Apr 5, 2011

Limiting access to abortion is about hatred of women, nothing else

Here's what I don't understand about this most recent attempt at attacking women's liberties from Nadine Dorries: under British law, and abortion can only be granted if the pregnancy risks causing "grave permanent injury" to the physical or mental health of the woman. Two physicians must countersign any decision to grant an abortion after having interviewed the woman, meaning that both need to be in agreement that likely mental health harm may indeed occur as a consequence of enforced pregnancy, labour and motherhood. Unless you live in Northern Ireland of course, in which case fuck you and your mental health, who gives a shit.

Likewise in order to gain access to the so called "morning after pill", a drug that inhibits conception (not terminates a pregnancy, as is often misleadingly claimed), one needs a prescription, which means having at the least a telephone conversation with a GP and explaining the circumstances to him, justifying one's fears and decision to request the drug and so on. Sharing quite a bit more detail about one's sexual activity than a GP would normally be entitled to pry into, frankly.

Even in the case of the contraceptive pill - which is rightly and admirably provided free of charge in the UK - the GP is a gateway through which women must access the treatment they need and deserve. Needless to say, more invasive forms of contraception (IUDs, tube ligation etc.) require even more negotiating, and easily fall prey to the caprices and clinical prejudices of individual doctors.

I know that some people, mostly those who will never need an abortion (read: men and Anne Widdecombe) have this notion - half nightmare, half sexual fantasy - that since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, women haven't needed to bother with "taking responsibility" for contraception, because all you need to do is walk into Boots, five months pregnant, spread your legs for 20 minutes, and have the inconvenient consequence of your filthy immoral lifestyle taken out, immediately and for free.

Well sorry lads, but it ain't like that at all. Women are actually curtailed already, not only from freely and directly exercising their right to bodily autonomy in case of an unwanted impregnation (a right that, unlike in the US, they don't actually possess under UK law), but we're not free to access most forms of contraception how we want, where and when we want, either.

We already, in effect, have to get "mandatory counselling" before making any reproductive choice, which means that while I completely agree with Laurie Penny's point that with this proposal, Dorries & Field are treating women as if they were all alcohol soused sows who take all comers against the wall for the simple pleasure of ripping ickle babby toesie wosies out of their own uteruses with unwashed hands, in matter of fact she shouldn't be all that worried, because hey ho, British law already kind of treats them like that anyway.

So no, I don't really buy the "counselling" angle. I don't for one microsecond believe that any fibre of Nadine Dorries's tiniest organ has any faith whatsoever that said "counselling" is either necessary or beneficial. This is about using these so called "crisis pregnancy" centres to spread lies, misinformation, false medical statistics, false mental health statistics and shame, with one purpose and one purpose only: to force or manipulate women into pregnancy and labour against their will, and against their initial instincts and better judgement.

Think for a moment just how cruel this would sound if the ickle babby toesie woesies weren't being used as a smoke screen to distract attention from the reality of it: someone wants to take your body, and force you to have something inside of it for nine months, something that will change your metabolism, affect your sleep, digestion and blood pressure, something that will distort your bones and stretch your skin, rearrange your internal organs and change the way your brain chemistry works, and will eventually burst out of you, Alien-style, with great pain and possible grave and permanent injury.

And we think the Spanish Inquisition were evil for only hammering nails under people's fingernails for a few hours.

Why would Nadine Dorries want to do this, I hear you ask? Well, we could tie ourselves into knots claiming that she just loves ickle babbies (she's against welfare for actual babbies, so not sure on that one), or how the foetus has rights too (it doesn't, not under any accepted conception of human rights law), or how it's all about religion and what God said (nothing, abortion isn't mentioned in the Bible). Or we can just use Occam's Razor and admit that opposition to abortion is probably about hatred of women and a desire to punish them for being so hateful with enforced pregnancy, labour, and motherhood. Because that's what it is.

This isn't the first time that US-style anti abortion tactics have been imported to the UK, nor is this idea of mandatory counselling an original one. There are many states that have all sorts of laws making it more difficult for women to access abortion: waiting period laws, parental notification laws, mandatory counselling, mandatory ultrasounds and so on. 

The reason they gained purchase in the US, and the reason I fear they will gain purchase over here - for all that it's tempting to dismiss Dorries as a monomaniac crank - is that they play to the well established, unexamined, but deeply misogynist belief that women are just too stupid to know what they want, and that if we don't rub their noses good and hard in the reality of their physical condition, there's no way that they'd be able to make an intelligent choice.

Up to now, I've mostly not really worried about good old Nadine. Women in the UK are not dependent on the whims of private corporations and individuals for access to health care, and people here do in general have a higher level of science understanding that protects them from being influenced by grisly doctored images of fake "aborted foetuses" wielded outside clinics. But this one I fear may stick, and it's telling that she's already got a man to co-sponsor the bill with her. 

British people are just as likely as any other people in the world to be of the implicit belief that women, rather than being fully sentient human beings, are a special, slightly brain-addled case of the homo (hah) sapience species, - homo sapience birdensis, perhaps? - too easily distracted by footwear, cocoa derivatives and the colour pink from making really serious decisions or genuinely understanding what is going on with and inside their own bodies. Liz Jones has made a career out of playing up to that stereotype, and I can just about see the Mail disingenuously supporting this initiative as a "reasonable" attempt at "balance", feeding neatly into the bizarre implied argument that GPs somehow have a "vested financial interest" in increasing the number of abortions that makes them unreliable single sources of advice (which is probably the craziest and least well-tailored bit of this American import: fair enough when your doctor works for a huge corporations, but GPs? Really? They're only like the most trusted professionals in the country).

While Nadine Dorries and Frank Field waste Parliament's time and taxpayers' money peddling this hateful bullshit as a cover for their extreme woman-hating, by the way, funding to a wonderful organisation that really does educate people about reproductive health and abortion is likely to be slashed. Do dig in your pocket for that fiver that'll help them reach their extraordinarily modest goal of £30,000 to continue their awesome work, even if you can't really be bothered getting excited about al this Nadine Dorries business.


  1. "Limiting access to abortion is about hatred of women". Yes, but more specifically, hatred of poor women, particularly ill-educated poor women.

    Because the wealthy and the well-educated have always had access to relatively safe abortion, even when it was illegal. The poor died.

  2. I quite agree regarding the US, but I'm really not informed enough about the situation in the UK pre-1967 to advance an opinion.

    Other than a general one, which is that any removal of public services and rights hurts the most vulnerable disproportionately, of course.

  3. I will admit to not being quite as concerned by the amendments suggested by Nadine Dorries as I might be; Having read them and looked at their proposed placement I'd certainly agree that they're completely unnecessary, should not be added to the legislation and strongly suggest Dorries' longer-term agenda, but as currently written they fall far short of US-style compulsion of individual's activities.

    I'm interested though in your comments on current access to emergency contraception in the UK. My understanding was that EHC (the "morning after pill") was available not only after GP consultation but also through a variety of independent services such as Marie Stopes and BPAS centres and indeed over the counter at a couple of thousand pharmacies. There *are* questions asked, relating to health history and intended usage (you can request EHC in advance of possible need), but health service friends have looked blank on the matter of an individual being asked to 'justify' their request for contraception. This is a pharmaceutical product which, like conventional hormone contraception can have interactions with other medicines and is strongly contra-indicated for a small number of medical conditions; almost any product carrying these risks has similar safeguards applied either at prescription or the point of supply. More invasive forms of contraception on the whole carry even higher risks if improperly provided/fitted, so it makes sense that these aren't handed over for home use. Again though, access to these can be provided by services sympathetic to the right to choice without involving one's local practitioners (on the assumption that one's GP is one of those subject to "caprices and clinical prejudices", as opposed to being one of "the most trusted professionals in the country").