One of the first acts Obama took when he became President in 2009 was to overturn a law banning federal aid to organisations that gave advice or support on abortion. The law had been introduced by George Bush (remember when he seemed like the worst Presidential choice the USA had ever made??) and was totally devastating. When he reversed this destructive legislation, Obama said:
“For the past eight years, they have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries. For these reasons, it is right for us to rescind this policy and restore critical efforts to protect and empower women and promote global economic development.”
I remember crying with happiness when he changed this law. I cried because, as Obama said, providing abortion and contraceptive services to women is key to our empowerment. It recognises our right to bodily integrity and gives us an element of control over our lives, and over our economic, education and professional potential.
The overturning of this dangerous law was Obama’s promise of change, of ‘yes we can’, in action. It signalled that we were moving forward on women’s rights. That we were winning the argument - proving that giving women control over our reproductive health was the right and proper thing to do.
What a difference eight years make.
I don’t write about abortion rights often because whenever I do I get abuse. I’m breaking that self-protecting ban today in response to Tim Stanley’s Telegraph article, where he suggests that Trump’s Presidency could be more awesome than awful - partly through his dedication to eroding women’s hard-won right to bodily autonomy.
In his article, Stanley writes:
3. Abortion gets rarer
The numbers of terminations have actually been falling under Barack Obama, thankfully, but the Democrats have resisted attempts to remove public funding – putting pro-life taxpayers in a horrible position.
Trump and the Republican Congress should cut the money supply. Paul Ryan, the Speaker, has said he wants to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which is a good sign.
Men should really just stop writing about abortion. Just please, stop.
Because Stanley is not just grossly offensive in his suggestion that stripping away women’s rights is ‘awesome’.
He’s plain wrong.
Firstly, one of the reasons terminations have fallen under Obama is because of a rolling back on the policy promoting and funding abstinence-only sex education, which left young people ill-prepared for sexual relationships and meant they were less likely to use contraception. It’s pretty basic stuff: the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions is to provide women and men with decent, comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. Condoms are, quite simply, the best way to prevent pregnancy. When you don’t give people this information or easy access to condoms, then you’re going to end up with a lot of cases of unwanted pregnancy and an increased rate of STDs. In America under Bush, this is exactly what happened.
Secondly, denying women access to abortion services does not decrease the number of abortions. This is not some feminist fantasy. In countries where abortion is illegal - and that country includes our own thanks to the fact that abortion is still criminalised in Northern Ireland - women still seek out illegal and unsafe abortions. Across the world, 21.6 million women seek unsafe abortions each year, and 47,000 women will die as a result. Denying women access to our right of bodily integrity quite literally kills us.
Giving women access to their rights and sovereignty over our own bodies is absolutely key to women’s liberation and gender equality. If we cannot have control over our reproductive choices, over our own bodies, then we cannot have control over our lives.
Obama knew this when he repealed the law that denied women life-saving and life-controlling advice on contraception, reproductive health and abortion.
The Republicans know it too.
And, deep in his heart, Tim Stanley knows it too.
They know that restricting abortion access will do absolutely nothing to reduce the number of abortions.
They know that slashing Planned Parenthood and therefore denying women and men access to contraception and reproductive health advice will in fact increase the rate of unwanted pregnancy and therefore increase the need for abortions.
They know that women who are pregnant and don’t want to be will risk the law and their own health in order to terminate that pregnancy.
And they know that restricting abortion brings pain, suffering, erodes women’s empowerment, increases inequality and destroys a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy.
They know that restricting abortion leads to more women dying.
They know all of this.
So I say to Tim Stanley: stop pretending. If you think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome because it’ll restrict abortion, what you really mean is that Trump’s Presidency will be awesome because it is going to destroy a key human right that all women are entitled to - the right to bodily autonomy that you, as a man, take wholly for granted.
You think Trump’s Presidency is going to be awesome, because you, Trump, Pence, Ryan and that whole sorry bunch of vile, privileged men don’t believe women are entitled to this right.