Quicker than a Consultation at the Hairdressers’ Abortion and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 2008

Childs, Sarah; Evans, Elizabeth and Webb, Paul. 2013. Quicker than a Consultation at the Hairdressers’ Abortion and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 2008. New Genetics and Society, 32(2), pp. 110-134. ISSN 1463-6778 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

During the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFEA) abortion amendments were debated in both Houses of Parliament. Analysis of the parliamentary divisions reveals that the majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs went through the progressive lobby while the majority of Conservatives voted for the more restrictive positions. Arguments for women’s descriptive representation which rest on substantive representation - those that link the presence of women representatives with policies that are ‘for women’ – appear, in this case seriously questioned, as party is found to trump sex. By analysing parliamentary debate contributions (participation and content) in addition to parliamentary votes, and in both Houses of the UK Parliament, this article reconsiders the role of the sex of our representatives. Not only do women over participate in the division lobbies and vote in a more liberal fashion than their male colleagues, debate contribution analysis suggests that women MPs’ and Peers’ interventions are substantively differently from men’s. Accordingly we maintain that whilst women’s absence from Parliament might not have affected the legislative outcome in 2008, their presence was critical to the way in which the issue of abortion was discussed. It is women representatives who centre women in debates about abortion, conceive of it in terms of women’s rights, and seek to protect women from reforms that would constrain their access to abortion and might force them to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

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Abortion; UK Parliament; Representation; Gender; Legislative analysis; Political parties;

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10 April 2013Accepted
1 November 2013Published

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Date Deposited:

05 Oct 2016 16:28

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 10:32

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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