Being thrust a leaflet from on the walk to work has made TT’s Kerry worry about the future for choice…
One cold morning this week, I was handed this leaflet.
Perhaps I do look the sort of loose woman likely to get herself knocked up (it’s the knee-high socks), but that seems a harsh judgement to make when I’m just walking to work in the morning.
Worryingly, this is starting to happen more and more often in Central London. Why? BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, has a clinic here, which has attracted the attention of various anti-choice groups. They don’t like to be called “anti-choice” of course – but that’s exactly what they are. They want to deny British women our legal right to choose not to give birth to a child we don’t want.
The main culprits I’ve come across are 40 Days for Life (a religious group originally founded by two American men) and the authors of the leaflet I was handed – who turned out to be pretty difficult to track down. No name was given on the leaflet, only a “freephone pregnancy advice” number and various promises of non-judgemental help. (Non-judgemental?) When I Googled the number the first result took me to the website of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).
The two groups have different tactics. In London 40 Days for Life hold prayer vigils lasting 40 days – usually over Lent – across the road from the clinic, as well as Birmingham and various locations in the US. SPUC tends to use nuns and supposedly anatomically-correct foetus dolls. Nice.
Both methods of protest are perfectly peaceful, if intimidating for clinic visitors and staff, and I’m aware that they’re probably not the most militant groups out there. But are they a worrying sign of organised anti-choice pressure and intimidation to come?
It’s a slippery slope. Look at the situation over in America. At some clinics, women require chaperones to get them through picket lines. ‘Protesters’ throw red paint and wave around foetus dolls. Whatever your view on abortion, we don’t want things in this country to get to that state.
Yet things really aren’t looking good right now on the pro-choice front. We’ve got Nadine Dorries stirring things up with her abortion bill (well, the woman has do something to keep her name in the papers; she’s hardly a towering political presence otherwise), on which Laurie Penny has written an excellent article in the New Statesman. And the abortion limit was threatened by a vote to lower it from 24 to 20 weeks in 2011, though this was soundly defeated.
You may also have also noticed the recent twitter-storm over provision of contraception in the US. The hashtag #iusebirthcontrol has been trending. Yep, that’s right, young women are actually having to defend their use of contraception. Wow. (Depressingly, one of the top results reads “If you really want birth control, STOP OPENING YOUR LEGS.” )
Alongside all of this craziness, we have the continuing question of how much choice actually exists to begin with. I’m sure you’re all aware that getting rid of an unwanted pregnancy isn’t as easy as nipping along to your GP and asking for a “speedy lunchtime abortion, please!”
Nope. The consent of two doctors is required, and “I just don’t want it, actually” isn’t officially a good enough reason. Generally, the two doctors will put on the record that the pregnancy would be detrimental to your mental health. I’m not going to say too much on this, as Deborah Orr has it well covered over at the Guardian. But it does seem strange to me that women can’t be trusted to make a rational decision and choose to terminate a pregnancy without having to pretend continuing it would send us loopy.
So what can we do to ensure that firstly our freedom of choice isn’t eroded, and secondly anti-choice groups like those listed above don’t get any more of a foothold?
Frankly, I’m not qualified to give a good answer to the first. And I’m well aware that this isn’t an argument likely to go away. That main sticking point of when life begins looks unlikely to be solved probably ever.
What about the second? Well, I got sick of doing nothing (save for the occasional glare and tut – how very British) and set up the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance with a friend. It sounds more impressive than it actually is right now, but we’re meeting next week to discuss what we can do. Personally, I’m in favour of being relentlessly happy at them – maybe setting up on the adjoining corner of Bedford Square with a cookie stand, some good-natured placards (“Resistance is Foetal?”) and some suitably hippy-esque students with acoustic guitars (you know the type).
I’d be willing to bet that similar groups exist wherever anti-choice protests are taking place – so get involved. Help spread the word that this sort of anti-choice movement will just not be accepted in Bloomsbury, in London, or anywhere else in the UK.
More on contraception…