Hello, all. I am a 19-year-old English woman. I am not a citizen of any state which is enforcing the new ‘Abortion Laws’, nor of any country with ‘harsh’ rules against abortion. This makes me lucky. This does not make me apathetic, however, to the anti-abortion laws that exist or are about to exist in other countries. The ‘Abortion Law’ to which I am primarily referring is that of Alabama, which outlaws all abortion, even that which results from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is at risk. And I’m assuming that this woman’s ‘life being at risk’ does not include issues of mental health, poverty, or any other perfectly valid reason for a woman not to want a child. Oh, and did I mention that any doctor who does perform an abortion will be sentenced to life in prison. Similar laws have been enacted in Missouri, and are likely to be enforced, or at least debated, in Ohio, Kentucky, and Georgia.
I was prompted to write this article when a friend of mine showed me something that an old acquaintance of ours posted. This man, who obviously has the supreme right to tell women when they can be angry and what they can do with their bodies, said that us women should ‘just use contraception’ and not be concerned about an ‘irrelevant state’ like Alabama enforcing these laws. His justification? All members of this state are, in fact, ‘Christian rednecks’, and none of us ‘give a f***’ about the lack of reproductive rights in countries like Saudi Arabia. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. So, I’m here to clear the air for people like him, who don’t understand why the regression of female reproductive rights in one of the leading countries in the world is such a big deal.
I’d like to start things off by saying that this individual and I, in fact, have had unprotected sex multiple times. Was this a stupid decision? Yes. Was I the only person making the stupid decision? No. Therefore, should I be the only one who had to deal with the consequences of such a decision? No. On the other hand, should I have been forced to have a child with someone who has such backward and frankly ignorant views? Absolutely not.
Arguments that focus upon a woman’s responsibility to ‘just use contraception’ completely ignore the pressure that can come with formative experiences of heterosexual sex. A sense of shame about taking the contraceptive pill is a real issue facing young women, especially those who don’t feel that they can broach the subject with their parents. Not to mention the disastrous effects that the pill can have on women’s mental and physical health. Male partners who refuse to use condoms or tell their partner that there’s no need to worry about the risk of pregnancy do exist and continue to have a large influence over young women. The often-vulnerable nature of sex combined with the terrible level of sex education that many young people in this country face can lead to unwanted pregnancies that women and girls should not be coerced into carrying out to full term, unless that is their own free choice.
Men often do not seem to understand the fear that many women have of pregnancy. I remember sitting down at age fourteen, having never even held hands with a boy, fully convinced that I was pregnant because my period was late. The thought of having to go through what can be (though, is not always) a traumatic abortion is bad enough, without people who will never have to go through this experience telling you how to feel or act.
Well, you may think, that’s fair enough. But we do have access to abortions here in good old England, so what’s the worry? Why are you focusing on American states? Especially when there are other countries that have laws just like these? Firstly, because I am a woman, and thus relate to the near-universal fear of accidental pregnancy that we face. And even if I couldn’t relate, the women of these states are still people and deserve the fundamental right to control their own body. Secondly, because whether or not many of us like it, the USA carries enormous influence in the world. Changes like this do not happen in a vacuum. Our increasingly globalised world means that every change in law – every regressive, ignorant phenomenon such as this – has consequences for us all. Finally, because I do ‘give a f***’ about what is happening in other countries. I always have. This is not just about countries having laws. This is about countries removing progress that they previously made, without the consent of those who are actually affected. This is about the ‘beacon of democracy’ legitimising the existence of other country’s oppressive laws. And although I shouldn’t have to say this, it appears some people may need a bit of extra help: women becoming more vocal about these issues when they are directly confronted with a restriction of their rights is not an indication that they have never cared before, or only care in this particular instance.
This is not a comprehensive argument of why abortion should be a universal right of women, why ‘just using contraception’ is not always enough, why arguments for banning abortion are usually more about removing female agency than ‘saving a life’, or why a group of 25 men – oh, sorry, and one woman! – should not be allowed to make these decisions. I can’t even scratch the surface of dismantling such flawed and ignorant ‘pro-life’ arguments in this article, nor the layers of misogyny that coat legislation and discourse around abortion. What sits in front of your eyes is simply an explanation of why I am angry. This does not mean that this is the only thing I am or will ever be angry about. Am I angry that Northern Irish women have never even had laws allowing them to control their reproductive rights? Yes. Am I angry that in Saudi Arabia, women can only have an abortion in incredibly specific circumstances, and that even then, they need their husband’s approval? Yes. Does this make me any less angry about what is happening in the USA? No. I am angry about the new ‘Abortion Laws’ – and you should be, too.