Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

On abortion

Today an anti-abortion group called Abort67 staged a demonstration in a town near me. They displayed placards with images of aborted foetuses and handed out leaflets containing similar images. So far, so normal for an anti-abortion group. But this demonstration wasn’t outside a family planning centre or a clinic where abortions are carried out. It was outside a college whose students are aged between 16-19. And those placards, with the images of aborted foetuses on? They weren’t the usual A4 or even A3 sized ones but were several feet high.

The Abort67 website states that their end goal is “…to make abortion unthinkable and to see the law give full protection to the unborn.” However it would appear that they care little for children once they’re born because the college also houses a nursery for children aged 5 years and under; these young children would also have had to pass the placards which were taller than them.

Abortion is a difficult thing to discuss. Most people are either strongly for or against it and all are convinced that their view is the correct one. It is an issue that excites people to passionate debate, and feelings often run high. But this demonstration displayed a remarkable callousness and lack of humanity. Can you imagine the effect that seeing those placards would have had on small children and impressionable teens? What about passing adults who had lost a much wanted infant?

I suppose I can understand the group’s reasons for wanting young people to think carefully about what abortion is and what it entails – it’s not something to be undertaken lightly and teens are stereotypically portrayed as being careless with contraception. But figures from the Department of Health show that in actual fact the abortion rate amongst under-18s is falling and has been for the last 5 years; in 2012 it was just 1.28% (or 12.8 per 1000 if you prefer). In fact the abortion rate is falling across the board – the statistics show that for females aged 15-44 it was just 1.65% (16.5 per 1000). That’s the lowest since 1997. 91% of these abortions were carried out before the 13th week of pregnancy.

I understand that for most people abortion is distasteful, but more distasteful to me is the idea of forcing a woman to carry and give birth to a child she does not want and is unable (perhaps financially, psychologically or emotionally) to care for. Abort67 boast on their website of persuading women attending clinics, women who are extremely vulnerable, to change their minds about seeking an end to their pregnancy. But will those activists be there for such a woman when she’s in labour? When she is struggling to care for a baby she was effectively blackmailed into having? When she can’t afford clothing or nappies for her child or food for herself, or when her mental health is suffering as a result of having a baby she didn’t want? No. Of course not. For this very reason I strongly believe that anti-abortion campaigners should not label themselves as “pro-life” but pro-birth; they generally care little for what happens to an unwanted child once it has been born.

The access to safe abortion is a right. It is not something that is lightly done, however much tabloid nonsense you read about some women using it as a method of contraception. People have a right to bodily autonomy, to have the final say in what happens to their own body. To remove this right from half the population, to force women to be nothing more than incubators, would be a monstrous wrong. I am fortunate and have never had to seek an abortion. But I have been in the situation where my husband and I had to consider it as an option and believe me, it was not easy. Yet I am grateful to have that option. So many women across the world are denied it.

If you started reading this as someone who is anti-abortion I doubt my words have changed your mind. That wasn’t my purpose though, I respect your right to have an opinion just as I hope you respect mine. But there is a difference between having an opinion, having an intelligent discussion on the matter, and forcing people (particularly children) to see distressing images of aborted foetuses in order to convince them of your humanity and compassion. That seems more than a little backward.

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Comments on: "On abortion" (2)

  1. They are just going for the shock factor to spread the word about their cause.

    Personally I don’t know what camp I fall in to about whether I would have an abortion but I do know I am pro choice. However, I am not in agreement with abortions being used as birth control; that makes me so mad. It is completely irresponsible.

    I have never been in the position where my unborn child was not wanted, would make me ill/die if the pregnancy continued or was severely disabled.

    Making abortions illegal will turn the clock back to back street clinics where women died as a result of these illegal abortions. Are we saying that is what we want? If someone wants an abortion bad enough the fact it is illegal will not stop them.

    There is so much to consider and sadly I don’t think this debate will ever be over.

  2. “I understand that for most people abortion is distasteful, and in my opinion that’s right. However, more distasteful to me is the idea of forcing a woman to carry and give birth to a child she does not want and is unable (perhaps financially, psychologically or emotionally) to care for.”
    For perhaps the first time, in those lines I’ve read something that closely approximates to how I feel about abortion. I find that most people fall into two camps: either abortion is fine, cos it’s not a real baby, or abortion is murder. I’m not in either camp and I find the issue very difficult. In theory, I am pro-abortion, and yet I feel a deep unease surrounding it. To me, I’m afraid that once a baby has been conceived it is a nascent human being. That’s how I’d feel if I conceived a child, and when I hear about people who’ve aborted babies apparently without any qualms, I feel a deep unease as I wonder how they can get rid of a child so easily. (I would like to say it’s not a decision any woman takes lightly but sadly I have found that occasionally that is the case.) But despite this unease I am in favour of abortion on demand, for anyone who wants it, because the consequences of bringing an unwanted baby into the world are far worse. If that child isn’t going to be loved, then it is in no-one’s interests for a woman to be forced to give birth to it. Or if a parent can’t care for a child – something I wouldn’t feel able to do if I became pregnant (not that there’s much chance of that right now!) – again, the human cost of bringing that baby into the world is too great. For me it’s less about women’s rights and more about reducing human suffering. So I do believe it should be freely available but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel an unease around it, it’s just the lesser of the two evils.

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