"Quicker than a consultation at the hairdressers": abortion and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008

Sarah Childs*, Elizabeth Evans, Paul Webb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


During the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, 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 analyzing 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 different 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 center 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-134
Number of pages16
JournalNew Genetics and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


  • abortion
  • UK Parliament
  • representation
  • gender
  • legislative analysis
  • political parties
  • Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008


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