This post was originally written for and published by Progressive Women, a feminist organisation that strives towards achieving equality between women and men in society and politics. It was co-founded by Caroline Watson in March 2009 and can be found at http://www.progressivewomen.org.uk/
At the pro-public meeting in Parliament on May 16th, Diane Abbott MP outlined a 6-point plan that UK anti-abortion groups have imported directly from their more successful and experienced US partners. These organisations are purposefully making flagrant claims about abortion as scaremongering, to raise anxiety around the issue of abortion in public life, which they hope will cause enough of a hoo-ha to affect decisions taken in Parliament. And sadly, it’s working.
There are 3 national groups that consciously lie about abortion in our schools – The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Lovewise and Life. Their claims: sex education leads to a rise in STIs and abortion causes breast cancer, infertility and mental health problems. They cite a rise in suicide through an (imaginary) condition called ‘Post-Abortion Syndrome’. Groups have even used a disproved example of a girl who died after having an abortion for maximum emotional impact. Others, such as 40 Days for Life, target abortion providers and not only disrupt their daily proceedings, but also raise questions around their trustworthiness and legitimacy. There have already been curbside vigils outside clinics in 50 cities in the UK. They verbally harass employees and women accessing the service with bogus claims. Wielding graphic photos, they even film them. There have also been 1000s of hacking attempts to steal private information about women seeking advice on abortion. But why, apart from the obvious, is this so concerning?
Well, there are anti-abortionists within the government using this opportune moment to exert influence. We have seen spot-checks on abortion providers on the basis of anti-abortionists’ (unsubstantiated) suspicions of foul play, leaving 500 scheduled checks of care homes postponed. We have seen a misinformed Telegraph smear campaign against abortion providers and a special consultation group on abortion, spearheaded by Nadine Dorries MP, pushing for the pro-lifers’ views to legitimised in Parliament. It goes on.
No evidence of wrongdoing has been found on the part of abortion providers, and yet the anti-abortion groups are being vindicated. They have created distress and confusion. Now, Dorries’ consultation group wants women seeking advice on abortion to be pointed to independent advisers. If this were to happen, we would see many counsellors under the guise of impartiality pushing a pro-life agenda on women seeking advice. And you can bet there’d be some ‘helpful’ pictures of aborted foetuses knocking about.
Abortion providers are already providing the advice and support a woman needs – with accurate facts and proportionate representation of health risks. Because being pro-choice and saying ‘whatever you decide is right’ is not ideological. Claiming that all abortion is murder, whether the woman is a victim of incest or simply isn’t ready – now that is ideological. Pro-lifers have a vested interest in making a woman choose to keep a child. Abortion providers have no interest either way, as long as the woman is informed; they do not gain anything from performing more or fewer abortions. And let me be quick to state that whatever the women’s reasons are, they’re legitimate. And however many abortions are needed a year in Britain is the right amount, and the amount we must provide, a point made by Natalie Bennett at the pro-choice meeting. The right to choose is held up in the laws of the land, which we must protect.
So what can we do to prevent further impactful threats to a woman’s right to choose? Firstly, as Kat Banyard and Zoe Williams point out, we must talk about abortion more openly, to lift the cloak of shame being used as a weapon against protecting it. We must not view all abortion as a tragedy. Each individual experiences abortion differently. Some suffer post-traumatic stress disorder related to the way they became pregnant (such as having been raped). Others return to normal life unfazed and without regret. And of course, there is a spectrum in between. But we should celebrate that women have autonomy over their bodies and make room for more discourse where women can admit to abortion without fear of judgment – and crucially, without using the language of guilt. The right to abortion was a hard-won gain. For the working class, who couldn’t afford any quality of life for unplanned children, it’s a blessing. To choose if and when to have children is key in allowing women to live the life they want. We need to show our MPs this is an issue we care about and we’re taking note of the questions they raise and answer in Parliament. But most of all, we should set our own agenda of activism to counter these groups.
Life gets £4 million a year in fundraising, whereas Abortion Rights gets £40,000. We need to fundraise in order to mobilise, and we need to mobilise on the offensive, not on the back foot or on the defensive, worrying that abortion is too tender an issue to raise. Although the Lib Dems are largely opposing Dorries’ reforms, all three of the main parties all have no official line on abortion. Really?
Let’s stand up and say ‘yes, it’s okay to have an abortion’. Let’s say that abortion is not a choice to make on someone else’s behalf. Should someone wish to access a legal medical service, they can do so and should be able to do so without illegal harassment and blatant lies. Why isn’t our government making a fuss about this illegal activity? Why are they letting Dorries’ misinformation affect their decisions? We have to make them aware we care. We have to take action against these pernicious groups that want to drag us into the days of backstreet abortions, reduce the time a woman has to make an informed decision, take away her access to accurate information and ultimately, take away her choice and autonomy over her body. Let’s make a fuss!
- Pro-choice meeting blog report by Education For Choice (educationforchoice.blogspot.co.uk)
- Packed House for Pro-Choice Parliamentary Meeting (abortionrights.org.uk)
- The compassionate case for legal abortion (newstatesman.com)
- Nadine Dorries and her abortion flip-flops (liberalconspiracy.org)
- The new, old war on abortion | guest post by Liz Lutgendorff @sillypunk (guardian.co.uk)
- Abortion clinic protests raise fears over doctors’ safety (guardian.co.uk)