The war on choice escalates

It seems that the British war on choice has become a little less silent.

The placard-wavers are becoming more prominent. Many are British chapters of American anti-choice groups, their odious ideology wafting across the Atlantic to harass, intimidate and control.

They claim to be religious, holding “prayer vigils” accompanied by grotesque gory horror pictures. They control in the name of a God–the god who frequently oppresses women.

It is not surprising that they are here now, visibly imposing their twisted morals in which a woman is nothing but a walking womb.

Little information seems to be available about police reactions to these protests. It would appear that their involvement entails little more than mildly telling the anti-choice protesters to kindly move a little bit further away, despite such protests involving graphic imagery, filming of members of the public, and leafleting lies.

This seems curious, as left-wing activists are arrested for conspiracy to commit street theatre, banner-holding, or sitting down in a shop. One wonders just how much policing of protest has become an arm of the state; certainly, senior members of government are very interested in stripping away a woman’s right to choose.

The British war on choice is no longer silent. It is building towards a full-scale battle. It is now time to fight.

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.

The contents of a uterus are in the public interest

I spied the front page of the Metro today, that free rag that appears to be spontaneously generated from bus seats.

The news–front page news, the most important of all of the news that is happening in the world–was that famous woman had a miscarriage. It featured a picture of the woman and her boyfriend leaving the doctor’s office, grim-faced and grief-stricken with the gleefully-captalised caption “HEARTACHE”. The text featured two quotes from “sources”, both saying that the people wished to have their privacy respected.

The hypocrisy was stark. Quotes of a plea for privacy juxtaposed with an invasion of privacy.

Front page news? Why are the contents of a famous uterus so important that they are front page news?

It is hardly surprising. The media is obsessed with pregnancy. Famous women are monitored from the second they announce that their uterus is occupied. Breathy features praise these women for maintaining a rake-thin figure with a bump in the middle, like a sated anaconda with a “healthy glow”. Some women are criticised for the fact that pregnancy takes a strain on their body, causing weight gain and fatigue and bad skin. Body language experts are called in, invited to guess the sex of the foetus from the position of the woman’s stomach. The woman’s diet is recounted in great detail. Speculation about how the foetus will emerge is rife: is the famous woman “too posh to push”? Will her cunt ever be the same after a small person has crawled out of it?

Even when a famous woman is not pregnant, the media cannot help themselves but gossip. She has a new boyfriend, and she is wearing a loose top. She must be pregnant. Her stomach bulges slightly. This is unnatural; she must be pregnant. She hasn’t been out and about for a while. She must be pregnant.

For those women unlucky enough to experience a miscarriage, this news is brazenly splashed across the media. It is in the public interest. We must be updated on every second of a woman’s pregnancy, at the expense of her personal privacy.

Her uterus is public property.

Is it really so surprising that the contents of a woman’s uterus are considered so fascinating?

After all, since the dawn of civilisation, women have tried to abort pregnancies, and the patriarchy has tried to stop them. Throughout the ages, society has tried to control the contents of a woman’s uterus. Forced pregnancies and forced abortions are written into our culture.

To many, the contents of a woman’s uterus are her own business; she may do with them what she wishes. We are pro-choice because we do not believe we have the right to make that choice for another person.

To others, though, the contents of a woman’s uterus are their business. They try to exert control through the law, through religion, through hijacking sex education and through harassment. They have jammed our culture; our media is riddled with detailed accounts of pregnancy, infertility and miscarriage.

They have made the contents of a uterus public interest.

In a bow to this, I shall declare the contents of my uterus: tumbleweeds, cobwebs, and the skeletons of old lovers who went too far.

You need to know this.  The contents of a uterus are important to you.

Default options

Despite being the worst book about behaviour change ever written, Nudge has a point: people tend to pick the default option. If the default option is a plain digestive and you have to work a little harder to get a chocolate digestive, chances are, you’ll stick with the plain digestive. It’s still a digestive, after all. By manipulating the default option, one can manipulate behaviour. If one wanted to stop people eating biscuits at all, the default option would be a dry hunk of Ryvita, with hoop-jumping required for digestives, plain or chocolate. Fewer people would eat biscuits.

We are bombarded with default options. Everywhere we look, we do things without thinking.

Businesses know this, and have been capitalising on this tendency of ours. Open up a phone book. Count the number of companies with names such as “A1 Cabs, ABC Cabs, Aardvark Cabs”; the ones that you will call before you ever bother reading down. Consider how shelves are stacked, with the cheap goods at the bottom so the eye is drawn to the identical, yet dearer, products placed at eye level. Think about the last time you went to a supermarket? Did you buy the special offer chocolate near the till, just because it was there?

Not everything comes so naturally and so easily. Sometimes it needs some marketing to point out a problem people never knew existed in order to sell products: many beauty products are targeting ugliness that did not exist before an advertising executive had a smart idea. Removing most body hair has now become default and automatic for women. Make-up is sold as something which does not look like one is wearing any make-up at all. It is, after all, normal and natural for women to wear make-up, so they should paint their faces to make it appear as though they are wearing none at all.

Most of us swallow this without ever really thinking about it.

We then convince ourselves that we made the right choice, and that we consciously chose the product we did.

What it is, is control. We will unthinkingly purchase products not because they are better, but because they’re there and everyone else is doing it. There is not a readily visible alternative, and our big brains are used to taking shortcuts to get things done.

A lot of what we do is based on this. Take monogamy.

There is absolutely no good reason for monogamous relationships to be the only way to have a romantic relationship or to raise a family. None whatsoever.

Yet monogamy is the default. It is taken as a given that relationships should and must contain two people: no more, no less. It is visible in formal forms: always “partner”, never “partner (s)”. It is visible in invitations: “bring a plus one”. It is visible on Valentine’s Day: a restaurant with orderly tables for two set out.

Unthinkingly, we accept monogomy to be normal and natural. Everyone else is doing it. To reinforce this supposedly natural default, a little intervention is undertaken: the institution of marriage. Here, the state validates what it perceives as appropriate ways to love. In the UK, marriage is only available to a couple consisting of a man and a woman. It is not even open to monogamous same-sex couples, who receive a similar but different state-sanctioned seal of approval on their relationship.

Many people claim to have consciously chosen monogamy. When it is presented as the norm, as the default option, how is that a choice at all?

It is a conscious choice in the same way that the slightly pricier, equally inferior noodles you chose to buy was a conscious choice. Everyone else does it, it’s right there, it is sanctioned by external forces who do not present alternative options.

The default is as normal and natural as any other choice. Think. Beware the nudges.

The view from cloud cuckooland: Dorries and abstinence

The UK has long lacked any compulsory requirements for sex education, but that changed today. A tiny proportion of MPs voted through a 10 Minute Rule BMotion proposed by the chronically batshit religious nutter Nadine Dorries. The motion proposed the following:

“Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.”

As the motion was voted through, this means that young women will now be taught about abstinence as a component of sex education. There are numerous problems with this proposal.

First of all, abstinence-only education doesn’t work. There’s a plethora of evidence. Quite simply, teaching abstinence and only abstinence is about as good as teaching young people nothing at all.

Dorries does not explicitly call for abstinence-only education. What is worrying, is that abstinence education is now the only compulsory part of sex education.

Dorries’s attitude towards policy for sex seems to be heavily influenced by two things: a fundamentalist Christian sense of morality and either dire stupidity or wilful misrepresentation of evidence. It is not just sex education she wishes to meddle in: she is also rather fond of twisting evidence to try to reduce women’s access to abortion.

Dorries, then, seems keen on controlling the reproductive freedom of women, as her motion only targets young women. There is still no compulsory sex education for young men of the same age. Young women, meanwhile, will be taught how to abstain.

This is deeply disconcerting. Teaching abstinence to women only suggests that women are the gatekeepers of sex: that it is their responsibility to abstain. This view has damaging consequences for everyone. It teaches men that they are creatures driven entirely by their dicks, and they cannot control their natural urges. It teaches women that they must always be the ones to say “no” to these piggish men and their piggish dicks. It reinforces rape culture, fostering the “no means no” notion.

Societally, what Dorries has proposed is disastrous.

More MPs need to propose more bills making comprehensive sex education compulsory, going beyond simple birth control into education about sex and rape and consent. People need to learn that sex is absolutely tremendous fun if you do it safely; that as long as everyone involved is consenting enthusiastically, there is nothing wrong. Knowledge needs to be taught: pregnancy, STIs, contraception, abortion. Skills need to be taught: contraception use, saying no, and saying yes.

With all of that compulsory, Dorries’s motion will be unproblematic. Abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy and STIs. However, as a good fucking is really, really fucking good, many will not make this choice, and abstinence education does nothing to address the nature of sexual consent.

Dorries needs to stop controlling women. It is for the good of everyone.