Thanks to Abortion Rights for organising last night’s Pro Choice Meeting in Parliament. Speakers included Diane Abbott MP, Emily Thornberry MP, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams and Richy Thompson from the British Humanist Association. You can catch up on some of the tweets using #prochoicemeet.
We were glad to attend such a positive meeting of pro-choice minds. The speakers were clearly well-informed about the current attacks on reproductive rights and spoke eloquently about how we should be coming together to defend abortion rights and make the pro-choice majority voice heard.
Diane Abbott began by identifying recent anti-abortion attacks not as random events but as an orchestrated ‘pushback by the political right and their allies in the media on a woman’s right to choose’. She saw increased ‘kerbside vigils’ and the so-called ‘witchhunt’ against abortion providers as evidence of an anti-choice movement which is borrowing tactics from the States. We were reminded to stay vigilant and ready to counter-act such actions.
Green party MP Natalie Bennett later spoke convincingly about the need for pro-choice activists in the UK to be ‘on the offensive, not the defensive’ stating that we need not just to defend our reproductive rights but to improve them. She reminded the audience of the Greens’ commitment to modernising abortion law and the importance of pro-actively arguing for progressive change to improve access to abortion services.
Kat Banyard of UK Feminista and journalist Zoe Williams were inspiring in their calls to action for anyone who supports the right to choose. Williams encouraged the audience to celebrate the rights we have, to be proud of what has already been achieved and to be optimistic about the future (comparing anti-choice protestors to the Westboro Baptist Church lot – an extreme minority!)
She also made the very important point that we need to stop seeing women seeking abortions as necessarily ‘vulnerable’. Earlier, in her speech, Labour MP Emily Thornberry trotted out the ill-advised ‘every abortion is a tragedy’ line. Quite rightly, Williams pointed out that in fact women (who engage in penetrative sex with men) are very likely to have at least one unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime. They may choose to continue these pregnancies and have children, or they may choose not to. They may have a planned pregnancy which they later terminate due to unforeseen circumstances (such as fetal abnormality or threats to their own health). Certainly, for some women an abortion will represent a traumatic time in their life, but for many others it is a rational, straight-forward decision which can provide relief.
In the interests of shifting the current discourse away from anti-choice rhetoric which paints women as naive and vulnerable ‘victims’ of abortion it’s crucial that we as pro-choice activists do not fall into using language which reinforces this idea. Recent research from the U.S shows that 87% of the women accessing abortion felt highly confident about their decision before having counselling. We need to make space for a range of different experiences. We need to trust women.
Two wonderful blogs on the language we use when talking about abortion, and particularly why calling for abortion to be 'safe, legal and rare' is problematic:
'I Love Abortion: Implying otherwise accomplishes nothing for women's rights'
'What is so bad about thinking abortion should be rare?'