WE live in a society that offers little support to parents, where financial insecurity and skyrocketing childcare costs create an uphill battle. Unfortunately, this is the environment that parents in the UK often find themselves navigating.

From inadequate childcare provisions to soaring housing costs and diminishing social security benefits, the system places immense strain on families. As a result, parents – especially mothers – are left grappling with the daunting task of balancing work, caregiving, family finances, and their own wellbeing.

The rhetoric of family values rings hollow in the face of a system that fails to provide the necessary support and resources.

This is why it makes my blood boil that the UK persistently criminalises women for asserting their bodily autonomy. Outdated abortion laws continue to cast a shadow of judgement and punishment upon women who make deeply personal decisions about their reproductive health.

READ MORE: Pro-choice activists react after woman jailed for illegal abortion

By treating women as criminals rather than autonomous individuals capable of making choices about their own bodies, the legal system perpetuates gender inequality and denies women the right to control their own destinies.

The decision to terminate a pregnancy is a complex and deeply personal one, often made under difficult circumstances. In the UK, abortion remains shrouded in myths and misconceptions – one of them consists of saying that this country is a “safe haven” for abortion rights and women’s bodily autonomy.

But the reality is starkly different, as women seeking to make choices about their own bodies can face legal repercussions and the threat of prison. Recent cases have shed light on the alarming reality of abortion laws in the UK, as women are sentenced under archaic provisions dating back to the Victorian era.

This week, we witnessed the sentencing of a 44-year-old mother of three to 28 months in prison for obtaining abortion pills beyond the permitted time frame through the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). This being despite how the introduction of telemedical abortions during the Covid lockdowns aimed to provide safe access to terminations at home when physical visits to doctors were challenging.

This distressing story serves as a stark reminder of the consequences imposed by an outdated legal framework. Despite the woman’s genuine remorse and emotional trauma, she was subjected to imprisonment, sending a chilling message to women throughout the nation.

This is not an isolated case – it is just one of many stories that have captured media attention in recent years.

The Sunday Times featured the anonymous account of another woman who, last year, was sentenced to two years in prison for undergoing an illegal abortion. The Independent also highlighted the case of a 25-year-old woman from Oxford who was scheduled to go on trial after pleading not guilty to administering misoprostol, one of the pills commonly prescribed by doctors for terminating a pregnancy.

Under the Offences against the Person Act of 1861 – a law that is, remarkably, still in effect today despite dating back from a time when women were treated as second-class citizens with no right to vote – women can face life imprisonment for terminating a pregnancy outside the strict criteria outlined in the 1967 Abortion Act, often cited as the legislation that legalised abortion.

While the 1967 law did fulfil its aim of reducing the number of unsupervised abortions, it did not fully decriminalise the procedure or overturn existing abortion laws.

Instead, it established stringent criteria for permissible abortions, requiring two doctors to sign off on the procedure if continuing the pregnancy posed severe risks to the mother or child. Consequently, if the conditions outlined in the 1967 act are not met, women can still face prosecution for seeking an abortion. It remains a tangible threat.

And of course, restricted access to safe abortions compels some women to resort to extreme and perilous measures.

So all this begs the question: Why are we still burdened with this relic of a bygone era that treats women as criminals rather than individuals with agency?

The urgent need for reform cannot be overstated. It is incredible that these cases continue to occur in the 21st century. As a society, we must recognise the need for change to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are protected and that they can make decisions about their own bodies without fear of prosecution or punishment. It is crucial that we have a legal system that reflects the values of autonomy, compassion, and respect for women’s rights.

READ MORE: Social Justice Secretary clashes with Tory MSP over child poverty

The international community has called out the inadequacy of the UK’s abortion laws. They’re saying it loud and clear – the current legislation is a violation of women’s rights. The United Nations’ Human Rights Committee has criticised the UK, urging a rights-based approach that ensures access to safe and legal abortion services because it is a fundamental healthcare right and should be treated as such.

The hypocrisy of this system that limits our choices and punishes our autonomy at the same time is that it also makes life as difficult as possible for mothers. Take the two-child limit policy.

Implemented as a means to reduce the welfare bill by £1 billion annually, the limit imposes restrictions on parents claiming the child element in tax credits or universal credit for their third or subsequent children born after April 6, 2017. This policy results in a significant loss of benefits, amounting to £2900 per child per year.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) reported that more than half of the surveyed women who had an abortion during the pandemic and were aware of the

two-child limit stated that the policy was important in their decision-making process. Some women explained that the combination of economic and job insecurity triggered by the pandemic along with this cap effectively removed their choice to pregnancy, convincing them to end a pregnancy they would have wanted to keep under different financial circumstances. BPAS and other organisations have called for the immediate repeal of the two-child limit policy.

They argue that the policy forces families into impossible choices and contributes to child poverty. Yet more studies have shown that capped families are forced to cut back on essential items such as food, medication, heating, and clothing.

The issue of abortion has massive ramifications, including economic ones. Access to abortion and contraception allows women to pursue education, work, and progress in their careers.

Unwanted pregnancies and the costs associated with raising children have significant financial and opportunity costs for women, who still bear the majority of unpaid childcare. This is further exacerbated by the abysmal state of the childcare system, failing parents and children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Across the Atlantic, a seismic shift unfolded last year, shaking the foundations of reproductive rights in the United States with Roe v Wade being overturned. This watershed moment left many stunned, exposing the vulnerabilities of reproductive rights we thought were set in stone.

It serves as a stark reminder that yes, we still have to fight for this. Abortion is a matter of fundamental rights and individual freedoms, and women’s reproductive rights are integral to our well-being, autonomy, and equality in society.