The war on choice and how they’ll win if we aren’t ready

I’ve written rather a lot about abortion in the last few days, from highlighting that women’s minister Maria Miller is no friend to women, to a demand for a complete removal of the abortion time limit, to a polite suggestion that Jeremy Hunt eats one of his own testicles. The reason it’s been on my mind so much is because I’m scared. It feels like it’s coming to a head, and I can see the grim future screaming towards me. I see what will happen with terrifying clarity.

Of course none of the rest of them will back Jeremy Hunt and his 12 week limit, next to it, Maria Miller’s 20 weeks looks fucking reasonable, and the Prime Minister himself backs it. Already, the conversation is about how much the limit should be scaled back, not whether it should be scaled back at all. And they’ll sit and they’ll vote; perhaps a private member’s bill, perhaps an amendment to another bill, and they’ll say “oh, isn’t Hunt a bit extreme, but let’s compromise and take it back to 20 weeks”. And nobody will be particularly outraged, because it could be a lot worse, and we’ll turn a blind eye to the women who have suddenly found themselves without an option, while the anti-choice lobby rally around what is certainly a victory, and shout for more cutting. One of them will suggest banning it altogether–maybe Dorries, or one of her ilk. And they’ll vote again and cut it back some more. All the while, the religious extremists will rise–remember, they have already been acquitted of harassing women by a legal system that does not support us. And people will start dying, going to prison, getting desperate.

It is entirely possible. The anti-choice lobby now control the discourse, and every conversation about this is entirely on their terms. It shouldn’t be a matter for debate, but they’ve made it that way. We need to be aware of this and take back the power.

It is not enough to be reactive and hold the line. We need to be proactive.

We need to demand better access to abortion: abortion on request, rather than having to fulfil various criteria. The UK is one of the few EU countries that does not allow for this. At present, women have to jump through hoops to prove they cannot afford a child, or their health will be aversely affected, to not just one, but two doctors. They then face waiting time on the NHS. These barriers must be removed. “I want an abortion” should be enough.

Sometimes the anti-choicers point to EU countries that have 12 week limits as proof that we should cut the abortion time limit. They’re being disingenuous. What actually happens in most of these countries is the 12 week limit is for abortion on request. After this, in many cases, the law shifts to being like UK law.

The time limit argument itself is something of a trap. It centres around viability, which automatically forces us to talk on anti-choice terms. The focus is on the foetus, not on the woman. It allows them to frame this thing inside a woman’s body as a person. We shouldn’t engage on this level at all. At the very least, we must hold firm on the current limit: a simple, dismissive “the legal limit is based on scientific evidence”, and then refuse to rise to non-scientific stories of foetuses punching their way out of the uterus or something they heard somewhere about a baby that was born at five weeks of gestation and grew up to win the Nobel Prize.

Better still, demand the complete removal of the abortion time limit. As long as it’s inside a woman’s body, it can be aborted. Point out it’s unlikely to result in a rise in abortions, because the vast majority are conducted fairly early on anyway, but that the benefits to women would far outweigh any harms.

And when the religious extremists our out on the streets, we need to be prepared to help escort women safely into clinics to access abortion, to physically stand in front of the extremists so they cannot be seen or heard. We need to go to their churches and express our disgust at what they are doing and hope this spurs the rest of their community into disowning these views.

They have controlled the debate for far too long already, and we cannot let them gain any ground. Instead, let us take ground for ourselves. Let us fight for women and for bodily autonomy. It’s a battle we can win, as long as we have the will to fight it.

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9 responses to “The war on choice and how they’ll win if we aren’t ready

  • Korhomme (@Korhomme)

    David Steele’s 1967 Abortion Act did not decriminalise abortion; rather it permitted exceptions — “legal excuses” — for the aborters. Hence the need for women to go through various hoops — these are as much as anything to protect those who perform what would otherwise be an illegal procedure.

    I did hear, decades ago, of an English gynaecologist who performed an abortion, when it was illegal, and who was prosecuted. The patient was a 16 year old who had been raped and become pregnant. He was quite open about what he did. His defence was novel: the law said something like “it shall be illegal to perform an illegal abortion” and he argued that he had performed a “legal abortion”. The jury acquitted him. But this seems to have been forgotten — and I can’t find any references to it. (This may have happened in Eastbourne, with the trial in Lewes, but I’m really not sure.)

    So, asking for abortion on demand (up to say 12 weeks) is much more than a revision of the act — abortion would have to be completely decriminalised.

    Given that most MPs have very little idea of the functioning of women’s bodies (and most are men, anyway), and few show themselves willing to be educated, such a significant change seems little more than a pipe dream, at present.

    Despite your description of Jeremy Hunt’s orchidectomy, I cannot think of any male equivalent procedure to abortion. It’s something that directly affects only women (and men indirectly); it seems impertinent for men to discuss what women and and need — patriarchal.

    Disclaimer: I used to be a surgeon, and a very dilettante gynaecologist; images of aborted foetuses don’t faze me — but the garbage spouted by those opposed to it does, as does the garbage spouted by so many MPs.

    • Korhomme (@Korhomme)

      The case I referred to was R v Bourne. The abortion was at St Mary’s Hospital, London; Bourne was tried at the Old Bailey.

    • stavvers

      If the legal status is that complicated, that’s good news for not chipping stuff away; i.e. they’ll prefer to keep things the same rather than rewrite law to something better. Which, while not exactly the best outcome, is better than erosion.

      P.S. “dilettante gynaecologist” is the best combination of words I have ever seen.

  • mhairi

    There should be no time limit to ending a pregnancy. If doctors consider the foetus is viable, the pregnancy should be ended and the baby cared for once no longer a foetus.

  • the regina mom

    We’ve just been through the wringer here in Canada with an anti-choice MP’s Motion 312, an attempt to redefine when life begins. Fortunately, it was defeated. But it did have the support of more than 1/3 of the Conservative Cabinet and more than 1/2 of the Conservative government’s caucus. Our New Democratic Party stood tall and unanimous against it, led by the amazing Niki Ashton, the Critic for Women, and her predecessor, Francine Boivin, who heeded the call of the Canadian women’s community.

    Some had pooh-poohed us earlier, saying that we should worry about this, that it’s not a big deal, that’s there’s no need to organize. But I can tell you that when I watched that vote come down, I was grateful for all the work we’d done on the ground!

    And, as a result of this work, Ms Ashton was invited to attend the international Planned Parenthood Federation conference in Norway, to speak about young women and leadership. She turned 30 this year and is serving her second term as an MP.

    All this is to say, ORGANIZE! I’d thought this issue was done in 1989 with the Wilson decision. But no, it’s eternal vigilance on the matter of choice.

  • the regina mom

    Gah! …Some had pooh-poohed us earlier, saying that we should **not** worry…

  • EdinburghEye

    I wrote (at more length) that I think 24 weeks with right of intervention after that point if desired by the woman and deemed medically necessary by doctors, is a reasonable compromise.

    But given that the opposition are not one bit interested in “reasonable compromise” but only in having their way regardless, I think you’re right: the prochoice movement should fight back. No limits by law: no restrictions under 15 weeks: over 15 weeks, the only limit is what a woman can agree to with her medical advisors.

  • billy

    if i don’t want it in my body then i will remove it from my body. i will do so whether or not that is legal. either ensure it’s done safely, or allow women to die unnecessarily. i really like your suggestion that we go to their churches, stavvers, and protest them. let’s make a date and get on with it. they make me sick, and i am bored of us being reactive/passive about this. i’m angry and i want to confront these sleazy murderous hypocrites.

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