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.