Monday, 29 August 2011

The government's war on women's wombs

I try to avoid writing about Nadine Dorries. I am loathe to give her the oxygen of publicity she so clearly craves, and that helps thrust her into the spotlight so that her marginal and ill-informed views are given a platform that allows them to be taken seriously.

But clearly, today, we need to be writing about what the Telegraph called on its Sunday front page the ‘biggest shake-up’ in abortion regulations for a generation.

I don’t think any of us really believed that the government would take Dorries’ and (Labour) Frank Field’s ridiculous proposal to prevent abortion and pregnancy experts offering women counselling when they’re seeking a termination seriously. But then, this is the government who thought it could be a smart move to offer Life a space on their pregnancy and sexual health advisory board, instead of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. You know, Life. The charity that thinks condoms don’t prevent the spread of STDs.

A bit of background. Ultimately, Dorries is an anti-choice campaigner who, despite couching her rhetoric in anti-sexualisation and ‘caring’ terminology, wants to eventually restrict a woman’s right to bodily autonomy when it comes to ending or continuing a pregnancy. Over the years, she has taken many different approaches. She campaigned to reduce the upper time-limit of abortion from 24 to 20 weeks, a vote that was defeated in parliament in 2008. She has put forward a motion asking for girls (and only girls) to receive abstinence education in schools. She calls this ‘empowering girls to say no’. We call it, ‘removing vital sex education that informs girls about contraception and safety’. And now she has proposed that ‘abortion providers’ such as Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service be prevented from offering women counselling when seeking an abortion. Instead, ‘independent’ counselling will be offered – which of course allows anti choice charities and campaigners the chance to step in and offer biased (and often unscientific) advice.

And it is this latter policy that the government are considering adopting.

Dorries defends this idea on the basis that Marie Stopes and the BPAS offer ‘biased’ counselling, encouraging women to have an abortion because, as the abortion providers, they gain (financially) from providing as many abortions as possible. This is such a stupid and ludicrous thing to insinuate that it is mind boggling that the government are even taking it seriously (especially considering the Tory dedication to privatising health care). The idea that either group actively encourage women to have an abortion in order to get money is so offensive and so far off the mark as to feel almost libellous (I’m not a lawyer and am not actually accusing Dorries of libel – figure of speech). By that logic, all healthcare (especially private) could be accused of the same thing.

And, of course, the groups that Dorries wants to see take on the role of counselling have a vested interest in persuading the woman they speak to not to have an abortion. Their interest may not be financial but it is ideological. They want to see an end to abortion, and so it is likely that they will take a counselling angle that seeks to persuade the woman to not have a termination. If you don’t believe this, then take a look at this little number. Anti-choice campaigners believe that the proposed changes to counselling provision will reduce the number of abortions in the UK by 60,000. This change is not about offering independent, unbiased advice that will give women a choice between having a termination or continuing with her pregnancy. This is about silencing the voice that offers women that choice.

Dorries’ approach to abortion is wholly unscientific. She is a firm believer in the completely made-up condition ‘post-abortion syndrome’. This so-called syndrome is based on the idea that after an abortion, a woman is traumatised and depressed. Of course, some women are. Some women do feel pain and sorrow after an abortion and they need support and to be listened to. But what those women don’t need is people telling them that they feel depressed because they were wrong to terminate their pregnancy. What those women don’t need is unscientific rhetoric from the film ‘The Silent Scream’. It’s so illogical, and indeed harmful, to punish and demonise the women you are supposed to be helping.

Just as there are women who feel depressed after an abortion, there are women who feel relieved. And this needs to be spoken about more. I have so much respect for writers such as Caitlin Moran and Zoe Williams who have written honestly about this side of abortion. According to the way our culture talks about pregnancy and abortion, women are ‘supposed’ to feel traumatised and sorrow after a termination. And so the relief, the feeling of getting your life back on track, the feeling that you made the right decision is silenced and hidden. But this silence allows anti-choicers the space to fill the debate with nonsense about post-abortion syndrome and how women always and only regret the decision to end a pregnancy.

I have never had an abortion. I put this in because I want you to understand that I do not know how I would feel after a termination – whether I would feel relief or sadness or something completely different. But if I ever find myself pregnant and not wanting to be, I want to know that I can speak to people who will listen to me, unbiased, and give me the medical advice I need. I want to know that I won’t have to listen to a twisted morality-based rhetoric about how a woman is supposed to feel. I want to know that I will be listened to, and that my choice over my body would be respected.

Dorries and her gang are trying to take that away from women, to replace it with counselling that does not respect a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

Despite her earlier efforts to reduce the upper time limit, Dorries’ proposals to offer counselling, and her plans to create a ‘cooling-off’ period for women making the decision actually creates a delay for women having an abortion. To me, this clearly shows that she doesn’t really care about reducing the time limit, but instead wants to stop abortion all together. It also shows that she doesn't respect or acknowledge a woman's ability to make a decision about her body. It's infantilizing and it creates more problems by pushing back the date of the termination.

Finally, it is important to remember that when anti-choicers talk about reducing the number of abortions by 60,000, that they don’t care about what happens to those 60,000 babies. Dorries isn’t campaigning for an increase in child benefits. She isn’t campaigning for more support for single parents, or for better childcare for working families. Anti-choicers aren’t demanding the re-instatement of the health in pregnancy grant, or for greater flexibility of parental leave. They aren’t calling for more maternity wards to be opened with better facilities, and despite their obsession with post-abortion syndrome, they’re not researching how to tackle post-natal depression. They don’t care about women and they don’t care about children. They care about restricting women’s freedoms and denying women one of our key human rights – the right to bodily autonomy.

What can you do?

Email your MP to ask that they don't restrict a woman's right to choose: - it takes two minutes with the template letter.


Anonymous said...

My experience of pre-abortion counselling at Marie Stopes was excellent. The counsellor listened to my situation, and didn't guide me to any decision, whether to have a termination or to carry on with the pregnancy. I was given all the facts about what happens in a medical and in a surgical abortion. I was told about the risks from either. It was explained to me that a surgical abortion could happen with or without sedation, and why general anaesthetic was an option but carried greater risk. I was also told what my options would be if I chose to carry on with the pregnancy.

I went into the session knowing that I wanted a termination, but the counsellor didn't just nod and sign a form; she took the time to investigate, support, and explain.

I was offered, but didn't need, post-abortion counselling. She told me that most women don't, because the emotion they feel afterwards was relief, and I can say that this was true for me.

I felt safe and supported throughout. I was given facts, not guided, and allowed to make my own decision free of emotive arguments or biased persuasion. And that would have also been the case if I'd gone in not knowing what to do. It was the very definition of unbiased which I fear wouldn't be the case if ‘pro-life’ organisations took over.

Marie Stopes do excellent work.

sian and crooked rib said...

thank you for your thoughful and honest comment. I hope the government take notice of stories like yours when they make this decision.

gherkingirl said...

I have never had an abortion, but I grew up in Northern Ireland so knew many women who wanted to seek impartial abortion advice and access to a medical procedure and had to jump through such hoops that some of them gave up and reluctantly gave birth to children they never really wanted. Others still admit to being traumatised and damaged by the delay in abortion it caused that forced them into having a late term abortion with a lot of recovery time and more medical risk.

We also had crappy access to contraception, morning after pills and sex education and had to run the gauntlet of snarling baying protestors with pictures and banners just to get condoms from the Brook. The result being that comparatively more of my Northern Irish peers had more unwanted pregnancies, abortions and pregnancy scares at an early stage in their lives than the English women I've met since (not esp scienitific I know). Neither lot had any less sex than the other though...

Nadine Dorries and Frank Field really have no clue about real life. Restricting abortion, increasing abstinence teaching and yelling at women doesn't cure the need for abortion. Look at Texas in the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

I have never needed advice on this subject, but if I do, I will want to know that it is based on science and medicine, not someone else's ideals - just as I would with any other medical procedure.
I hope that logic prevails over this campaign and we don't take a step backwards in women's rights, which others fought so hard to win for us.

Hannah Mudge said...

To the second 'Anon' - I agree - I think this is what we all need. Correct information and real facts, not ideological manipulation and shaming of women. Clearly Dorries doesn't want to combine her measures on abortion with a more rounded approach to sex ed and responsibility.

Furthermore I resent her 'Christian' posturing and moralising when, both in her job and personal life she has publicly shown a major lack of integrity which should not be condoned.

The whole thing is making want to tear my hair out atm.

Delilah said...

Great article. Just wrote to my MP and have seen much about it going round on Twitter today, so there should be a good response. Just posted a link to your article on my blog, as didn't have time to write article of my own, and yours is fab!

John Jameson said...

Abortion is an emotive topic, throwing Nadine Dorries into the mix really doesn't help. I've read a lot about the proposed amendments and ended up having to put the paper down or walk away from the internet seething. Thanks for your rational and well-written piece, it's motivated me to go and write to my MP.

sian and crooked rib said...

Thanks for your comments. Glad you like the post. Please encourage everyone to write to their mp to prevent this change.

Delilah, thanks for linking, I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog. This issue has prompted me to write to my MP too. I just can't believe the DoH is planning to roll over on this. I hope there's enough of an uproar to scare the government into backtracking.

katarney said...

Great piece, thank you. My thoughts on it (with a link to yours) are here:
Exactly what part of the word "choice" don't you understand?

Anonymous said...

I have had a termination, but not in the UK. I wasn't offered counselling of any kind and I don't even remember them explaining the actual medical process. I wish they had.

Afterwards I had mixed emotions - I came round from the anaesthetic crying, and yet my overwhelming feeling was relief.

I expect I'm like most people who go through this - we don't want to, but we also know it's the right decision.

It would be so much easier if the debate wasn't so polarised into adamant factions - I would prefer less abortions to happen but only through girls/women avoiding unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

I will always be pro-choice.