PRO-CHOICE. Potential trigger warning,
For those who do not follow the pro-choice movement, the events of last week proved to be a bit of a shocker. And, rightly so. For those of us who do follow the pro-choice movement, Savita’s story is not such an anomaly. The biggest, most distinguishing factor about this tragedy is that this happened in Ireland, in a ‘developed country’, our neighbours, incredibly close to home. As one of my closest friends (who is Irish) said to me in an email earlier this week ‘I’m in shock and utter rage about what’s happened in Ireland. This is my country, it’s the first world and this happens?’
Abortion is a subject which warrants a dialogue and engagement not avoidance. Abortion is a social issue and abortion is a feminist issue. Acknowledgment, understanding, and awareness of abortion is vital if we are to break down the negative labeling associated with it. When it comes to personal experiences of abortion, why is it that women only disclose this information to their nearest and dearest and most trusted? Why is it that, in 2012, women do not feel confident enough to stand up and admit to being a woman who has had an abortion? My answer to this would be because of an unwarranted, widespread, and insidious judgment powered by silence, by shaming, by avoidance, and ignorance. Contrary to what the heavy regulations and controversy surrounding abortion suggest, it is a not scarcely performed medical procedure: in 2009, 21% of UK conceptions ended in abortion, yet women still feel the need to be silent about their experiences for fear of being judged or tarnished with a label which is not, and should never be, applicable to them. There are so many myths and negative connotations surrounding abortion that, for many women, speaking out about it is a daunting and frightening prospect.
So, here’s a bit of myth busting:
1. Abortion is faced by married women, by single women, by mothers with children, by women in long-term relationships. Statistics show that approximately one in three women in the UK will have an abortion in her lifetime. ONE IN THREE.
2. Abortions occur at all reproduction life stages: 9% of abortions are for girls under 18; 41% ages 18-24; 36% ages 25-34; and 14% age 35+.
4. Abortion is very safe in Britain. It is one of the most commonly performed gynaecological procedures.
4. Internationally, each year, 20 million abortions take place in unsafe, unhygienic, and downright grotty conditions. Because of this an estimated 80,000 women die.
(stats taken from www.dh.gov.uk and www.statistics.gov.uk)
Why is this still a taboo subject? Why is this still something which society teaches us to be ashamed of or be made guilty for doing? Why is this still an issue which is subject to restrictive, and down right shaming, legislation which makes women jumps through hoops, stand on their heads, and do a tap-dance?
At present, British abortion legislation is based on the Abortion Act (1967) and the Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990). In Britain, abortion is not legally available at the request of the woman. The ultimate decision resides with not one but two GPs. This gets even more scary when you take into account that 10% of British GPs consider themselves to be actively anti- abortion and have or would refuse to grant a woman an abortion because of this. The situation for our sisters in Northern Ireland is positively medieval: British abortion laws are not applicable in Northern Ireland, therefore women do not have access to safe legal abortion.
So, what are the repercussions of this? What does this really mean? In Britain, it means that women are side-lined and marginalized. It means women have little choice and no voice. It means that women are subjects not citizens. Furthermore, for women in Northern Ireland, it means trauma and emotional distress brought about by having to surreptitiously seek an illegal abortion. It means serious complications and health repercussions caused by back street abortion methods. It means death. How can we expect abortion to break free from social stigma if the people who seek it are treated as though they are criminals, offered up to and bound by the decisions of others.
Where is the autonomy in this? As far as I can see, there is none. It is a humiliating and paternalistic attitude, perpetuated by a government who so cleverly appointed an anti-abortion health minister (a man, no less!) who wants to reduce the upper limit to 12 weeks. A bizarre move given that only 8% of abortions are carried out over the 12 week period anyway. Who exactly is being protected here? Not the women facing abortion, that’s for sure. These attitudes need to stop.
Abortion is not a dirty word.
Abortion is not a crime.
Abortion is not something to be ashamed of.
Abortion should not be an ‘issue’ which is pushed under the proverbial carpet and only discussed/ acknowledged at time of crisis (i.e. now)
Abortion is a real and tangible factor of everyday life.
Abortion. Don’t be afraid to say it.
One in three women in the UK will have an abortion in her lifetime. One in three. Look around you….
For honest, reliable, and unbiased information or advice see:
Education for Choice: http://www.efc.org.uk/
British Pregnancy advice http://www.bpas.org/bpaswoman
Abortion Rights http://www.abortionrights.org.uk
Abortion Help (Marie Stopes) http://www.abortion-help.co.uk/
(Please Note: “LIFE” and “Crisis” centres are religiously motivated abortion advice centres. Please be aware that the information they offer may not be unbiased.)
Sarah (@sazbottle) is a grass roots feminist campaigner and is involved with groups including @femactioncam and @armpits4august. Sarah writes for various online magazines/blogs and is partial to a bit of blogging in her own right (obviously all her posts are her own views, and not necessarily the views of organisations she works for, or anything like that, for all you legal eagles out there). By day, Sarah works for an NGO which targets corporate malpractice and illegal marketing strategies. Sarah likes history, yoga, raspberry leaf tea, and loud music.