Last month, Feminist Society, Socialist Students, and Polish society took part in a collaborative solidarity event in defiance of Poland’s proposed abortion laws, which have thankfully been overruled. It served as a reminder of how blessed we are to have free access to so many sexual health services in this country, and the need to fight, fund, and advocate for them.
The proposed abortion ban was suggested by a far-right Catholic group who wanted to force all pregnancies through to term, including cases of rape, incest and foetal abnormalities that cause stillbirth. The new law would have also criminalised miscarriage. As the women in Poland marched on strike, over 60 cities reacted by wearing black on Monday the 3rd, gathering in huge crowds which a Polish Parliamentary committee minister said ‘caused us to think and taught us humility’. It is so important that we continue to speak up and defend our right to bodily autonomy across the world.
Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy can be a very difficult, confusing, and isolating experience. When I was young and I miscarried, it was painful and lonely. I didn’t know that up to 40% of pregnancies are lost in the first term, and most don’t even know what is happening, assuming it was a heavy period. It’s a fairly natural reaction of the body, but because of the narrative surrounding abortion, I still felt shame and grief. Even if you use condoms and the pill combined like I did, it is still possible to get pregnant. A third of women will have an abortion by the time they are 45, and 95% don’t regret it.
Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy can be a very difficult, confusing, and isolating experience
In the UK abortion has not yet been decriminalised and is still legally considered an ‘offence against the person’ from the moment a fertilised egg implants in the womb. The 1967 Abortion Act creates exemptions; it requires the legal authorisation of two doctors, and can only be performed up to 24 weeks. Currently, if someone in Exeter wishes to undergo an abortion, they must travel to Bristol, Bodmin or Taunton. Thankfully there are services like CHOICE, set up by FemSoc’s very own Kate Byard, to chaperone people through this long process.
A termination is never a decision taken lightly, and we should trust women and people with uteruses to do what is best for them and their families. In France, Sweden, and even the US, abortion is decriminalised and seen as a decision that can only be made between a patient and their doctor. Making abortion more easily available means patients are not forced to go to multiple appointments and undergo the experience in the clinic, rather than in the comfort of their own home.
Pregnancy takes an incredible toll on the body and life. Everyone should have a right to choose whether or not to bring a life into the world, no matter their circumstances. Historically, restrictive laws have forced women to find dangerous or illegal ways to have an abortion. This October we remembered the hundreds of thousands of women who have died having botched abortions, a huge number of which were poor or black.
Everybody knows that if men got pregnant abortion would be an everyday conversation. The sexist attitude of discussions about abortion, which exclude women and other uterus-owners from the debate, have been especially visible in this year’s GOP nomination race. Women are seen by too much of society to only have one purpose, that of reproduction and child-rearing, and are therefore expected to carry all pregnancies to term. Obviously, in today’s society, women can take on a multitude of roles, and make decisions for themselves. It should therefore be obvious that those experiencing pregnancy should be the only ones involved in the debate around abortion. The sexism and aggressive climate of the debate around abortion has allowed antiquated laws and attitudes to prevail. This results in an almost unbearable stigma that leads people who find themselves pregnant to take unnecessary amounts of risk, and to recover from the experience alone. People protest outside of clinics, making them extremely hostile places to be. Women feel they are forced to go to clinics alone because of the shame. Abortions should be done with respect and dignity. There is no shame in being unwilling or unable to carry a pregnancy to term. No one should judge other people’s life choices in general, but especially when it comes to such a life-changing thing as pregnancy. If we bind together to beat stigma and misinformation, it will benefit everybody’s health, families, and freedom.