Portrait shot of Jade Stein. She wears a black jumper with necklace and has red hair tied in a bun on top of her head.

Humanist Society interview series: Jade Stein of Engender on decriminalising abortion

October 10, 2023

We like to use our Humanist Society interview series to introduce some of the vital progressive causes our allies and peers are working on. Decriminalising abortion is the next big fight for the reproductive rights movement in Scotland. It’s one of the themes we’ll be exploring during our annual conference on 27 October (book your spot here.)

Lots of our readers might think that abortion is already decriminalised in Britain but that’s not actually true. We spoke to Jade Stein from Engender about what needs to change to give women full legal access to abortion across our country.

Can you introduce yourself and explain your role at Engender?

My name is Jade Stein and I’m the Communications & Engagement Manager at Engender. We work to dismantle structural sexism to increase women’s social, political and economic equality and enable women’s rights. Our approach is rooted in intersectional, inclusive feminism. We recognise that women who are marginalised due to factors such as racism or discrimination around disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, face barriers to gender equality that other women don’t.

Abortion is still regulated by the criminal justice system in Scotland. Two doctors have to authorise a woman’s request for an abortion. Without this permission, abortion is illegal.

Jade Stein, Engender

Why are you campaigning to decriminalise abortion?

Women’s reproductive rights include the freedom to decide if and when to have children and the right to high standards of sexual and reproductive health. But women in Scotland currently have no legal right to end a pregnancy. The current legal system is a relic of a time when women’s rights were not recognised or upheld as they are now. This acts as a drag on services and a barrier to timely access. It’s simply not acceptable for what is effectively routine healthcare.

Access to quality health services is a particular issue for disabled women, Black and minority ethnic women, trans women, women in rural communities, women with insecure immigration status, and others. It’s crucial that abortion is fully decriminalised and can be accessed by all.

The 1967 Abortion Act did not decriminalise abortion. It simply provided a strict set of criteria under which the procedure is permissible. These criteria are not human rights-based or medically justified.

Jade Stein

Some people believe that abortion is already effectively decriminalised in Scotland. Can you respond to that point?

Abortion remains regulated by the criminal justice system. Two doctors have to authorise a woman’s request for an abortion. Without this permission, abortion is still illegal in Scotland, and across Britain as a whole. Both women and healthcare providers can still be subject to prosecution under the Abortion Act 1967. This is in contrast with almost all other European countries.

The 1967 Abortion Act did not decriminalise abortion. It simply provided a strict set of criteria under which the procedure is permissible. These criteria are not human rights-based or medically justified. They add additional, unnecessary levels of state interference in women’s decision-making and create a threat of criminal sanction. Abortion policy is out of step with evolving human rights norms, and women’s reproductive health is subject to exceptional restrictions.

We are looking forward to long-overdue progress in this area, but we need to see decisive action from Scottish Government.

Jade Stein

What is the plan for the decriminalisation campaign, and what has been the response so far?

Back in June we wrote to the First Minister on abortion rights alongside 17 other equalities, abortion, and health organisations. In the letter, we welcomed the commitments made on the leadership campaign trail and called for the creation of an expert working group on decriminalising abortion. We were delighted that this suggestion was accepted by Scottish Government.

We are also pleased to see confirmation of Humza Yousaf’s commitment to undertake a review of abortion law set out in this year’s Programme for Government. We are looking forward to long-overdue progress in this area, but we need to see decisive action from Scottish Government. This is particularly true if we are to see proposals brought forward in this parliamentary term.

How can people get more involved in the campaign?

You can sign up to follow us online and receive our weekly “Feminist Friday Five” newsletter to keep up with the latest and get involved (just scroll down to the bottom of our homepage). We’d also highly recommend supporting our sisters at Abortion Rights Scotland and the vital work they do.

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