How can my claim over my own body be dictated by someone I haven’t met? When did one of the most intrinsically personal choices become political?
When it comes to abortion, the question unfortunately is when will it stop being political. After all, I wouldn’t be writing this piece were it not. In the United States, abortion dominates manifestos, causes scores of demonstrations and public debate on both left and right. A recent Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans would define themselves as “Pro-Life” rather than “Pro-Choice”.
In this country the Abortion Act of 1967 legalised the practice; at the time it was one of the most liberal laws regarding abortion in Europe. But now, this privilege, this “right to choose”, is threatened by what seems to be Britain’s very own Sarah Palin.
Nadine Dorries is the Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and apparently gets riled up about any plans to ease the lives of her fellow sex: she has campaigned against a ban of high heels in the workplace, against all-women shortlists in Parliament, and in favour of promoting abstinence to girls at school. Not wanting to miss out on Benefit-Bashing, she also thought it worth her while to deride benefit claimaints who used Twitter, and argued in an interview with the Catholic Herald that the root cause of “Broken Britain” is that “the churches have withdrawn”.
After all that it is hardly surprising that Dorries winces at the thought of abortion. She proposed a Private Member’s Bill in 2006 to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 21 weeks – which was voted against in the Commons – and is now on a rampage against the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes International, charities that seek to give advice to girls and women thinking of undergoing termination.
Dorries’ problem is that there lies a conflict of interest within these advisory bodies and the advice they give. Putting aside the fact that BPAS in no way encourages abortion but rather uses expert knowledge to fully inform women of the process their bodies are going through and the choices they have, the traditionalist MP and her fellow Daily Mail propagandists have conducted their proposals with the help of Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship. This delightful organisation has the ultimate goal of banning all abortions, even if brought about by rape.
Not dissimilar to the duplicity of promoting Christian values whilst indulging in an affair with a married man, Dorries’ hypocrisy is so lucid that “Independent Pro-Life Lobbying” could soon overtake “Champagne Socialism” on Urban Dictionary. The traditionalist claimed to the Catholic Herald that she is “neither pro-choice nor pro-life” (I’m saddened that this Tea-Party vocabulary has entered our national lexicon), but now admits that her vision in dismissing the counselling of BPAS and Marie Stopes is to reduce 60,000 abortions per year.
Life, an anti-abortion and pro-abstinence charity recently appointed to the government’s advisory panel on sexual health – from which BPAS, one of the most well-respected advisory bodies in the UK, was rejected – has set up a “pregnancy crisis centre” along with Care, a Christian group with similar views. It was reported in today’s Guardian that an undercover researcher for Education for Choice dropped in to ten such centres and was given the “advice” that if she had an abortion, she would have to dispose of the dead foetus herself, and would stand an increased risk of contracting breast cancer. Is this the independent guidance Nadine Dorries values so highly?
In the aforementioned Catholic Herald interview, Dorries relished the idea that “the Big Society and the opportunities it presents to the Catholic Church may be part of the healing process for the Church.” Perhaps she would like abortion regulation in the UK to be more like that of Northern Ireland: over there, abortion is only legal if the physical or mental health of the woman in question is at immediate risk; several women flee to mainland Britain to access a safe and legal abortion and are forced to pay full expenses out of their pocket. (Presumably there is no point in bringing up child abuse within the Catholic Church, considering Dorries’ logic that the promotion of sexual abstinence at an early age prevents sexual abuse. Lay off the priests, everyone!)
As the abortion issue gets dragged deeper and deeper into the political spectrum and away from the basic haven of personal choice, vernacular becomes confused and people tend to mistake “pro-choice” for “anti-life”. They’re wrong. “Pro-choice” is not even “pro-abortion”: it’s “pro-let the woman decide for herself.” Just because you assign someone a certain power, it does not mean you expect them to fulfill it: as a democracy, we have the power to vote for the BNP, but I hope that nobody I know actually does so. As feminists, we shouldn’t condemn or promote abortion but trust women – with the correct independent, expert guidance – to choose for themselves what is best for them at that point in their lives. Ultimately, we should be against the politicization of such a personal, complex topic that is unique to each case.
It seems that Nadine Dorries is as progressive as America’s Michelle Bachmann, and with brains to match. Bachmann claimed this weekend that God sent Hurricane Irene to Earth to punish Democrats for spending public money; earlier this year, Dorries reasoned that teaching young girls the importance of abstinence would prevent the horror of sexual abuse. Nadine Dorries and her far-right Christian propaganda are far more dangerous to this country than the safe, consensual, legal practice of abortion ever will be.