The British war on choice: silent but deadly

I always associated the war on choice with the US, where abortion rights are gradually eroded–women are forced to jump through hoops to gain access to a legal procedure in a perpetually-narrowing window of time.

While decrying the American war on choice, I failed to notice the quieter war on choice happening in our own back garden.

The British war on choice is, like all British equivalents of American phenomena, far more subtle. There is very little placard-waving and harassment outside our abortion clinics. We do not see the level of violent crime committed against providers. Our churches are quieter about the matter, for the church has less sway in the UK.

It is happening.

Despite the fact that Parliament consistently votes against attempts to erode a woman’s right to choose, there are some who are utterly determined to push their agenda.

The disappointingly-not-raptured Nadine Dorries appears leading the charge, though she has the full backing of the Prime Minister.

The claims rear up again and again: anecdotal and emotive stories, couched in bad science, rather than evidence and data. There is no causal relationship between abortion and negative outcomes on mental health. Abortion is not linked to breast cancer. 24 weeks is not particularly viable.

The votes to reduce the abortion limit fail, and so different tactics are attempted. Dorries is currently spearheading a campaign called “Right To Know“, which makes the reasonable-sounding suggestion that women should be given information before they have an abortion. The information, though, are the shaky myths outlined above. It’s a baby. You’ll go mad and get cancer and have your tits cut off if you have an abortion. It is a tactic which is widely-used in the US as an attempt to restrict access to abortion.

Then there is this. Put succinctly, an anti-choice group has been invited to join a newly-created advisory committee on sexual health, while the evidence-based advisory-group veterans British Pregnancy Advisory Service have been snubbed.  The original advisory committee, the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV was disbanded in the “bonfire of the quangos“. Its replacement seems somewhat less interested in evidence and more interested in pushing an agenda. This is hardly surprising behaviour–governments have a nasty tendency to get rid of advisers who do not give them the advice they desire.

LIFE, the anti-choice group in question, has some decidedly bizarre views on sexual health. They advocate use of the rhythm method of contraception, which has no effect on STI prevention and very little on pregnancy prevention (despite what the evidence-free table published may say). LIFE provide “educational materials” which do not even bother repeating the shaky scientific claims the anti-choice brigade tend to use, instead going for flat-out “IT’S A BABY, YOU UTTER MONSTER” propaganda. Rather than test the efficacy of their education programme, LIFE provide testimonials in support of themselves.

This evidence-averse group is advising policy: policy regarding a medical issue. They appear to have no knowledge, merely an agenda which is similar to that of the Prime Minister.

The British war on choice is barely perceptible. It permeates quietly throughout the fabric of the legal system, affecting care and bodily autonomy. As it drifts past, largely unnoticed we need to call attention it out. There is something noxious in the air. It will hit you sooner or later.

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