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Lib Dem manifesto 2024 pledges to enforce abortion buffer zones, assisted suicide vote and may make extreme changes to abortion laws

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The different stages of fetal development.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics, ensure there is time for a vote on assisted suicide alongside appearing to support making extreme changes to abortion legislation.

In the party’s manifesto, they pledged to “[p]rotect everyone’s right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state and ensure access to high-quality reproductive healthcare”.

Section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act allows abortion on mental health grounds. This is liberally interpreted by abortion providers to allow de facto abortion on demand –¬†98%¬†of abortions performed in 2022 were on mental health grounds.

Abortions under Section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act are restricted to 24 weeks gestation. After 24 weeks, abortions are only allowed in limited circumstances.

This means that abortion is essentially restricted by the “state” after 24 weeks gestation, and restricted before 24 weeks by a number of other other restrictions provided by current abortion legislation in England and Wales.

In their party manifesto, the Liberal Democrats pledge to “[p]rotect everyone’s right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state”.

If the reference to reproductive health includes access to abortion, to realise their pledge for everyone “to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state”, current abortion restrictions, such as the 24 week time limit or the grounds-based restrictions in current legislation which the Government has said¬†makes sex-selective abortion illegal, would need to be removed.

If these restrictions were removed, abortion would be available on demand, for any reason, up to birth.

Polling shows the vast majority of the public do not support introducing abortion up to birth or sex-selective abortion.

Polling undertaken by ComRes, who have undertaken polls for the BBC, ITV, The Independent and Sky News, shows that only 1% of women support introducing abortion up to birth and 70% of women would support a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below. Ninety-one per cent of women also oppose sex-selective abortion.

The same polling showed 65% of Liberal Democrat voters were in favour of a reduction in the abortion time limit to 20 weeks or below.

Enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics

In the manifesto, they have also pledged to enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics and hospitals.

This manifesto commitment comes in the wake of legislation, passed in April last year, which makes it a criminal offence to “influence” any person seeking to access abortion services within 150m of an abortion clinic. MPs failed to pass an amendment¬†to this legislation that would have explicitly protected from prosecution those engaged in praying within their own mind and those offering help and information about abortion.

Apart from the passing of this national buffer zone legislation, which has yet to be implemented, there have been a number of instances in which individuals have been charged for silently praying near abortion clinics in the UK under local Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).

At the same time as restricting offers of help to women outside abortion clinics, the Liberal Democrats have also pledged to double statutory maternity and shared parental leave, as well as “[e]nsure that all parents can access childcare that is flexible, affordable and fair”.

The party has also pledged to remove the two child benefit cap which currently limits¬†certain state benefits to a woman’s first two children.

In 2020, a survey found¬†that 59% of respondents said that their abortion decision was influenced by the two-child benefit cap. Of those in receipt of tax credits or universal credit, and therefore most likely to be affected by the two-child benefit cap, 57% “said that the policy was important in their decision-making around whether or not to continue the pregnancy”.

A vote on assisted suicide

Alongside the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, the Liberal Democrats have also pledged to have a free vote on assisted suicide. However, they have also made a commitment to cut suicide rates by focusing on suicide prevention and improving training for NHS staff.

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has consistently voted against pro-life legislation. In the last five years, he has voted to force abortion on Northern Ireland, introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics aiming to prevent silent prayer and offers of help, and voted to make at-home abortion legal, where there is no requirement for a face-to-face appointment with a medical professional prior to an abortion, a permanent feature of the law in England.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said “There were a record 252,122 abortions in England and Wales in 2022, but the Liberal Democrats determined that no woman is offered help to consider an alternative to abortion outside an abortion clinic.

“By pledging to ‘protect everyone’s right to make independent decisions over their reproductive health without interference by the state’, the party also appears to be calling for the removal of abortion restrictions set out in our current abortion legislation, which would include our 24-week time limit. If these restrictions were removed, abortion would be available on demand, for any reason, up to birth.

Polling shows¬†the vast majority of the public do not support introducing abortion up to birth or sex-selective abortion. Only 1% of women want the abortion time limit to be increased right through to birth and 91% of women also oppose sex-selective abortion”.

“If the LibDems did make this change to the law, we would be left with the most extreme abortion laws in the world. The change would further position England and Wales drastically away from most countries in the European Union, where the most common abortion time limit among EU countries is 12 weeks.

“Without a hint of irony, the Liberal Democrats are also pushing for a vote on assisted suicide making it more likely that the practice will become legal, and also pledging to reduce suicide in general. Assisted suicide is a kind of suicide though and should not be part of the party’s manifesto”.

© Right to Life UK





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