional right to abortion appear more vulnerable than ever, its effects stretching far outside the country’s border. But the resilience and dynamism of activists, advocates and movements around the world gives us reason for optimism.

In this current climate of both opportunities and challenges for SRHR, Marie Stopes International, as a service provider and advocate, will be supporting, monitoring and harnessing progress across the world to increase access to lifesaving services for women and girls.

Below, we take a look at a few upcoming key moments across the UK and US that have the potential to shape the direction of safe abortion access in 2020 and beyond.

US Supreme Court decision: On March 4th, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case that has the potential to undermine their constitutional right to abortion. Medical Services v. Gee concerns a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Admitting privileges allow a doctor to admit patients to a particular hospital for medical treatment but serve no medical purpose. With only one doctor in Louisiana able to meet the requirement, the law would limit abortion access for women across the state. Whilst a landmark case from 2016 saw the Supreme Court strike down a similar law in Texas, the ruling on March 4th will be the first case with a majority anti-choice Supreme Court. The stakes are high, and if the law stands, the ruling would indicate a weakening of the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.

Manchester and Central London Buffer Zone: Buffer Zones, also called Safe Access Zones, ban anti-choice campaigners from protesting, interfering with clinic users, taking photographs, or displaying images relating to abortion within a certain distance of abortion clinics. The first was introduced in England outside the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing (West London) in 2018, using local council powers to implement a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). Since then, several councils across the country have indicated they would like to do the same. In 2019, Manchester City Council and Camden Council in London both began the process of assessing the need for protection against harassment and intimidation outside clinics, with decisions awaiting. The results of a public consultation in Manchester will be heard in March 2020 and could set the stage for similar protections against harassment, making access to clinics safer for clients and staff across the country.

Gibraltar referendum:
Punishable by life imprisonment, the British territory of Gibraltar currently has the most restrictive abortion law in Europe. But last year, the government announced that it would hold a referendum on abortion access. The proposed changes to the law, which would allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal anomaly and when a woman’s mental or physical health are at risk, will be put to the public on March 19th 2020.

The 2020 US Presidential election:
When President Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule in 2016, the resulting loss of funding meant millions of women and girls lost access to lifesaving services worldwide. The outcome of the US Presidential elections in November 2020 will not only impact access to safe services within the country but have implications for most vulnerable and underserved communities around the world.  

In a year marked by the UN as one to celebrate and chart progress, 2020 is a reminder of how far the movement for gender equality has come, but also, how much remains to be achieved.


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