Firstly, I want to openly apologise for my own part in being so vocal as part of the Pro-Choice group outside St Mary’s Hospital on Saturday. I was emotional and desperate not to let women visiting the BPAS clinic inside or those recovering from termination hear the amplified prayers and hymns of the religious Pro-Life group. The sheer volume of our group over theirs was simply down to us outnumbering them by at least 2 to 1. In hindsight, I wish we had remained quiet, certainly I believe that is the plan for the candlelight vigil that is planned for Sunday, November 5th – if you are interested in supporting women’s rights to choice, and to legal, safe abortion, please join us – you can find the event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/240654743125129/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D
Now to the main point of this post. I’ll try to make this ordered, as I’ve had several attempts at organising my thoughts and failed repeatedly to achieve any level of eloquence, so I will tackle first some of the issues via accusations thrown by pro-life protestors:
Pro-choice is a euphemism for pro abortion
No. Pro-abortion would equate to pro-choice supporters standing outside maternity clinics promoting abortion to women seeking maternity care during pregnancy.
I don’t believe that any woman, or man for that matter, is pro abortion unless it becomes necessary.
Pro-choice supporters are a mob/the great unwashed/only there to harrass
I am proud to have been among many women who I can call friends. Many of us are mothers. Many of us are university educated, some of us with multiple degrees. Some of us are successful local independent business owners. Some of us are birth workers, some midwives. Some of us had children present, who smiled and moved freely among a friendly community who hold them in love, innocent, fearless and cherished. Some of us have had abortions. Some of us have had miscarriages. Some of us were men. Some of us believe in God. Some of us don’t. Some of us pray. Some of us don’t. We are a diverse group. What binds us together is a belief in CHOICE.
Ours was not a mob. We did not approach any one, we only moved to obstruct their path to hospital grounds and the BPAS clinic entrance. We moved to prevent a man in fake monastic robes accompanied by another man with a video camera from entering the clinic.
I witnessed a middle-aged man in the pro-life group threaten a woman from the pro-choice supporters, she was in her seventies. She pushed a sharp pointed leaf away to stop it sticking into his leg, inadvertently brushing his trouser leg as she did so. His response? To wheel around and shout “You assaulted me and I will knock you down” and when she apologised for causing any discomfort, he threatened to report her to the police. When I intervened and said I had seen what happened, that it wasn’t assault, that he had threatened her with physical violence, he told me and her that he would be reporting us to the police as he pushed other pro-choice supporters out of his way as he stormed off.
One pro-life campaigner, a young woman, was kneeling alone among us, separated from those she had arrived with. At first I believed she had made a conscious choice to kneel among us as she prayed. But I became increasingly concerned that she was feeling intimidated, and so I spoke to her gently. I asked if she wanted to be alone or if she would prefer to be with her own group. She replied that she was never alone, and I was touched by her faith, as I always am when someone has the conviction of beliefs. I said I understood that she was not alone, but nonetheless would she prefer to be in with her group of people rather than encircled by strangers and she did want to move, so I asked other pro-choice supporters to let her through and she was able to move, unmolested, peacefully to rejoin the group she arrived with.
Tell me, which of those scenarios involved harrassment?
Pro-choice ignores the fatality of termination for the embryo/foetus
It does not.
Pro-life campaigns argue that it is wrong to take a life and yet banning abortion would lead in many cases to the loss of women’s lives, the embryos/foetuses to be lost with them.
Arguing that it is wrong to take a life whilst being prepared to stand by and watch as a woman, for example, develops fatal sepsis – letting care givers and family members see her suffer to birth a stillborn pre-term child before losing her own life; where is the valuing of life in that? Two lives lost, not one. Many lives affected: a man widowed, a mother watching her daughter die needlessly, siblings losing their sister, friends mourning an avoidable tragedy.
What about dragging a 14 year old through court to decide if she can travel to receive treatement to terminate a pregnancy that arose after being raped? Her adult rapist walks free. She is treated like a criminal as other adults debate whether she is to be spared the trauma of unwanted pregnancy after being violated, birthing whilst still a child herself.
What of adult women abused, raped and pregnant as a result? Should they be denied terminations? Imagine having to carry a baby and then raise a child that you are expected to love, whilst every moment you see the eyes and smile of the man who violated you in their face. Imagine being forced to carry a pregnancy to full term, and the pain of giving a child up for adoption because you cannot take the risk they will look like your abuser.
What about mothers who have been through such physically traumatic pregnancy & birth that they are told that ever trying to have another baby would kill them. Assume for a moment that they have done all they can to avoid pregnancy but something went wrong. Do you want to sign her death warrant by insisting that the potential life of the embryo overrides the life of a woman already raising children?
Women feel bad about abortion because they know it is wrong
Actually, women feel bad because in the vast majority of cases, they would rather not be terminating a pregnancy. I don’t know one woman who would choose to terminate a pregnancy unless she felt there was no other choice.
And now, I will just ramble a little about why I am pro-choice!
I am pro-choice because:
- making abortion illegal would not stop it happening: it would open up a backstreet market for unscrupulous, dangerous providers who would profit whilst endangering women’s lives, it would not save babies
- making abortion illegal would not stop it happening: it would see a return to desperate women harming themselves and suffering or dying as a result of trying to terminate a pregnancy themselves – can you imagine for one second the terror & pain that might drive you to try to insert a wire coat hanger into your own cervix? It would not save babies
- women are not incubators: those who become pregnant under horrific circumstances, or whose own life is at risk if the pregnancy continues, deserve to be treated as human beings, not discussed as a vessel without personality, emotion or conscience
- none of us know why the woman seeking a termination is doing so: she might be scared of being unable to raise a child, perhaps she has health issues that she knows will prevent her being the mother she would wish to be; her care givers may have told her that her own life/health is at serious risk if she continues with the pregnancy, and let’s assume for a moment she is already a loving mother and doesn’t wish to widow her husband and leave her children motherless; or scans and tests have confirmed that her developing embryo is so compromised that it is unlikely to survive pregnancy or birth – would you knowingly subject her to a pregnancy that she knows will end in stillbirth?
There is no winner in this debate. Make no mistake, abortion does not leave women unscathed. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind. At the same time, if you are unsure, I hope this might encourage you to come down on the pro-choice side. Women have been legally allowed to terminate pregnancy for 50 years. To remove that right, or to impose rules as in Ireland where a woman must apply to court and suffer public scrutiny over a private decision, would be an enormous backward step for women’s rights.
Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It means respecting a woman’s right to have control over her own body. It means respecting women as human beings, not treating them as incubators devoid of free-will or a right to their own life.
Pro-choice means not judging a woman. We don’t know her story, we don’t have to live her life.
And ultimately, I support the right of pro-life campaigners to have their own beliefs and opinions. They have every right to express those. They do not have the right to position themselves outside the very place where a woman is seeking support or treatment. One pro-lifer suggested that they simply wait to be approached and then offer help and alternatives. I’ve not heard one woman say they felt supported by the presence of these religious zealots. And they do approach women and others. And they pray and wave rosaries at people walking into the clinic. It is intimidation. It is harassment. To position yourself in opposition, outside the clinic is not helpful.
Campaign elsewhere, there will be more respect for your methods and you are more likely to be heard. Dress as yourself, and unless you are a monk or a nun, leave your robes at home.
We will still counter-protest.
Our bodies, our choice. We stand together, united. We will never be defeated. Pro choice.