debate goes from secrecy and stigma to a pack of lies
By Linda Watson Brown
A few months ago, a
friend of mine went for an abortion. She is in her thirties,
living with her boyfriend of three years, and using
contraception. All of this is perfectly normal. Women have
terminations. Men are involved. Contraception fails.
As I'm writing this, part
of me is wondering whether it reads a bit like a rather
too clichéd "friend" story. Am I really
writing about myself? Would I be too ashamed or embarrassed
to come clean if I had been through a termination? I have
no idea, because it isn't me and never has been - but the
very fact that the entire argument is suffused with an air
of secrecy and guilt should get our hypocrisy antennae on
At least one in three women
will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Ninety-two
per cent of women agree with right-to-choose proposals.
And yet we still dance around the topic as if it needs to
be terribly furtive, and as if stigma is a healthy part
of the process.
Over the past two months,
the debate has taken a bizarre twist. Browsing through the
press cuttings, you would be forgiven for thinking that
women and the needs of women have very little place at the
heart of these decisions.
In March, Stephen Hone decided
to challenge his ex-girlfriend's choice to have an abortion.
He spoke of his rights, his feelings, and his options. Mr
Hone claimed that he had been assured the abortion would
not take place without his knowledge, and that the foetal
remains would not be disposed of without his involvement.
He concluded by stating that he hoped his actions would
bring his former partner "to her senses" and that
they could continue their relationship. Finally, the courts
ruled in favour of the woman, and - oddly enough - she did
not see Mr Hone's activities as indicative of a warm, caring
partner with whom she would wish to spend her life.
Last month, the Family Planning
Association in Northern Ireland announced that May 2001
would see the launch of its legal fight to try to win women
the same right to abortion as those in the rest of the UK.
Around 2,000 women come to the mainland each year, paying
up to £900 each in costs for their abortion. They
face added stress, isolation, and financial implications
for the betrayal and refusal of their individual rights.
Unsurprisingly, the Society for the Unborn Child in Northern
Ireland wished to comment - as it has every right to do.
Its spokesperson was a man and he spoke of the "outrageous
interference in political and moral affairs". Quite
right too - but, don't fall off your seats - it was not
the interference in the political and moral affairs of the
woman seeking abortion which was uppermost in his mind.
Last week in Britain, we
saw SPUC launch a legal challenge to the provision of emergency
contraception by pharmacists, and we saw militant groups
censured for their habit of placing home addresses of doctors
on their websites.
All of these examples have
one thing in common. Lies. Lies which suggest that women
are being supported by restrictive legislation which is
promoted as somehow helping rather than hindering them.
Lies which imply that a woman who seeks an abortion is stupid,
or unfeeling, or promiscuous. Lies which still encourage
the notion that emergency contraception is an abortifacient.
Lies which promote the only role for men in the entire process
as one of obstruction.
The last of these is to
be challenged today by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
A leaflet, Men Too, will outline the ways in which partners
can help women through the process from first clinical appointment
to support months after the termination. Each woman responds
differently to abortion, but unless we challenge the concept
that men can only be involved as restrictors rather than
facilitators of a healthy experience, the debate will remain
entrenched in values and arguments irrelevant to today's
Men have no legal rights
when it comes to abortion - and this is quite correct. The
contract is between the woman and her doctor - and this
too is as it should be as things stand. On an individual
basis, it is admirable that steps are taken to address issues
which men may raise, for many of them are as unaware of
this ridiculously secret procedure as women can be. It is
their mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, friends and
colleagues who are undergoing the 200,000 and more abortions
each year. But they too are confused by the treatment of
an issue which is necessary, frequent, and socially vital
but hidden and stigmatised.
On a wider level, the men who choose to obstruct and damage
are the ones whose actions must be addressed on a wider
platform. The actions they take must be swiftly dealt with
when illegal, openly discussed when spouting misinformation
behind a facade of ill-informed moral judgments.
We should all desire society in which abortion is finally
unnecessary, because that society would be one in which
women were never faced with unwanted pregnancies as the
result of rape, or force, or abuse, or violence, or failed
contraception, or lack of education, or lack of choices.
So, who is man enough to start fighting for that?
Monday, 14th May 2001