abortion in the UK

Abortion is a question of morality. Which has the greater moral value – the social and psychological impact of a child unborn and mothers having to leave with themselves after the fact, or the inherent right of women to have complete decision-making autonomy over their own bodies?

This is a discussion that cannot be settled anytime soon. Boil it down to the context of a certain problem and its corresponding solution. Therefore the most important question becomes: Just how easy is it to get an abortion in the UK? Is it even legal?

The answer is yes. But also no.

It is somewhat expedient. But sometimes you can still get arrested for it.

The reason, as always, is from the intersection of UK laws generally seeking to help the greatest number of people but also as a relic of an older, much less informed sociopolitical era. The more you lean on existing regulations, the more it just tends to do the opposite of what it was originally intended to do.

 

UK Abortion Laws

Abortion is legal under certain conditions in the UK (but not in Northern Ireland) based on the Abortion Act of 1967, at its time one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe.

Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act goes thus:

Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated

(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The way the law is written, if the abortion is conducted by an unlicensed practitioner without the support of two other medical practitioners, it will by default be a crime.

This means that if a woman seeks an abortifacient on her own, even if the pregnancy is still at a very early stage, may find herself unlawfully liable to the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. Those who assist in her procurement of tools and drugs would also be indictable.

 

Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

The relevant sections go thus:

  1. 58. Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whosoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman whether she be or be not with child … shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude for life …
  2. Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude . . .

The Abortion Act of 1967 largely papers over the conditions of the Offenses against the Person Act of 1861. A hundred years separate these laws. How do they hold up against modern conventions on Human Rights and queries about pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest?

The answer: They don’t.

Westminster’s needed to bounce this hot potato as either a health issue or a human right issue. Advocacy groups whether pro-choice or pro-life both claim to protect the mother. Even those who object to abortions on ethical or religious grounds want to resolve the issue via discouraging abortion as an option instead of punishing those who seek it.

 

Why Legal Abortion?

Through the 19th to the first half of the 21st century, laws were in place to limit access to legal abortion. None of these, of course, prevented unwanted pregnancies or the need for abortions. Thousands of women had no recourse but to rely on dubious abortionists, risking death or permanent infertility. Many women died of infection in back-street clinics.

Abortifacents disguised as menstrual cures were sold – most of them were ineffective or outright poisonous. Some of them were even based on lead, which if not poisoning and blinding the mother would have caused mental damage to the child that survived.

The landmark case for abortion rights was the trial of Dr. Alex Bourne in 1938, who argued that abortion should be legal in exceptional circumstances, and he admitted to having performed an abortion for a 14-year old girl who was gang-raped and now was suicidal after her ordeal.

He was acquitted on the note that when the mother’s physical and mental health was in danger it was permissible to do so. However a psychiatrist’s permission was still required so it was only relatively well educated or wealthy women who could find or pay for a favorable psychiatrist.

Safe access to abortion would prevent more women from putting themselves in more life-threatening situations. Legalization of abortion access was therefore a public health measure, as the crime of preying upon desperate women with unsafe practices is worse than the act of seeking abortion in the first place.

 

Parents, Young Mothers and Abortion Law

Abortion is not so much a concern anymore for adults who can approach the issue from multiple vectors, for those that are the victims of sexual assault, or those diagnosed with a congenital defect in the fetus. The modern medical system is tailored to deal with those who use reason as a motive for abortion.

Largely the moral panic about abortion is how it will affect young teens who become unprepared very young mothers and the social acceptability of promiscuity in the youth. Fear and disgust drives the engine for both sides of the argument.

It is argued that parents should retain legal rights to be informed before their child who is a minor may request an abortion from the NHS.

It is argued that a minor who is pregnant from rape might be allowed to travel to have an abortion against the express wish of her parents.

It is argued that parents who attempt to aid their children with something like buying pills online should not run afoul of 100-year-old law whose provisions have already be redefined in all other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is argued that unborn children have rights that must be upheld too.

It is argued that being an underaged mother is a clear danger to a young woman’s mental and financial health.

It is argued that the health risks of abortion is unacceptable.

It is argued that the health risks of underage child delivery is unacceptable.

It is argued that prevention is better than the cure.

It is argued that a safe public cure is better than a secretive illegal cure.

 

A Deeper Struggle

But unfortunately most of all it has become a political issue. Northern Ireland is currently in review about whether its abortion laws represent a failure to abide by European consensus of human rights. But if that is so, what about Republic of Ireland?

If it passes, it would now be much easier to travel to have an abortion on the Isle, and in sense it represents an attack on their values.

Female body autonomy unfortunately has become a rallying symbol for unspoken other fears about social autonomy and political self-consistency. Many parents don’t feel like their own opinions should be discarded about the life of their own children who still live with them. Others still feel that the UK should be careful about unintended consequences specially after their mess of a vote back in 2016.

Pro-choice and pro-life represent equal but conflicting moral platforms that unfortunately paints the other side as ‘bad people’.

But perhaps the worst part is that the law as written is an either-or rule between external authority vs internal self-rule for a woman’s own body; parents vs children; murder vs suicide; self-help vs government clinics – very little compromise in between.

divorce law myths

There’s no getting around people who seem to think they know everything they need to know about divorce. Unfortunately, beliefs are not always reality and some people could end up stepping into something they are not prepared for.

So, let’s look at some of the leading myths that circle around divorce…

Your Spouse Must Agree To Divorce

Although it’s always easier if you both agree to a divorce, you do not need your spouse’s consent to move forward. If the petition shows that the marriage is falling apart because of your spouse’s love affair, you do not need them to agree to the divorce. All you need to do is let the court know that your spouse has been served with the petition. No doubt, in a perfect world, it would be great if the two of you could sit down and work out the details but in many cases, that’s just not going to happen.

divorce agreement

You Will Be Responsible For The Costs

That’s not necessarily true. If you issue a petition that states your spouse has been having an affair or another behaviour, you can request they pay your costs.

A 2-Year Separation Will Allow the Petition To Go Through Much More Quickly

The procedure for divorce is the same and will take the same amount of time regardless of facts that might show the marriage has completely and totally fallen apart. If you choose to wait until the two of you have been separated for 2 years or more, you must wait until those 2 years have passed. Everything else, after that period of time, will be the same including the entire process and the time frame.

getting divorced

A Divorce Will Stop All Financial Responsibilities Between Both Of You

Again, this is just not true. A divorce will not stop all financial claims brought on the other. It is highly advised you seek legal counsel to understand the ramifications of being divorced without a financial agreement firmly in place.

The Decree Nisi Is The Final Degree For Divorces

First, a decree nisi (or rule nisi) is a court order that does not have any power unless certain conditions are met. Once the conditions are met, the ruling becomes a rule absolute and is binding. There are people who fling divorce nisi around believing they are now divorced. Again, wrong! This decree is only a step halfway through the entire process. After, literally, one year and 6 weeks from the declaration of the decree nisi will the decree absolute be put in place. The decree absolute is the final decree for a divorce. For more info on this get in touch with a good family and divorce solicitor.

divorce solicitors

You Can Issue A Petition Based On Irreconcilable Differences

Currently, this country only has a full-based system. The exception might be if you both agree to a divorce and have lived apart for 2 years or more. The courts, at this time, do not recognise no-fault divorces like some other countries and some argue that this is outdated and designed to make couples suffer.

 

Chess board with people on depicting employment strategy

You can tell the employment crunch is starting to hit when the BBC is starting to propagandize the benefits of a summer job to youths. But does this mean it’s going to be an employee’s market or will the knock-on effects of Brexit give employers even more influence over their diminishing pool of workers as everyone tries whatever it takes to retain profitability?

Here are some new changes to UK Employment Law and company practices that might impact just how you’re entering the workforce this year.

EU General Protection Regulation (GDPR)

While the UK has the intent to leave the EU, the government has also stated that they will broadly comply with the regulations under their implementation as the Data Protection Act 2018. While for most people this will seem only relevant in an extra info window they have to click through when browsing the Internet, for employers and Human Resources it has significant obligations.

Employees must be notified of detailed information regarding how the company controls their sensitive personal information and any monitoring of their behavior and interests. New documentation will have to be provided explicitly noting how data is gathered, how long the personal data will be stored, and if it will be transferred to other countries. It must show that sensitive information is handled with appropriate security, and informing employees that they always have the right to request access to their own data and to have said data deleted or corrected in specific circumstances.

There are supposed to be stronger legal protections for information that identify someone’s race or ethnic background, political opinions, religious beliefs, genetics, health, sex life or orientation, or membership in a trade union. What people choose to reveal about themselves is their own business, but a company must protect said collected sensitive information. There are severe penalties for data breaches and improper use of employee information.

A Data Protection Officer should be appointed to deal specifically with these concerns.
In summary, the UK Data Protection act does two things:

1) Employers must take extra care to protect the data that they collect and explicitly state to their employees what sort of data they are collecting,
2) Employers can generally no longer rely on broad consent terms in their contracts. Consent may be withdrawn at any time.

 

National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage

More obvious are the changes to the minimum wage that employees may expect depending on their age. This will take effect in April and is expected to help at least two million employees.

• For workers aged 25 and over, paid hours change from £7.50 to £7.83
• For workers aged 21 to 24 years old, paid hours change from £7.05 to £7.38
• For workers aged 18 to 20 years old, paid hours change from £5.60 to £5.90
• For workers aged 16 to 17 years old, paid hours change from £4.05 to £4.20
• For apprentices aged under 19 or in the first year of their apprenticeship, paid hours change from £3.50 to £3.70

Companies that pay less than minimum wage will be fined and named in the annual list of shame. Even such high street companies like Wagamama and TGI Fridays, along with hotel chain Marriott’s were found to leave employees underpaid.

Increase in Statutory Payments

Employees are allowed some paid time off for sickness or to have children. Similar to the above, the government has announced increases to the statutory benefit payments applicable April 2018.

• Statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental pay and maternity allowance will increase from £140.98 to £145.18 a week.
• Statutory sick pay will increase from £89.35 to £95.05 a week.
• In addition, the maximum amount used to calculate statutory redundancy payments will increase from £489 per week to £508 per week.

Payments After Being Dismissed from Work

While certain policies make it more attractive for employees, it is inevitable that there are many who will lose jobs in the new economic climate. There are also new laws that deal with this issue.

• As previously mentioned, statutory redundancy payments for jobs that will no longer exist in the company will increase and continue to remain tax-free. But all termination of employment on or after April 2018 will have all notice pay treated as earnings and will be subject to tax and national insurance contributions.
• Employers will be liable to pay national insurance contributions on termination payments above £30,000 (Class 1A NIC, Employer’s Liability Only).
• The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal has also increased from £80, 541 to £83, 682, as long as the effective date of termination is on or after April 6, 2018.

Increase in Minimum Contributions for Pension Schemes

But it’s not all money going down. It’s a unpleasant surprise to millions in auto-enrolment pensions to find that their minimum contributions will increase from 1% to 3% of their income. It’s not all good news for their employers either, as they must increase from their 1 to 2%. This, what used to be 1% + 1% or 2% minimum becomes 2% + 3% for a total of 5% minimums.

This takes effect on April 6 2018. However, expect more to come in April 2019, for then the employer’s contributions will increase to 3%, while the employee must pay our 5% from their own pocket, for a minimum contribution of 8% of their income.

 

Gender Pay Gap Reporting

2018 is the deadline for the Gender Pay Gap Reporting required for all companies. Some companies, including Apple or the Conservative Party even state that their gender pay gap is in favor towards women. This is an issue complicated by the difference between the median and the mean in gender pay gap reporting.

The or mean, is the wages of all employees divided by the number of employees. The median is the figure that stands in the middle when all employee wages are ranked from highest to the lowest. The results are enlightening.

While this has no direct effect yet, this transparency may influence workplace culture in the future and help in negotiating for your entry wages.

Employment Restrictions on Illegal Workers

Penalties for employing illegal workers can range from light to severe, up to unlimited fines or even 5 years of jail time.

To further disincentivize the employment of illegal workers, employers will henceforth be unable to claim Employment Allowance for at least one year if they ever hired an illegal worker, been penalized by the Home Office, and have already used up all appeal rights against said penalty.

In the wake of the Brexit confusion, employers have a duty to check that their existing employees retain a Right to Work and for employees to make sure their paperwork is filed well in advance. The EU Settlement Scheme is designed to be as easy as possible but less smooth in practice.

Employers should be mindful not to be too quick to take the option of dismissal however, because individuals should have the rights of appeal against their dismissal, as in the case of Afza vs East London Pizza.

Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill

One thing to really pay attention to is this bill, which is expected to amend the very definition of the worker; to make provisions of worker’s rights, and all connected purposes therein. This is very important to know when workers can be classified as employees instead of self-employed.

All workers including zero hour and causal workers could receive basic rights, payslips, and terms of conditions of employment from day one. Already one of the landmark cases in the push back against the gig economy, the tribunal has ruled that Hermes couriers are workers, not self-employed independent contractors, and thus were due minimum wage, holiday pay, and back pay for unlawful deductions to their salary.

 

Conclusions

For employers and employees the most significant are the laws specifying changes minimum wage, in taxation and contributions. These have the most immediate impact on income and profitability. However, perhaps the two most important employment legislation in 2018 are regards:

1) Employment Status of Workers
2) Gender Pay Gap

Sure there’s the whole Brexit situation to worry everyone, but these two have the largest long-term influence in the way we work. It is difficult to estimate with accuracy the number of people in zero-hour contracts. Figures gathered by the Labor Force Survey and Business Survey show between 900,000 to 1.8 million.

About 18% of those working in Zero-Hour Contracts are in education, showing how the flexibility of such contracts may be a benefit to students. However, approximately 4% of working adults are estimated to be working in the gig economy.

A change in the employment culture may in the short term mean less profits but pay off later in increased diligence and employee loyalty if independent contractual workers can have the right to negotiate for long-term employment after a span of time.

Meanwhile, the gender pay gap is a similar but distinctly its own issue from gender pay inequality or wage discrimination, which has already been set in the “equal work for equal pay” Equality Act 2010.

It can show how men earn more per hour than women or that the lowest paid workers in the company are mainly female while the highest paid are mainly men. The Gender Pay Gap reporting ensures that companies can no longer hide behind opaque pay records and so face the question ‘Why does this pay gap exist and what can we do about it?’

There have been many attempts to explain why the gender pay gap happens almost everywhere, from differences in energy and willingness to sacrifice personal time, to even the pay difference essentially being a penalty for childbearing.

While others may be well-meaning, for the most part their employees and management might not even be aware about the situation in their own company. As a worker, it would also be useful to know in which industries you will find yourself being paid less. Finance, for example, has shown to be a highly-divergent field in the UK. However, contrary to expectations, for many, finding out the gap existed in fields in which they were already unrepresented was not really discouraging further participation.

“The message we got back [from women] was that they were not surprised by the gender pay gap in tech, that it wouldn’t affect them wanting to work in tech, so long as the company was open about it and taking action,” said Sarah Kaiser, Emea diversity and inclusion lead at Fujitsu.

This is why the Gender Pay Gap Reporting and Defining Worker Status new laws are so useful. By confronting the issue directly, it can encourage further participation by new young workers, and could blunt whatever adverse effects on the workforce caused by Brexit.