Review: Professor Wendy Savage's Discussion of Abortion Rights

Human Rights Watch takes a stance on that the denial of the right to make a decision regarding an abortion as a fundamental violation of various human rights. Moreover, they underscore the importance of health and safety and how it is correlated with access to safe abortions. On Tuesday, 28 November, Professor Wendy Savage came to St Andrews to discuss her work with women’s reproductive rights, and the history of abortion laws in the United Kingdom. In her talk, titled “What is wrong with the 1967 Abortion Act?”, she discussed the history and progress of abortion laws in the U.K. Prof. Savage is currently at the University of Middlesex, but was brought to St Andrews by Her Choice, a university society that aims to “raise funds for thousands of women who are unable to access abortion facilities and to raise awareness of their plight”. Her Choice was founded in February 2017, and this was their first major event since their foundation.

Dr. Savage is known around the world as a vanguard of women’s reproductive rights through her impressive career as a gynaecologist and activist. Dr. Savage studied medicine at Girton College, Cambridge, graduating in 1960. She was the first women consultant for obstetrics and gynaecology at London Hospital. She has worked around the world ever since, notably opening an abortion service in New Zealand before the “law was liberalised”. Following a high-profile inquiry in 1985, when Dr. Savage was accused of incompetence in management of the obstetrics post at London Hospital Medical College, she was reinstated in 1986 with all charges cleared. Particularly of interest to the evening’s audience is her work with Doctors for a Woman’s Choice, sometimes known as Doctors for Choice.

While the investigation was not long, it garnered plenty of attention to this day, but Dr. Savage is no novice to discord. She made headlines earlier this year when she said it was “outrageous” that some doctors withheld the gender of unborn babies due to fear of sex-selective abortions. This was met with outrage from some, arguing that she was ignoring the risks of telling parents who would abort the foetus based on gender. Dr. Savage held her ground, arguing that withholding information from mothers is an ethical mistake and that they have every right to that information, especially as they are the ones “taking the risks”. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service immediately supported Dr. Savage, noting that there is no evidence of sex-selective abortion in the UK.

Dr. Savage gave a lecture-style talk followed by an informal question and answer session. The event was attended by both pro-life and pro-choice students, adding a range of opinions and voices to an evening that could have become an echo-chamber. Dr. Savage was obviously very well versed in the history of reproductive rights in the U.K. and showed this with passion and clarity. Touching on the range of laws from Northern Ireland, England and Scotland, and the challenges posed to a woman requesting an abortion. Problems such as required confirmation by two doctors or mandatory locations for taking abortion pills, showed the complicated history still present in the world of reproductive rights and the debate over the right to a safe, accessible abortion. She concluded with steps that she recommended for all those in support of a woman’s right to an abortion.

One of the merits of the event was the attendance of members of the Students for Life group in St Andrews. James Castro, the secretary of the group, commented that “the speaker raised a number of interesting issues from her talk. However, the speaker seemed closed off from reflecting on whether the unborn child is a new human life. It is painful to see how far apart the two sides are in recognising that abortion also entails ending an innocent human life but, listening to the pro-choice side of the debate is important.” Seeing both groups interact and take part in discussion made the event that much more enriching.

Photography by Alanna Gow.

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