Many years ago, and very randomly, I took part in a focus group about abortion. I was never terribly sure on what grounds we participants had been selected – we varied in age from late teens to sixties, and in experience from never having had children, never having had an abortion, to having had several children and indeed, in one case, several abortions. Nor was I ever terribly clear why the focus group was held. But it was interesting to hear other women’s thoughts and experiences, and it clarified a number of things for me in what I thought about it.
The key thing that I had never really thought about before was that I – as a female growing up in the emancipated late 20th and early 21st centuries – absolutely took it for granted that abortion would be amongst the options from which I would be able to make a choice at some point if necessary. Not everyone wants to be a mother; not everyone is suitable to be a mother; and, let’s face it – it IS still, of course, women who carry the vast majority of the responsibility for raising children.
Control over your fertility is one of the key advances in feminism, and as I’ve argued before, control (in general) over your life and your situation is one of the major ways in which people feel happy, optimistic and fulfilled.
Nadine Dorries’ proposed changes to the way abortions are offered in the UK have two main dangers. The first is that – as with her abstinence nonsense – she suggests something that sounds relatively reasonable until you question why she is suggesting it, and what it really means. Her claim that there would be 60,000 fewer abortions each year in the UK is dangerous and disingenuous – what sort of situation would those children be born into?
The second is actually far more dangerous to feminism, women and indeed people in general. It is that she is suggesting that we cannot make decisions for ourselves, and that we cannot be trusted to decide for ourselves what sort of information we want.
I am all for sensible discussion of medical facts. But I absolutely defend my right to decide for myself whether I want children and when I want them. And I think the fact that a woman is able to have children with no interference from anyone if she so chooses means as well that there is absolutely no case for anyone else to decide what sort of information or persuasion I must be given if I exercise my right to choose one way or another.