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.