“Abortion is written in women’s lives and in women’s blood.” – Merle Hoffman
About three years ago, I went on a pro-choice demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament. We were protesting against the amendment to a particular bill, although the exact details escaped me. I made a placard with cardboard and a red Sharpie, and I stood in Westminster with about fifty other women, chanting ‘Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate!’ Although important, it seemed abstract. More like a rite of feminist passage than a real struggle against the anti-choicers, it all felt a bit retro. I grew up with legalised abortion, in a family that fully supported a woman’s right to choose. I never envisaged, when I read about the struggles of the pro-choice movement in its early years, that I would see those rights eroded.
On Tuesday, I attended the joint APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) on Population, Development & Reproductive Health and Sexual & Reproductive Health at the House of Commons. Chaired by Baroness Jenny Tonge, the group was joined by pro-choice pioneer Merle Hoffman, reading from her recently published memoir Intimate Wars: The Life & Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Boardroom. As well as sharing her story of how she entered the pro-choice movement and founded her clinic CHOICES Women’s Medical Center 40 years ago, she discussed the current situation both in the US and UK, and in the developing world*.
If you’ve read a paper or listened to the news over the past few weeks, you can’t have missed the increasing scrutiny that abortion providers have come under. Whether it is the allegation that clinics have used pre-signed consent forms as a means of avoiding the frankly patronising rule of having two doctors agree that an abortion is acceptable before a woman can be referred – in some cases causing delays to the procedure – or anti-choice organisations being given a platform in schools to make false claims linking abortion to breast cancer and calling rape “the ultimate unplanned pregnancy”, women’s right to choose is under attack.
What I had considered a backlash against women’s reproductive autonomy, Merle sees as simply the continuation of the attempts by the anti-choice movement, attempts that are helped by the apathy of a generation who have grown up accepting legalised abortion as the norm. But whilst we’ve laid down our weapons, the other side haven’t stopped fighting – the battle to save women’s reproductive freedom in the UK and the US is ongoing, and the time to fight back is now.
Abortion Rights, the national pro-choice campaigning organisation in the UK, are staging a protest this Friday in Bloomsbury to counter the actions of US-based organisation 40 Days for Life, who are demonstrating outside the clinic during Lent:
Anti-choice group 40 Days for Life are currently staging a 40 day protest at the BPAS clinic in Bloomsbury, central London. They are outside every day, 8am to 8pm, praying, approaching people entering and leaving the clinic, handing out inaccurate information and on at least one occasion filming staff and clients.
They’re part of a growing tide of anti-choice activity, which is increasingly mimicking the tactics of hardline US groups – from harassing women attempting to access abortion services, to hacking the websites of providers, to targeting those who rent premises to clinics.
At a reading of Merle’s memoir at The Big Green Bookshop earlier tonight, one audience member revealed that one member of 40 Days for Life was a self-professed fascist who was heavily influencing the group’s agenda in the UK. These are the people we are dealing with, these are the people who want control over our bodies in the name of morality.
The anti-choice movement has claimed the moral high ground for too long. They have controlled the narrative and sensationalised the issue and decried the opposition as selfish, as cold-blooded, as murderers. We need to turn out in force – not just on Friday but at every opportunity possible, to tell our side of the story – the story of the back-street abortions that killed countless women until 1967, of women forced to endure pregnancies they didn’t want or who died because their lives were judged less important than that of their foetus.
If you’re in London and free on Friday, please, please attend the counter-demonstration. It’s important that we show that 40 Days for Life are not the only voice out there, that the spirit of reproductive justice is alive and well and fighting.
Where: Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3HP (nearest tube Tottenham Court Road)
When: 7.00pm on Friday 30th March
If you can’t attend for whatever reason, please spread the word. It’s vital that we get as many people out as possible. Alternatively, a pro-choice activist has set up an online fundraising page to raise money for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service – where you can donate an amount, no matter how small, for every day that 40 Days continues their campaign of harassment. Because that’s what it is. I don’t care if they have candles, or if they’re praying – this isn’t a vigil, it’s intimidation.
Stand up for a woman’s right to choose, because no matter what the anti-choicer movement say, abortion is a moral choice, women are moral agents who have a right to determine when and if they become mothers, and every child should be a wanted child.
*I’m not 100% sure this term is correct/acceptable – if there’s another one I should be using, drop me a comment and I’ll change it. Thanks!