Reading, Writing . . . Anti-Choice Rhetoric?

by Education For Choice // 6 April 2010, 13:13

Tags: abortion, education

Kate Gilbert is Projects Manager at Education For Choice, the organisation guest blogging all this month.

“We’re not going back in there.”

The students standing in front of me, 16 and terrified, have just been subjected to a presentation by an anti-abortion organisation in a South London state school. Using graphic images, emotive language about “killing babies”, and rampant misinformation, the speaker has succeeded in reinforcing myths and taboo around abortion. Those who make it through the upsetting presentation hear that abortion causes infertility, breast cancer, and depression, none of which are true. I can’t blame the students for leaving.

StudentQuestions.jpgThis story happens to have a happy ending. As the manager of Education For Choice’s Talk About Choice programme and the next speaker, I promise not to show any gross pictures and coax them back into the room. After we lay out clear ground rules, the students relax and consider the facts around abortion. I hope the students leave feeling empowered to make their own, informed choices.

For thousands of students across the UK, however, the second presentation never happens. Lies and fear are all they will ever learn about abortion in school. Despite the fact that abortion is safe, common, and legal, anti-abortion organisations work in schools across the country. Abortion forms part of the statutory religious studies curriculum and the non-statutory sex and relationships education curriculum, offering anti-choice organisations ample opportunity to jump in.

And jump in they do. One of the biggest anti-choice agencies, Life, claims to reach 10,000 students each year. A video on their website explicitly states their goal of promoting a “pro-life attitude” among the students with whom they work. Unlike other anti-abortion organisations, Life do not use upsetting images. Instead, their presentations are accompanied by a recording of a fetal heartbeat. A Life presentation I saw in East London included the claim that abortion causes “Post-Abortion Trauma”, a “disorder” that has never been recognised by any medical body.

Why does this happen? For anti-choice agencies, the benefits are obvious: a captive audience of young people provides an opportunity to build their movement. For schools, the benefits are less clear. Occasionally, it’s because an anti-choice teacher uses the classroom as a soapbox. More often, a well-meaning teacher seeks an expert speaker to address a seemingly challenging subject, assuming that abortion is too intimidating or complex to address themselves. An internet search for speakers in their area leads to the vast network of anti-choice agencies, which provide speakers in every region in the country.

Sometimes, teachers seek to provide balance, inviting us in to debate the antis. While it’s a start, we still believe this is inadequate, for three reasons. First, as a character in The Wire says, “a lie ain’t another side of the story, it’s just a lie.” We can’t debate organisations that lie about abortion to make their case, and as far as I know, they all do. Second, even if these agencies provided evidence-based information, their purpose is to convince students to oppose abortion, for themselves and for others. A pro-choice viewpoint is inherently balanced: all students should get the facts to arrive at their own conclusions. If they leave believing that abortion is wrong, that’s fine. If they leave believing that abortion causes infertility, that’s not. Lastly, organisations that believe sex outside marriage, homosexuality, and abortion are sins will stigmatise many students. A considerate, balanced discussion of the facts, and a respectful approach to a variety of experiences, leaves everyone better off.

When I was the age of students I work with now, sometimes when I drove to school (usually early for a club meeting, usually rocking out to a mix tape heavily featuring Sleater Kinney), I pulled into the school parking lot past giant posters of aborted fetuses. For some reason protesters periodically visited my Wisconsin school, despite the fact that our “sex education programme” was abstinence-only. My colleague Jennifer has written an amazing post about abortion politics in the U.S., so I won’t go into the details. Instead I will just say that even if you don’t have giant posters in your face when you pass your local school, consider the fact that the students inside might.

What can you do? First, tell us what abortion education your/your child’s/your local school is providing. We have survey forms you can use. Second, demand best practice abortion education. Although Education For Choice is limited by funding to deliver workshops only to the London area, we provide materials and support to teachers across the country to deliver their own good quality lessons about abortion. Request a workshop, advice/support, or get involved by e-mailing me at kate [at]

Comments From You

Hannah // Posted 06 April 2010 at 14:01

Your organisation sounds great! It's scary to think that anti-abortion groups in the UK could become as insane as the ones in the US. I can't really remember what education I had about abortion at school, but we had pretty much all those talks in PSHE when we were in year 9 (age 13). It will probably have changed in the last seven years, but all I remember is shock stuff about STDs and a horrifying film we were made to watch about a girl who got pregnant by her moron boyfriend and had the baby. I don't think abortion was really mentioned as a possibility for her.

I guess the reason it was mostly DON'T HAVE SEX TERRIBLE THINGS WILL HAPPEN YOU'LL GET STUCK WITH A BABY/STDS and so on was because I went to a school in a not so great catchment area with a high level of teenage pregnancy. It was all much too early and terrifying for a sensitive and kind of androgynous kid like I was, but I suppose it's pretty hard tailoring sex ed to everyone in class of 30.

I remember finding it weird that the religious studies teachers were all PSHE teachers, and my teacher was quite prudish - we just walked into the classroom, sat down, she put a video on and then we left, pretty much. I think it would have been really helpful to have an external group come in to talk to us and I hope you eventually get enough funds to travel outside the London area and talk to kids in the Midlands, where I'm from. Keep up the good work!

Charlene // Posted 06 April 2010 at 14:53

Good post. And it isn't only anti-abortion organisations. My nephew (who is 9) recently had a man who had a brain tumour come to his school to give a talk about that. He was upset and frightened and had nightmares afterwards. My sister complained to the school, who responded by accusing her son (and the children of other parents who complained) of being 'over-sensitive'. A lot of adults would find that hard to deal with, and I think 9 is way too young.

Also, if my child was, or was going to be, subjected to a 'talk' by some anti-choice organisation, as a parent I would have a lot to say about that to the teachers involved!

Lynne Miles // Posted 06 April 2010 at 18:15

I naively had no idea this happened. Awful that these people get to peddle actual factual inaccuracies in school, but thank god you're there at least some of the time ...

Ally // Posted 06 April 2010 at 18:46

Unfortunately getting across the message that that thing inside you is a human being which ought to have rights of its own is one that's difficult to get across to a society that has now been accustomed to the choice to kill in order to avoid pain and discomfort that is (usually) avoidable in the first place.

I don't think there is anything superfluously emotive about "baby killing", whether you think it is a baby or a parasite, I don't think you can deny it is killing, and the idea that it is a human being based on its genetics as opposed to what it is capable of doing is a perfectly philosophically respectable one.

Obviously, facts should not be distorted, although I sympathise with those who feel the need to invent detriments on behalf of the mother to demand that the right choice is made for the child. However, the pictures of aborted foeti are (as far as I am aware) actually pictures of what an abortion looks like. Not showing them, in graphic style, in my view would be telling a sanitised part truth. There are also plenty of people who have had abortions who have experienced pain, regret and psychological "health" problems as a result. Not every "mental health" problem is defined as a separate disorder based on what caused it. That would require the psychiatric profession *cough* industry *cough* to label such problems in a consistent manner.

Also it annoys me how everyone assumes that simply because something is legal, our education system should treat it as an acceptable moral choice. Not really. It is possible to believe as a society that abortion is wrong, and yet leave it legal so as not to bar access to those people for whom keeping the baby would be a torturous experience that they did nothing to cause such as rape victims. Whether it should be legal an whether it should be taught as something which is merely a personal preference are two different questions.

kate // Posted 06 April 2010 at 23:23

Ally - the use of any term - 'fetus' 'embryo' 'baby' 'child' - clearly has emotive as well as literal meaning. If baby is used instead of fetus, when fetus would be the medically correct term, then it's not stretching the point to suggest that the choice has been made for emotional impact.

You say that you sympathise with 'those who feel the need to invent detriments on behalf of the mother.' I take it what you mean here is 'those who lie'?

One of the issues that I've seen raised around the use of images of abortions by pro-life is that they are often blown up to many times life-size. Again, it seems likely that this choice is made in order to create an emotional impact, and doesn't reflect the physical 'truth' of abortion.

I agree that many women go through serious emotional pain in before and after choosing an abortion. But equally, some do not. The issue in relation to pro-life education is that 'Post-Abortion Trauma' is (wrongly - untruthfully, even) identified as a medical condition, with all the gravitas and apparent evidence that that implies - to most people, though I certainly share your doubts about psychiatric labelling.

There are serious moral choices involved in abortion, but I believe that those are choices individuals need to make for themselves. And they're certainly not choices that should be made on the basis of deliberate mis-education.

Marina // Posted 06 April 2010 at 23:45

oh, how i hate people who think women's bodies and in particular women's reproductive organs are public property

Politicalguineapig // Posted 07 April 2010 at 00:12

I'd be willing to bet that anyone who's had an abortion at sixteen or seventeen, or god forbid, fifteen, has enough problems already. The last thing she needs is a guilt trip.
I can see how images of aborted fetuses would upset people. I got physically ill in health class when a teacher set up a simulated stomach.
Ally: Please, please stop pretending you're a feminist. Anyone who supports a blastocyst/embryo/fetus over an actual living breathing woman is not a feminist. There is no anti-choice argument which does not eventually lead to: shut up and get back in the kitchen because God Said So.

Shea // Posted 07 April 2010 at 01:08

Oh dear Cod!

"I don't think there is anything superfluously emotive about "baby killing""

Please don't insult our intelligence.

There is nothing "baby" like about a 14 day old embryo (destroyed daily in fertility clinics all over the country- and never made a fuss of by Pro-lifers). To think otherwise demonstrates a shocking lack of knowledge about human reproductive development. It also to my mind devalues the living, breathing human baby, aware and involved in its environment by comparing it to what is in essence a bunch of cells.

"which ought to have rights of its own" - why? On what basis? As a member of the human species? For its development potential? You can make the same arguments for sperm and ova. If an embryo/foetus has rights they are secondary to the rights of the human being carrying it.

"although I sympathise with those who feel the need to invent detriments on behalf of the mother to demand that the right choice is made for the child."

Wow I'm overwhelmed by your sympathy. But actually real women don't "invent detriments" in order to justify abortion. They actually make the mature, responsible decision to not bring a child into the world where they cannot cope with it. So yes I'd say the right choice is made for the child. Only those living are in a position to weigh existence against non-existence.

"However, the pictures of aborted foeti are (as far as I am aware) actually pictures of what an abortion looks like. Not showing them, in graphic style, in my view would be telling a sanitised part truth."

The first time I went for an abortion I was 19 and sent graphic pictures of an aborted foetus by my husband's cousin in a desperate bid to guilt trip me into having the child. Actually it had the reverse affect. Rather than seeing the foetus as a "baby" as the anti-choicers wish, it looked alien to me and totally removed from me the idea that the thing inside me was a child. Yes they are quite grisly pictures, but actually have you ever seen a live birth? Not pretty either, well thats biology- blood, guts and all.

And truthfully, if we want to avoid sanitised part truths, then we should be showing pictures of the women who have died from back street abortions. So yes, lets balance this view and show perforated uteri, perforated abodominal cavities, haemorrages and thrombosis.

"There are also plenty of people who have had abortions who have experienced pain, regret and psychological "health" problems as a result."

This may be true, but I have never yet seen a convincing study that could prove these health problems were directly caused by abortion. And thats the real kicker- because a woman [thats a more correct description than "people" don't you think?] who experiences the above is much more likely to have had depression in the past. It is very hard to say that abortion caused these psychological problems rather than say the stigmatising and hostile attitudes displayed towards women seeking abortion.

"Also it annoys me how everyone assumes that simply because something is legal, our education system should treat it as an acceptable moral choice."

It is legal because it is an acceptable moral choice. This is the only way to accommodate the plurality of viewpoints in society. Currently if you or I fall pregnant we can choose wildly different outcomes. If the anti-choice lobby get their way this won't be the case. It would be directly imposing their view onto others. Which is anti-democratic at the very least.

"It is possible to believe as a society that abortion is wrong, and yet leave it legal so as not to bar access "

So you would advocate an even more hypocritical society then? How can you honestly believe that our society should find abortion wrong when it permits the killing and mutilation of innocent men, women and children at the flick of a button?

This to me is like trying to morally equate turning off the life support machine of a brain damaged person with raping, torturing and murdering a fully concious human being. Both are "murder" if you want to be technical, but anyone can see they are poles apart.

"to those people for whom keeping the baby would be a torturous experience that they did nothing to cause such as rape victims."

Ah the lie that belies the truth. So its nothing to do with life being sacred at conception, its about punishing those women who enjoy sex --not the ones who "did nothing to cause" it, like "rape victims". But the "baby" is still alive, even if they are rape victims, so how does the method of conception make a difference? The fact is it doesn't. this whole "exception" for rape victims is based on the idea of sex as sinful and women as needing to be punished for enjoying it unless they have a credible excuse.

"Whether it should be legal an whether it should be taught as something which is merely a personal preference are two different questions."

No, lets be honest here, the question is, should we be criminalising women for having sex? And I love it- "merely personal preference", like choosing a hair colour! Can there be some acknowledgement that some women really don't have a choice to abort or not. They simply can't afford to have a child, or their partner is violent or they are sex workers (who can't simply "stop having sex" to avoid pregnancy), or a thousand myriad reasons.

If it stops being legal then we go back to the days of back street butchers killing poor women in the most agonsing ways possible. Thats really what the choice comes down to.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 07 April 2010 at 05:11

Yeesh.. The anti-choicers continue to astound. My personal feeling is that teenagers don't need guilt trips or gross out health classes. (I thought it was bad when our health teacher set up a simulated stomach. Lucky me.)
A lot of anti-choice rhetoric seems to have a "get-back-in-the kitchen-and stay there tone," which annoys the heck out of me, and I suspect most teenage girls would bristle as well.
High school environments are toxic enough already without adults adding on.

Alison Newton // Posted 07 April 2010 at 08:39

I'm a liberal atheist, but I am still uncomfortable about easy access to abortion. There are many assumptions in Kate's post which she should re-examine.

For example, why is showing "gross pictures" not showing facts? Perhaps an abortion just magically dematerialises the baby, like a Star Trek gizmo.

To my knowledge, abortion in England & Wales is not legal - it is just that the exceptions are very easy to obtain. If that is untrue, can someone elucidate?

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 10:27

I have to so, despite my initial misgivings I really like this organisation. I firmly believe that it is wrong for any of us to try and impress our subjective morality about abortion onto kids, I think it should be covered in sex-education classes and give the facts, and nothing but the facts, with no biases in either direction (i.e. not saying whether abortion is/is not morally acceptable) and let the children make up their own minds about that, which is exactly what Education for Choice seems to be about.

In fact, I'll recommend my old secondary school get in touch with you, because whilst our sex-ed in general was good, they skipped abortion completely.

sianmarie // Posted 07 April 2010 at 10:56

Ally you say:
the right choice is made for the child.

What about the rights of the woman carrying the baby she might not want? or the rights of children to a fair and truthful education? i understand you're pro life but surely a living breathing woman has the right to bodily autonomy?

Lindsey // Posted 07 April 2010 at 11:12


It's not right to treat teenagers like idiots and tell them what their morals should be. As stated in the post, if when presented with all the facts they come to the conclusion on their own that abortion is wrong, then that is fine, but they have to be able to make up their own minds based on facts, not biased opinions.

N // Posted 07 April 2010 at 11:27

I’m a feminist. I’m not a Christian, so I don’t have a concept of sin, but I do have views on abortion, and I am often surprised by the extent to which they make me feel alienated from contemporary feminism.

Lies and misinformation are bad whatever the context. I cannot agree that “A pro-choice viewpoint is inherently balanced,” although I understand why you do. The viewpoint which corresponds to my belief appears more balanced to me, yours to you. In the same way, you call “killing babies” emotive language, whereas I consider it to be accurate, you consider “gross” pictures unhelpful, while I think their grossness communicates something important about abortion.

Like Ally, I have to say that legality does not imply that something is a personal choice in which the education system and the state have no role. My school had a Quaker ethos which communicated various values. I’m getting thoroughly tired of government adverts telling me to eat more fruit and veg, conserve energy, use a condom or safely prepare a turkey, but they clearly demonstrate that the state is not disinterested in our personal choices. This is one of the very few areas in which I don’t resent their interference.

Denise // Posted 07 April 2010 at 12:46

Shea, I would love it if you could be a future blogger on The F-Word.

Education For Choice // Posted 07 April 2010 at 12:49

Great, thanks Jeff! Please do recommend us. Thanks all for your comments- very interesting.

Hannah, thanks for sharing your recollections. PSHE delivery varies widely across the country, and many in the sexual health community (and outside it) hope that statutory sex education will help solve this problem. We think it will help, but under-resourced teachers with a lot of work to do still need training and support. That's what we're here for!

Ally, thanks for sharing your thoughts. The other posters have already responded to them, but I had a few additional points I wanted to make.

First, despite the best efforts of the anti-choice movement, many studies have concluded that abortion does not lead to mental health problems (as others have pointed out here). (For a useful look at much of this evidence, please see the American Psychological Association report available here:, and for guidance from the UK, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: But, like many people who identify as anti-abortion, you may feel that because you believe abortion is so clearly wrong, it must have negative side effects for women. This probably explains why every anti-choice organisation in the UK of which I'm aware attempts to perpetuate this supposed link between abortion and "Post-Abortion Trauma" or "Post-Abortion Syndrome". This is exactly why it's important to give young people the facts and the skills to discern between facts and values- that's hard for a guest speaker to teach if the organisation s/he comes from can't distinguish between the two.

Several people here made an interesting point about graphic pictures that I'd like to address. One of the teachers we have worked with for years told me recently that he thought we might be sanitising the truth not to show pictures of abortions. I convinced him otherwise, for two reasons (one a priori, and one a posteriori- working with AS level ethics students even teaches me about philosophy- I love my job!). Categorically, it's inappropriate to show children graphic photos to shock them into behaving the way you believe they should. I could show kids pictures of illegal abortions to remind them of why it's to ensure abortion is legal and safe, but to me, that would be manipulative and wrong. The second reason is that this approach doesn't work, either. If you wanted to reduce childhood obesity, would you go into a school and show kids pictures of open heart surgery? You could, but I'd rather start by explaining the benefits of healthy eating, exercise, etc. The presentation I mentioned at the start of my post only reached about half the audience of a hundred kids- by my estimate, 50 walked out during the anti-choice presentation. None left during mine. As an aside, many pictures used by the anti-choice movement are, it turns out, not entirely accurate. I saw a picture used by one anti-choice organisation in a school that was of a hysterotomy abortion, a method that is rarely if ever used in this country. For more on anti-choice organisations' manipulation of images, please see this website (WARNING: these images may be upsetting): Interestingly, this organisation advocates using graphic images to convince people to be pro-choice. As I mentioned, we don't think that's the best approach for the pro-choice side either!

My job isn't to convince kids that abortion is a moral choice for them. It's to communicate factual information about pregnancy choices, including abortion, and allow them to draw their own conclusions, just as you did. I hope that most people reading this agree with me that all people, and young people in particular, deserve the facts about pregnancy choices and a safe space in which to consider them. Believe me, students leave my lessons still debating with each other as they leave the room. A lesson that values all pregnancy choices (parenthood, abortion, and adoption) equally gives them plenty of room to develop their own ideas.

Sorry about my long-winded response, and thanks again for the comments.

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 13:20

politicalguineapig - "There is no anti-choice argument which does not eventually lead to: shut up and get back in the kitchen because God Said So."

I don't really think that's true, not all objections to abortion stem from religious beliefs.

Ally - "I don't think there is anything superfluously emotive about "baby killing"

I do have to say, Ally, that calling a foetus a baby is pretty much just emotive crap. Killing a human being, yes. Killing a baby? No.

"There are also plenty of people who have had abortions who have experienced pain, regret and psychological "health" problems as a result."

This isn't an argument against abortion. Plenty of people have experienced pain, regret and psychological health flying aeroplanes, but it would be silly to teach people that they shouldn't fly because of that.

Shea - "[14 day old embryo's] destroyed daily in fertility clinics all over the country- and never made a fuss of by Pro-lifers"

I don't really think this is true either, I know a lot of "Pro-lifer's" (I hate that term) who object to to destruction of both embryo's and zygotes in fertility clinics as vehemently as they do abortion. Granted it's odd that there's less fuss than, for example, stem cell research which I would argue is far more justifiable. But that isn't to say that it doesn't exist at all.

"So yes I'd say the right choice is made for the child."

Really? I wouldn't. For the mother, perhaps, but certainly not for the child (or rather, child to be). I'd much rather have a shitty life than be dead.

"It is legal because it is an acceptable moral choice. This is the only way to accommodate the plurality of viewpoints in society. Currently if you or I fall pregnant we can choose wildly different outcomes. If the anti-choice lobby get their way this won't be the case. It would be directly imposing their view onto others. Which is anti-democratic at the very least. "

The point is that morality is subjective. Abortion education should be given as the facts, and nothing but the facts, with no bias towards either moral stance. Let the kids make up their own minds.

On the subjectivity of morality, is it undemocratic to impose our views on the immorality of theft onto thieves who see no moral problem in taking what isn't theirs?

"The fact is it doesn't. this whole "exception" for rape victims is based on the idea of sex as sinful and women as needing to be punished for enjoying it unless they have a credible excuse. "

This, frankly, is rubbish. It's emotive crap designed to do the same thing as Ally's "Baby Killing" remarks, twist the issue. Anti-abortion isn't about punishing anybody for having sex, it's about not punishing the foetus, for something it has no control over. The rape exception is there because the foetus' life isn't worth the anguish it's birth would cause the mother, not because she "didn't enjoy the sex".

"If it stops being legal then we go back to the days of back street butchers killing poor women in the most agonsing ways possible. Thats really what the choice comes down to. "

This at least is true enough, so whether abortion is morally wrong or not, it's important not to make it any harder to obtain.

Alison - "To my knowledge, abortion in England & Wales is not legal - it is just that the exceptions are very easy to obtain. If that is untrue, can someone elucidate?"

Abortion in England and Wales is, I belive, technically legal in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mothers health. You need two doctors to certify the need for an abortion, some doctors will do that merely at the mothers request, some will do it only if there genuinely is a threat to her health, and some will not do it at all. So it is by no means "very easy" to obtain an abortion, unless you're very lucky in having two doctors available with very liberal viewpoints.

Education For Choice // Posted 07 April 2010 at 13:41

I have to clarify as the last commenter is completely mistaken on the question of UK abortion law.

It's true that the Abortion Act does not make abortion legal "on demand" in the UK. In practice, however, any woman that wants an abortion in England, Scotland, and Wales within the legal time limit should be able to obtain one (this is not meant to be a values statement, and this forum is not the place to get into a debate about abortion law- I'm referring to guidance from medical bodies). In effect, abortion is available in the UK under Ground C (risk to the woman's health) as outlined in the Abortion Act. This is because "health" is interpreted in the World Health Organisation sense of the word, as a positive state of wellbeing rather than an absence of injury or illness. In other words, if a woman feels her overall wellbeing would be negatively impacted by continuing a pregnancy, she should be able to obtain an abortion.

Please see the EFC website for any further questions about abortion law in this country. Of course, abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland.

Education For Choice // Posted 07 April 2010 at 13:43

Sorry, one more thing- doctors who conscientiously object have the right to do so and are protected by law, but guidance from the General Medical Council states that they should refer the woman to another doctor (so the two doctors need not be "liberal"):

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 13:53

Sorry Alison, my mistake! Should really have checked before replying shouldn't I.

The clause for "conscientious objection", by the way, I think is utterly ridiculous. No doctor should have the right to cop-out of providing legal medical services just because they don't agree with it. It's like refusing to treat a HIV patient whom you think is gay. It's none of the doctors business and in my opinion should result in their losing their license to practice.

Stella // Posted 07 April 2010 at 14:24

I don't think the "conscientious objection" clause is ridiculous at all. In the case of abortion, the GP is not denying the woman access to a 'legal medical service', but referring her to another doctor who will provide it.

And what about euthanasia? Should any doctor not be allowed to opt out of that if they wish?

Kate // Posted 07 April 2010 at 15:18

politicalguineapig – I’m sure you don’t mean to rub anyone up the wrong way, but you’re comment that someone who has an abortion at 17/16 probably has enough other problems to deal with irked me. At what age can a woman get pregnant and seek an abortion without, apparently, having a host of other problems to deal with? If someone I didn’t know to be feminist had written that I’d be inclined to think that they were playing into the tired old adage that only screw ups get pregnant accidentally.

Anyway, on choice in schools. Abortion was taught partly in biology but more so in RE. Biology classes focused on debating a range of scenarios and debating when we thought it would be “OK” to have an abortion. e.g. Bob and Sue are young, horny, and drunk, should they be allowed an abortion? Mary and John are married and have just found out Mary’s baby will be disabled. They are very sad. Is abortion OK here?

The RE coverage was even more shocking. I was lucky enough to miss the dreaded video (I think it was called the Silent Scream) as they didn’t bother showing it to the top set because we were considered too smart to ever get pregnant accidentally (see first para). We did have a wonderful radio play though about a girl who ran away from boarding school, shagged a “local boy”, got pregnant, had an abortion and then, as is common practice, her baby was actually aborted alive, left in a waste bin and then found by a cleaner en route to the incinerator.

Somehow I was always and remained a militant pro-choicer throughout this, but it definitely affected a lot of my friends.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 07 April 2010 at 15:45

Jeff: Really? It may be just where I'm from, but all of the arguments I've seen against abortion were based on religion.
Also, anti-choice rhetoric is based on controlling and punishing women, and you're being dreadfully naive if you think any anti-choicer is actually concerned about a living breathing woman.

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 15:58


Euthanasia is illegal, doctors aren't "opting out" of it, they're just forbidden by law to do it.

The opt out clause thing is just my opinion, I just think the law trumps whatever morals there are.

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 16:20


Firstly, yes. Really. In fact, I've never actually met anybody who justifies their anti-abortion viewpoints with a religious argument. Most, including me, are atheists.

Secondly, you are wrong. Sorry to be so blunt. Though I have no doubt that SOME anti-choicers aim to control and punish women, it is by no means all. And despite being rather anti-choice, I'm very concerned with a number of living and breathing women.

If you can't envisage somebody who simply has a moral objection to abortion rather than an aim to control women, that's your problem

Stella // Posted 07 April 2010 at 16:57

Jeff, yes, I'm aware that euthanasia is illegal! I assumed it was obvious that I meant in the event that it became legal. Which is a possibility.

Politicalguineapig, excellent comment!

Mo // Posted 07 April 2010 at 17:23

"the law trumps whatever morals there are"
Do you know anything about the history of the world, Jeff?!

Amy Clare // Posted 07 April 2010 at 17:41

Firstly, Education For Choice, keep up the good work!

Secondly, I personally think an approach which just says 'here are the facts - work it out for yourself' is slightly lacking. Facts are vital, and misinformation should be purged from any type of education, but they're not enough when it comes to moral issues. Students need guidance, imo, about how to evaluate and question assumptions they may hold about the morality of certain things. Basic training in moral reasoning, essentially. In other words, how do we decide that something is morally wrong? On what grounds? If you believe something is right/wrong because an authority figure told you so, is that valid? What if acting on your belief harms people? And so on.

Questions like these are important, because who knows which of the UK's current school pupils might end up being PM one day, and enact an anti-choice law because they've never been taught how to question their assumptions about the morality of abortion.

(I'm not saying it's EFC's responsibility to provide basic education in ethics, it's just something I'd like to see happen in schools.)

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 17:42


My bad, I missed that. To be honest though, I'm not really convinced that abortion and euthanasia are really analagous.


Forgive me, that sentence is meant to read as "The law should beat morality", I know it often doesn't, but it should.

Hella // Posted 07 April 2010 at 17:57

Just wondering here (and have wondered the same reading some other posts) if the F-word's comment policy might be extended to ban 'the world is my classroom' dudes?!

Feminist Avatar // Posted 07 April 2010 at 18:57

Under what circumstances does forcing a woman to maintain a pregnancy she does not want not affect her health (especially as defined as well-being)?

Is the distress caused by carrying the child of your rapist somehow significantly more distressing than maintaining any other unwanted pregnancy?

The number of women who were and are willing to perform risky home abortions, throw themselves downstairs and even commit suicide suggests that any unwanted pregnancy has significant outcomes on women's mental and physical health-regardless of how that child was conceived.

And, ultimately, that is why abortion is legal- because it is not just a small inconvenience to carry an unwanted child.

Furthermore, let's say abortion was banned except in the case of rape- who get's to decide if a woman was raped? With a conviction rate of 6% that's potentially a lot of women who have to carry unwanted pregnancies- and that's before we acknowledge that this decision will have to happen long before the case goes to court!

Being pro-choice does not mean that you cannot believe that a foetus is a living human being that is killed; it doesn't mean that you cannot believe that life begins at conception- it means that you believe it is a woman's choice to maintain or not maintain a pregnancy.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 07 April 2010 at 19:01

Kate: What I meant is that 16-17 year olds live very stressful lives already, even if they come from a stable home environment and aren't placed in traumatic situations.
Jeff: name one argument that doesn't boil down to 'because God said so.'
And it IS about control: if men could get pregnant, do you think they'd want women telling them they're baby killers? Or screaming at them outside clinics?

Ally // Posted 07 April 2010 at 19:07

There is nothing in the definition of baby as far as I am aware to preclude the use of the term before birth. I don't dispute that it might be chosen for emotive reasons-but it is not an untruth. 'Superfluously' was the wrong modifier, apologies for that, what I meant was while it is an emotive choice, it does not misrepresent the reality of the situation, and can therefore be used without a charge of intellectual dishonesty.

Killing is neither an untruth nor chosen for emotive reasons-to describe it as anything other than killing (even if one think it is nothing more than a parasite) would be to misrepresent the situation.

It ought to have rights of its own, because it is a human being as opposed to a part of another human
being. In the same way that a conjoined twin is a separate individual, physically attached and possibly even parasitic upon that individual, but nonetheless a separate individual worthy of rights. It is separate because the DNA code is that of a complete person and its cells do not belong to the body of the mother.

When I said “invented detriments” I was talking about the detriments invented by pro-lifers to scare women off abortion, not the detriments of having a baby.

“Only those living are in a position to weigh existence against non-existence”-Yes and only those in with disability X, in the context of their own personal life, are in a position to weigh existence with the condition against non-existence should make. Well over 90% of Down's Syndrome foeti are aborted, yet I have never seen any evidence that their suicide rate is any higher than the general population, let alone 90% of those born.

If abortion was illegal, I am sure backstreet abortion grisly pictures would be used to discourage women from having them- so you'd get your way on that one.

No, the law in most countries does not follow morality. It holds people to the morality of duty-the minimum beneath which actions are “immoral”. Not giving blood without a sensible reason is, in my view, an immoral choice. It is not a choice, however ,that ought to be imposed by law. Watching a blind person walk over the edge of cliff to their death and deliberately saying silent when you could prevent them doing so by shouting in immoral, that does not mean the law should criminalise it (though they do in France.) Even the morality of duty is established on what is politically acceptable. What people vote for and what is morally right are not the same thing. You may think it is an acceptable moral choice, but that bears no relation to legality. The law is not that which is moral, it is that which is passed by the Queen in Parliament. There is no constitutional principle that says immoral law is not law.

Well the law against murder is imposing one person's view of what is right onto others. We don't have the choice to kill because its in our interests, even if the person presents a potential threat (unless it is an immediate threat). The reason for this is because the choice affects another person. So the abortion debate only ever really boils down to whether a foetus is a person and how the interests of two people with rights should be balanced. The “if you don't believe in abortion don't get one” is really the same argument as “if you don't believe in killing, don't kill”. The reason everyone thinks the latter is stupid but argue about the former is because of arguments about whether the foetus is a person,and the fact that the foetus is harming the mother. It has nothing to do with democracy.

As I've said above some things can be morally wrong, but still within the autonomy of the person. Everyone should be held accountable in law to a minimum moral standard of not harming others. But they ought also to be held accountable socially to a higher moral standard of helping where it is easily within their power to do so and dramatically affects another persons life.

No, it isn't. It is the equating turning off the support machine with slipping morphine into a hospital drip so that they slip away peacefully in the night and are no longer a burden on your resources by needing care. That's what abortion is really it's “I don't have the will or resources to care for this person, so it would be better if I killed them” regardless of how they feel about it or the fact that they may have many enjoyable years left.

The method of conception makes a difference not because the baby is suddenly not alive at this point, but because as you said earlier: the mother is also a person, and this is her body that is being used. It is still the killing of an innocent being. But it is also defending one's own body from harm in a situation in which the woman had NO control. I think most people agree that this is a situation where the rights of the woman's bodily autonomy (which she hasn't had any prior opportunity to exercise and in circumstances where the pregnancy will be much more psychologically damaging) should have greater weight than in circumstances where, although requiring some sacrifice, it could have been avoided.

No, I don't hate women who enjoy sex, and this isn't even just about sex. For a start, sex does not necessarily have to involve someone squirting in the direction of your ovaries (protected or otherwise). And secondly the killing of babies is vastly more abhorrent when it is done in the context of IVF or embryo research than it is when it is done in the context of abortion. In such situations people (and in this case it is usually a couple) are killing not to protect their own body from a painful process they don't want (but could have avoided) but rather because they feel they have some kind of right to the experience of creating a person who is dependent on them. Or their other child has a right to have many babies killed so that one can be specifically bred to become a donor. Or because they want to know something and killing is the only way to find out. I really don't get why this isn't the number 1 priority of those active in the anti-abortion movement, given that many more babies die this way, and unlike abortion, this is likely to be an area in which science moves us in the direction of killing more, rather than one in which science moves us in the direction of killing less (through better contraception, recognising women's rights to operations such as tubal ligation at a younger age, or even removing embryos and transferring them into surrogate mothers, screening sperm before insemination rather than testing the conceived embryo for conditions). I can only speculate, that, as you say many of them come from a religious background and get into more of a moral panic that individual has had sex than they do about the fact that they are killing. But that is a valid argument about the PEOPLE.

Phew. I hope I addressed as many of the many points as possible. Sorry this is so long.

Ally // Posted 07 April 2010 at 19:52

@Education and others: I don't think it is possible to show "the facts" about abortion and have that be a morally neutral stance, because the default position for most people is that any choice is acceptable until someone gives you a reason why it shouldn't be-and "pro-lifers" (I don't like the term either-I am not pro life, I support euthanasia, I eat meat, and I support HUMAN embryos on the basis that they should have the same rights to bodily autonomy at conception as a grown woman. It isn't about LIFE per se but neither am I anti-choice.) ought to be given the chance to present their views. I think giving both sides of a controversial debate is simply a better way to educate than to attempt to stick to value-free statements, which you will inevitably fail at doing anyway and which will put you in a position where you can't fully answer students' questions.

If pro lifers are propagating untruths, obviously that should be corrected and any part truths about the way things are done should be put in their proper contexts by either teachers or guest speakers of the opposing side.

As for "mental health problems". Well, maybe the psychiatric organisations haven't come up with a-post-abortion-emotional-distress expensive pill or treatment or come under lobby pressure to create something specific to de-stigmatise those with depression who feel their pain is caused by an abortion an therefore their depression is more justified that those of us with a mere "egg-shell personality" (let's face it that is how these things are decided)-that doesn't mean some women don't experience extreme psychological distress. There was a young girl on a tv programme some months back desperate to have a baby at 18 having had an abortion at 14, and plenty of other programmes where it was mentioned as a partial cause of problems. I don't doubt that this may be due to the societal reaction to abortion, and that possibility ought to be mentioned-after all any woman who chooses to have an abortion will still have to live in a world where many people are willing to harangue her for that decision, so it is something she should know in advance.

Not that this is relevant as it is an ad hominem point but personally I don't think i would have a psychological problem with having an abortion, if I didn't think it was wrong on a philosophical level. I can imagine being totally relieved to have a miscarriage. I have very little emotional pull to birthed babies never mind foeti and nearly threw up at being shown a video of a birth at school. The thought of having a parasite sucking my blood from the inside doesn't exactly sound thrilling. My objection is very much a philosophical one.

At any rate, I think there are better ways to avoid students leaving with misinformation than preventing "pro life"organisations from participating full stop.

I can sympathise with people lying to save lives, but nevertheless, I wouldn't condone education becoming misinformation.

Jeff // Posted 07 April 2010 at 20:18


Sure. My argument against abortion is that a zygote/foetus/whatever is a human being, and that it is morally wrong to kill another human being that cannot possibly have done any action that could be considered "wrong". Now I don't believe in God, and even if a God does exist, I wouldn't care in the least what it thinks or tells me to do, so I'm not basing this argument on "Because God says so". Morality, despite what the religious nutters want you to believe, does not come from God.

And secondly; for some (and I would even say most), being anti-abortion is really, really not about control. It's about saving lives. Your argument is the equivalent of saying that laws against murder are about control, not the protection of life. It falls under the "emotive nonsense" label just like "baby killing"


"There is nothing in the definition of baby as far as I am aware to preclude the use of the term before birth."

I was going to dispute that, but cracked open a dictionary and found; 2) An unborn child; a fetus.

So I guess I can't. I would still argue that the invocation of the term "baby killing" is, whilst technically correct, designed to appeal to the audience's emotions rather than reason though.

Also, I'm not so sure about people thinking that choice is the morally acceptable option unless told otherwise. I get what you're saying, but I think that people who would accept somebody telling them it's not morally acceptable would probably come to that conclusion anyway. Who knows.

Ally // Posted 07 April 2010 at 21:54

Sure-people can draw the opposite conclusions even when the facts are entirely presented as propaganda for the opposing view, maybe even mostly or entirely the same number of people, that doesn't make it neutral. To respond to Feminist Avatar which I didn't see earlier.

There are two ways to deal with the evidence problem in rape:

(1) To always believe a woman who says she was raped, regardless of the evidence, likely conviction, or whether she will name the perpetrator.

This will obviously result in a lot of abortions where the woman was not actually raped, but it will exclude abortions in circumstances where the mother has come in happy and overjoyed about her pregnancy and then discovered on a pre-natal scan that the baby has Down's or a disability or isn't the gender she'd like (see the situation in Sweden where there is abortion on demand courts have held that abortion can't be denied on this basis). It would also send out a very strong moral message about when it is and isn't excusable to protect your bodily autonomy.

(2) Have all abortions illegal except those where it is definitely rape (ie where a child or mentally incapacitated person is involved or where there is physical evidence of a tough struggle and physical abuse alongside the rape.) which would result in many women who have been raped being forced to carry their pregnancy to full term but would provide a partial safety net.

The first situation would result in many inexcusable killings, but it would be a lot better than what we have now.

Horry // Posted 07 April 2010 at 23:10

You say you don't doubt that post-abortion psychological distress "may be due to the societal reaction to abortion" but are you seriously suggesting that this should play a role in dissuading women from having abortions? Your suggestion that we live in a world where people will harangue a woman for having an abortion so she "might as well know" echoes so many "kindly" warnings given to single mothers, mixed-race couples, gay couples, all those who find themselves told "well, I'm not prejudiced against you, but it's the world we live in and if you're going to make those choices, you'll have to take it on the chin ...". This isn't kindness. This doesn't protect people, or tell them you're on their side. It just lets the hands-clean "friends" do the work of those who are at least more honest in their expressing their prejudices.
I have to say, I find it strange that your opposition to abortion is a purely "philosophical" one. It makes it all sound like a bit of an intellectual parlour game. This isn't to say that abortion debate has to be conducted on emotional terms, just that I feel that if that's all it is to you, I really don't see why you can't as equally be pro-choice. Why not define things at the point of birth, at the point the cord's cut? (On a philosophical level, and indeed in practice, I would.) If it's all about terms and definitions and what is and isn't a baby and what is and isn't murder, then we're down to linguistic and conceptual choices, so why not draw the line at birth? While I don't think many women would end up having abortions in the delivery suite, I actually think that's the healthiest thing if we want to respect the bodily integrity of everyone from the moment the cord is cut, regardless of the reproductive system they're born with.
I'm really not trying to sound flippant here - this is something I really mean, to the extent that I have a picture of myself with "pro-choice" written on my belly, taken three hours before I gave birth for the second time. It's not a picture I'll ever do anything with, but I wanted it as I thought it might be my last opportunity to show how passionately I still believed, even then, that everything beneath my skin was still mine, all of it, and how much I still believed that even if, like me, you didn't want to do anything which involved having to actively assert such a claim, any pregnant woman should be able to make it. Yet three hours later, my son was there and I would give up anything of my own for him. Perhaps that sounds odd, wilful, even arbitrary to you. But to me it feels like valuing human beings all the more.

Kath // Posted 07 April 2010 at 23:29

A woman is entitled to abortion in Britain if continuing the pregnancy would cause harm to her physical or mental health or that of her existing children. The assessment of two doctors is required.

There is no conclusive evidence for 'post abortion trauma' or any of these conditions. Abortion can be a difficult event for some women - as can many other situations - for others it's simply a relief. By stigmatising abortion and making women feel guilty pro-lifers are basically attempting to fulfil their own prophecy about the psychological effects of abortion on women. Secrecy and shame are not good for one's mental health!

Troon // Posted 08 April 2010 at 10:18

Surely we've been here before recently, in another thread which became about abortion generally (indeed, many of the contributors were the same)? That thread ended with a highly emotional, brave and personal piece, directly relating to 'trauma'. It also featured women who stressed anti-abortion and pro-choice as compatible, providing the second was key (I assume the author of the OP would agree). I know I was very struck by the way that thread ended, showing how the F-word at its best can be an inclusive, supportive community where personal experience informs rather than excludes, and where point scoring is not the aim.

I assume many of those who contributed to the end of that thread are still reading, and also assume from their earlier postings they don't need this debate again in their space (I'm not speaking for them, just saying if this were a 'real' room they're the people I'd be glancing at before opening my big mouth again on this issue). Perhaps at very least a link to that debate could be posted, so that contributors could decide if comments here add anything to it before posting?

I hope this doesn't seem like an attempt to police, to diminish the importance of the piece's concerns for education, the quality of its writing, or the amazing organisation it represents. But do we really need another debate on abortion in the most general terms, especially one which ignores the perspicacity and courage of individuals at the end of the previous thread?

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 10:26

1. It is impossible to separate on a scientific level emotional problems that arise from a woman regretting her decision, and emotional problems that arise from the stigma associated with it. Young women have a right to know that some women experience this. They also have a right to know that we don't know how much of what a woman experiences might come from stigma as opposed to their own personal feelings about their decision.

2. I'm a pure and honest haranguer- I believe abortion is murder, I will tell anyone who listens and anyone who doesn't, and anyone I knew to have had an abortion would not be among my friends. Stigma for something I believe is wrong is not something I have a problem with.

3. Philosophy, for me, is about what is right and what is wrong. I do not decide what I believe in on an arbitrary basis. My heart follows my head. I would not ever,and cannot comprehend the changing of what someone believes is right and wrong on the basis that it might make someone (or themselves) feel bad. That is not how morality works.

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 10:35

Also, that isn't prejudice. Prejudice is judgement without the facts. I know what the facts are in an abortion situation- it isn't prejudice it's judgement. Prejudice is continually used to try to undermine positions that involve negative judgements against people for any reason at all, and devalues it's weight in situations where what is going on really is prejudice.

Troon // Posted 08 April 2010 at 13:14


The point is not just the morality of what you think, but the morality of expressing it and the company in which you do it. There has been a chance for you to 'harangue' other women about this recently, and nothing you are saying either expands on or engages further with that thread. Neither does it change minds, it's an internet soapbox on a virtual street corner.

You are writing (and that's important, these points are swiftly sent but long digested) for an audience some of whom will have experienced unwanted pregnancies, and some of whom will have had abortions and then felt that the world was against them and their 'secret' needed to be handled alone. You can find this out easily, by looking at the previous thread. What you and others are doing is causing pain and distress for no reason other than the joy of typing your mouth off. And in your case you are specifically saying 'hide and be ashamed, you are no friend of mine'. That's immoral too, it's a big fuck off to other people.

And for anyone who has been in either situation, you are not 'baby killers' 'bad women' or any of that bollocks in most people's eyes: you're women making difficult decisions about your bodies and demanding your right to do so and to be helped to deal with the consequences, which men such as myself will never have to bear. Much like Ally, although her decision is simpler: do I knowingly cause pain to real people posting here for imagined philosophical foetuses, or not?

The previous debate was on Feb 28th, and can be got at through the blog archive. If Education for Choice are to post all month, can we set up some better guidelines please-in terms of relevance to OP?

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 13:49


My posts on this thread have been more comprehensive in terms of rationale, and the different situations which I think the pro-life movement should be targeting (way more work needs to be done against IVF and embryo research) and this is being undermined by the demographic of the movement and the focus on "oh noes someone had sex". That's a problem, and its partly a feminist one and I don't think it was mentioned in the previous threat.

The reason this thread has gone down this route because the OP presented a pro-choice stance as a neutral stance, which it isn't. Pro life feminists are often silenced (see the comment above about stop pretending to be a feminist) and there are still many people in the feminist movement who assume pro-lifers are religious and anti-woman. A pro life argument is going to be necessary wherever the opening post assumes that pro-choice is the better way in the feminist community or the more balanced way etc. Removing such comments is silencing a view on the issue in every case.

You commented that this was discussed in February-new readers, or ones who do not follow the blog may not look at February, so leaving this post without a pro-life contributor would have left it unbalanced and possibly alienated some pro-life women from the blog. Obviously since Education are blogging for the rest of the month, many of us will now be able to refer back to our comments on this thread for people to find, and that will help to focus the debate on other threads, as it has been debated more fully here.

I don't think there is anything immoral about a big fuck off to other people. People don't have a universal right to positive judgements from other people (or even a right for people to keep their negative judgements to themselves. That is what free speech is. As far as the F word is concerned I would not use this space to gratuitously shame women, because that would totally undermine the purpose of the blog, and undermine the work that it is doing and it wouldn't bring back the lives lost or change anyone's mind. I don't think anyone's comments in this thread have been by design or accident ones which inflict gratuitous pain. I think they have served the purpose of elucidating the reasoning behind where people stand on the scale between being totally pro-choice and banning abortion whatever the circumstances.

Laura // Posted 08 April 2010 at 13:51

@ Troon - I've been discussing comment modding with the EFC team, and comments will be kept relevant to the specifics of their future posts - there's no need to have the same debates again simply because their overall topic is abortion and reproductive rights.

Denise // Posted 08 April 2010 at 13:55

I don't read the F-Word only to be constantly subjected to the rants of a 'pure and honest haranguar'. I find Ally's comment-but-one above deeply offensive. I think there have been enough of them already, and not just in this post.
Troon, well said.

Paula // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:14

I have really had enough of
1. Ally's domineering rants and
2. the oxymoron 'pro-life feminist'.
Please don't call yourselves 'pro-life' or feminist because you are neither. Condemning a woman to give birth to a child even if it costs her her own life is not pro-life. It is anti-woman and anti-feminist. Forcing women to resort to back-street abortionists because they have no other option is not pro-life. Valuing the existence of what is a bunch of cells at conception over the health and well-being of the woman carrying it is not pro-life. Wanting a society where any woman who gets pregnant will have to give birth to that child she is carrying no matter what, is NOT pro-life. It will lead only to more misery and death. And why do so many so-called pro-lifers believe in euthanasia and/or the death penalty?! Either life is sacred or it isn't. You can't have it both ways.
Pro-life is all about taking away the rights of women. That's all it is about and that's all it ever was and will be about.
Are you prepared to personally look after, finance and bring up any children who would otherwise not be born? No? Then shut up, go away and don't make other women's difficult choices even more difficult with your cruel, stupid, judgemental behaviour.

Education For Choice // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:25

Laura, thank you for adding this. Thank you all for your comments insofar as they are relevant to the original post. It's unfortunate, though not surprising, that this comment thread has devolved into a debate about abortion generally.

I take some responsibility for this and for any dissatisfaction from commenters about some of the comments that have been posted here. I have published every comment that has been submitted thus far in the interests of giving everyone a say (and, I'd hoped, staying within The F Word's commenting guidelines), particularly with this, our first post. I'm glad we've done so, though I am sympathetic to those of you seeking more active moderation. Thank you for your patience with us newbies to blog comment moderation.

As Laura said, my colleagues and I will be more hands-on with comment moderation in the future. Please don't hesitate to e-mail me if you have questions.

Jeff // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:27

Considered staying out of this from now on, but I have to just jump in and say this.

Paula, you said;

"Pro-life is all about taking away the rights of women. That's all it is about and that's all it ever was and will be about. "

I'll use "anti-abortion" rather than "Pro-life" since it is, as you say, rather an oxymoron. People who are anti-abortion are not necessarily so with the intention of taking rights away from women. Whilst I have no doubt that some of them are, that is by no means the aim of all people with anti-abortion views. The issue, to many, is not about taking away the rights of women, it's about protecting the rights of the other human being involved, who has a vested interest in not being aborted. Again I say this; can you really, honestly not conceive that a person might simply be interested in preserving the rights of what they see as a seperate human being, as opposed to merely using that as a front to oppress women. Whether you agree a foetus deserves rights or not, can you really not see that some people do?

That said, I am from here on in going to limit any comments of mine on this thread to materiel dealing specifically with the teaching of abortion relevent materiel in schools. I will no longer respond to any comments about abortion in general, or the morality thereof.

Kate // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:29

Personally I'd welcome more "policing" of comments. I completely echo Troon's comments about the frustration of seeing a space which is meant to be a forum for feminist discussion constantly derailed. Is it not possible to discuss abortion issues without defaulting back to abortion full stop?

Although Education for Choice, I am inclined to welcome your moderation policy after last month's guest blogger closed comments in a huff.

Troon // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:30

Apologies, previous discussion on 26th, not 28th, February:

The courage shown in that thread was inspirational, not just from those who had had abortions but from those who were willing to state openly they were anti-abortion but in ways which neither made them anti-choice nor judgmental. As I said, the F-word at its best (imo), and a far more interesting discussion than here.

@Laura and Education
Hope that these two will allow Ally and others to 'refer back' and that Kate and her team can spend this time telling us about her organisation, its work and responses to it. I am anxious to hear more, and to find other ways of helping.

Joana Andrade // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:31

@Paula: We don't have to put up with anyone's runts, Ally's or yours. I also fail to understand why a feminist can't be pro life, and many of your arguments are mere caricatures-being feminist and pro life is not an oxymoron. At the end of the day, it all comes down to people thinking that a fetus is a human being or not: both the pro life and pro choice are acceptable and highly moral depending on your point of view.Many of us believe that a fetus is a human being, and as such are pro life and many of us think of it as a mere organic structure and are pro choice.

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:58

I referred to my thoughts on "pro life"earlier. I actually prefer to refer to myself as anti-abortion (because I am pro euthanasia, eat meat, and support the death penalty and because even in abortion debates, "life" isn't actually the thing about the foetus I think give rise to rights). I used pro-life in that particular post because I was talking about activists in the area generally, not just myself and that is what the movement is usually referred to as.

Paula's post is exactly the sort of post that makes one feel one has to repeat things already said over and over and over. I am sure I am guilty of this too but some people seem to wilfully ignore what is written.

gadgetgal // Posted 08 April 2010 at 14:58

@Troon and Paula - you two have completely different styles but you put across the same point extremely well! Not every thread/conversation requires more than one point of view - for example one of my friends is going through a break-up at the moment, so does this then require me to tell him his partner's point of view, or even my own personal opinion? No, and to do so would just be rude and selfish on my part.

"People don't have a universal right to positive judgements from other people"

By the same token people don't have a universal right to just call themselves what they will and try to force others to accept that even if all evidence is to the contrary - you call yourself a feminist, but to me that would be the same as calling yourself a tap-dancing penguin - just because you call yourself one doesn't mean it's actually so! You prove it by your words and actions - so far I've not seen much in the way of promoting equality OR helping other women from you, in fact you seem quite anti all of that, so what then makes you a feminist? Your tap shoes?

Maeve // Posted 08 April 2010 at 15:38

Education For Choice, please keep up the excellent and clearly vital work.

Re. Joanna Andrade's comment, how are Paula's arguments 'caricature'? She's describing a society that used to exist (as far as lack of rights surrounding abortion was concerned), still exists in some countries and would exist again here if some people got their way.

I personally loathe the idea of abortion (not for religious reasons, I'm not religious) but I am pro-choice. I am lucky in that I have never been faced with having to consider undergoing one. I do believe that a foetus is a human being, but I also don't believe the life of that foetus is more important and should take precedence over the life of the woman carrying it. I just don't. Women have to make some hard and in many cases heartbreaking choices. I would never deny any woman the right to make whatever choice she saw fit, or judge/condemn her for it. If it's an either-or situation, I am for what is best for the woman - every time. I think it has to be that way. I know many anti-choicers regard themselves as feminists. I personally couldn't reconcile the two.

And Ally, saying a woman who you knew had had an abortion wouldn't be among your friends any you really mean that? It's so cruel.

Kristin // Posted 08 April 2010 at 16:11

Very interesting post and comments. Except I'm puzzled re. the following:

Ally, to what earlier 'pro-life' thoughts are you referring? I can't find them. And gadgetgal, who wrote what you quoted? Do you mean Troon and Paula aren't feminists, or what? Sorry, maybe I've missed something or am just being thick, but I don't get it!

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 16:16

@Kristin I posted in one of the longer posts earlier that I do not like the terminology pro-life because I don't think it refers to me, though it does refer to some people in that political movement.

It would be good if you could ask for my actual name to be taken down because I have posted elsewhere on this site with reference to my own relationships, and I would not want anyone I know (or more importantly my ex-partner would not want anyone to know) that some of the things I wrote apply to that relationship.

gadgetgal // Posted 08 April 2010 at 16:56

@Kristen - nah, you weren't being thick, I just forgot to put that the comment was Ally's, so my bad :) I lashed out in anger and forgot to be clear - will try not to do so again! Having a go at peeps isn't really my thing, it just felt like the thread was becoming a bit of a diatribe so I forgot my head there a sec!

As to whether you can be a feminist and pro-life I've always thought that personally you can be anything so long as your choices don't interfere with the choices of others (namely other women) - for example my sister would consider herself to be PERSONALLY pro-life but POLITICALLY pro-choice. She would never have an abortion, but she would never stop anyone else from doing so either since she's aware that not everyone else agrees with her, and she can't walk in everyone else's shoes to really understand their choices as opposed to her own. Again, it comes back to the choice bit - that's why the OP was saying pro-choice is the balanced point of view - it allows for people who think differently, whether that's to think abortion is either ok or not ok, whereas pro-life (political pro-life, I mean) doesn't.

Amy Clare // Posted 08 April 2010 at 16:57


"Although Education for Choice, I am inclined to welcome your moderation policy after last month's guest blogger closed comments in a huff."

Clearly this refers to me. Thanks. Your little dig at me isn't exactly relevant to the OP, so if you have something to say to me about the comment thread on my last post I suggest you email me direct. My email address is amy_m_clare [at] hotmail dot co dot uk. Knock yourself out.

Joana Andrade // Posted 08 April 2010 at 17:07

This discussion seems to be very polarized in the anglo-saxonic world. In Portugal, where I come from, many people consider a middle ground: you may oppose abortion in general but accept it under some circunstances (rape, incest, foetal malformation, threat to the mother's health). We had a referendum in 2007 and opinions were very divided

Kristin // Posted 08 April 2010 at 17:12

Ally and gadgetgal, thanks for the clarifications. I agree with your sister, gadgetgal, you can't walk in everyone else's shoes. I don't like abortion myself, but I would never think it was my right to judge someone else's choice.
Yes, Ally, I would support your request that your real name be taken off, of course you want to protect your privacy. So, Madam Mod, can that happen, please?
Thanks again.

Education For Choice // Posted 08 April 2010 at 17:17


Laura // Posted 08 April 2010 at 17:39

RE Kate's comment on Amy Clare - please bare in mind that comment moderation is difficult at the best of times, and even more so for inexperienced guest bloggers. Amy Clare was well within her right to close comments, and I think she dealt with a difficult thread admirably.

(Sorry for the derail, EFC Kate!)

Jeff // Posted 08 April 2010 at 17:52

Adding to, and again apogising for, the de-rail; I'd like to echo Laura re. Amy Clare closing her thread. I don't remotely think that action was "In a huff", it seemed to me to be done at the perfect time to stop the thread going from an important discussion into mudslinging.

(Incidentally, I realise that it was mainly my fault the thread was heading that way, I know I'm rather confrontational, it's a flaw of mine that I can't seem to shake, sorry!)

Kate // Posted 08 April 2010 at 19:21

Adding to the derail, since I have no wish to "knock myself out" over email, I felt Amy Clare's decision to close the thread when she lost the argument was immature and showed her inexperience. I think it's been recognised that there is inconsistency on comment moderation across the F Word so maybe this is something that can be borne in mind with the revamp.

Phee // Posted 08 April 2010 at 19:40

EFC: Keep up the fantastic work! I believe that it is the responsibility of caring adults to maintain open and honest communication with young people about sex, relationships, and choice. Most adults are reluctant to have difficult discussions, but teens are eager for information. It sounds like your program uses a fantastic approach to a controversial topic. By simply presenting the facts, you trust students to come to their own conclusions based on their experiences and values. They are usually still figuring out their identities; allowing anti-choice groups to control the conversations with misinformation and scare tactics is detrimental to their development.

aimee // Posted 08 April 2010 at 20:29

... I am sorry but I feel compelled to add to the derail also. I completely support Kate in her comments regarding the moderation. I personally felt quite annoyed at being insulted and belittled on Amy Clare's post and subsequently not being given an opportunity to respond or defend myself. I think this is completely relevant because this is supposed to be a women-friendly space and women with measured and rational things to say are being silenced whilst people like Ally, whose comments are distinctly anti-women are allowed to rant and rave as much as they like.

Rebecca // Posted 08 April 2010 at 22:00

Not giving blood without a sensible reason is, in my view, an immoral choice. It is not a choice, however ,that ought to be imposed by law.

It's kind of hilarious that you use that example, because that's exactly what you're advocating for. You're advocating that women who become pregnant be forced to give their blood, their food, and the use of their organs for an extended time, and that the government should enforce this on everyone.

To everyone going on about how "it's not about denying women rights at all! it's just about the rights of the baaaaby!" - Why does a baby have a right to take someone's blood or organs against her will? No one has that right.

About rape exceptions - Yes, yes, it really is just about punishing women for having sex. Or the criteria wouldn't be rape, but rather emotional trauma. Under the system rape-exemptionists propose, a woman considering suicide because of her pregnancy wouldn't be able to get an abortion just because she chose to have sex.

Ally // Posted 08 April 2010 at 22:21

I didn't read all the comments on Amy Clare's thread, but I have generally found the moderation on the F word quite good. I have never seen a comment I thought shouldn't be let through, and on most of the occasions when people have argued that their comment should be put through it either has been only some time after they posted, or on one occasion was summarised because of repetitive posts from different people (who didn't know they were repeating because of the time lag).

A fairly open moderation policy is one of the most refreshing things about the F word and I'd hate to see it degenerate into one of those blogs that has a fairly exclusive view of feminism and refuses to accept any comment not on the lines of "Go sister!"which I have always thought renders discussion sterile and fruitless.

I also think its sensible to allow guest bloggers to use their own judgement. We know they are guest bloggers, and it freshens things up to have a different perspective on such things-that's the whole point.

Shea // Posted 09 April 2010 at 02:58

Ah Jeff my old sparring partner, I wondered if you would show up. Saw the word "choice" in the title and couldn't resist huh?

"can you really, honestly not conceive that a person might simply be interested in preserving the rights of what they see as a seperate human being, as opposed to merely using that as a front to oppress women."

Trouble is though, the rights of both parties (if a foetus has rights, I doubt it) come into direct conflict. Theres no way around it and no compromise. It doesn't matter how sincerely you believe a foetus is a human life and "alive" if you privilege its rights above those of the woman carrying it the end result is oppression. The rest is just semantics.

The reason that opposition is based on a need to control women rather than preserve life is that a genuine desire to see fewer abortion would mean supporting greater, factual sex education,(which we can see from the OP isn't the case) and a greater availability of contraceptives. Generally anti-choicers don't do this, they employ the opposite counter-productive strategy. They also have very little to say on IVF and embryonic stem cell research, which leads me to conclude its not the destruction of a potential human life that bothers them, its when its inside a woman. Hence, a desire to control the reproductive capabilites of women. (And actually isn't destorying embryos purely on the basis that they are "spare" a far more trivial treatment of "life" than an abortion. Especially given that someone has actively created them).

Further evidence is the clarion call of "it will increase promiscuity" that meets any reproductive related breakthrough, for example the morning after pill and the HPV vaccine; and with it the implicit judgment that "promiscuity" is bad.

You have also fallen into this trap with your edict that women "should just not have sex" to avoid abortion. Which is just a hollow platitude used by the "pro-life" movement in the absence of any cogent thinking.

This is also the thinking that underpins the rape exception - the woman had no control over the creation of the embryo. (Although none of us actually do, conception is a involuntary biological process, if it wasn't there would be no need for IVF) so why should she be "forced" to carry it to term. But as you point out morality is subjective- you have no way of knowing if a rape victim's experience of carrying a pregnancy to term will be more torturous than a woman who is adamant she doesn't want to be a mother.

"Abortion education should be given as the facts, and nothing but the facts, with no bias towards either moral stance."

I actually agree with Ally here, I don't see how you can be neutral in the provision of sex education. There must be an ethical framework underpinning this teaching. And at some point you have to come down on one side of the debate.

I won't debate democracy with you, suffice to say removing bodily autonomy from half the population is decidedly undemocractic by any theory of justice.

I also want to take the opportunity to point out the phenomenal arrogance of a man commenting in a feminist friendly space that abortion is morally wrong when this is a decision he will never ever have to face. This is the very definition of male privilege.

Luckily there is also Troon here to restore faith in the male of the species.(Excellent posts btw, sensitive, articulate, just great).

@ Paula - great post.

@ Ally -"anyone I knew to have had an abortion would not be among my friends"

How would you know? Are you seriously saying you would stop being friends with someone who had taken the morning after pill (an abortafacient) or had a coil (doesn't stop fertilisation, only implantation)?

"Stigma for something I believe is wrong is not something I have a problem with"

I think you'll find this is the epitome of prejudice.

"I don't think there is anything immoral about a big fuck off to other people."

So now thats gay people and women who've had abortions, included in your fuck off. Seems to be getting bigger all the time and your looking less and less like a feminist by the day.

"It is impossible to separate on a scientific level emotional problems that arise from a woman regretting her decision, and emotional problems that arise from the stigma associated with it. Young women have a right to know that some women experience this."

Not impossible in evidence based medicine. The studies show that miscarriage has a greater impact on a woman's mental health than abortion. They also show that there is no significant relationship between having an abortion and subsequently suffering GAD or PTSD. The greatest indicator of psychological problems following abortion is the existence of mental health problems pre-pregnancy ( see Steinberg & Russo, 2008).

Young women need to know that. That is also why I don't believe a pro-choice stance is neutral. It has to be pro-women and has to emphasise hard truths such as: women in an abusive relationships are more likely to have multiple abortions. The social context has to be put forward.

I 'm also interested in whether EFC discuss IVF or embryonic stem cell research? Because without it the debate is lacking. Reproductive technology has moved the debate on.

@ Kate - I think its unfair to claim Amy Clare closed the debate because she lost the argument. It seemed to me it was more like the natural conclusion given that the arguments had become increasingly circular and reached their zenith.

I also don't see the problem in discussing the ethics of abortion in a thread regarding the teaching of sex education, in which abortion plays a huge part. Its seems erroneous to ignore the ethics that inform the debate, especially the groundless assumptions regarding sexual morality that inform most anti-choice thinking. We should be challenging them because the price of not doing so is one that many women, myself included can't afford to pay. Sadly the day may yet come where the price of staying quiet on this is to have our rights restricted or removed completely. This is the frightening reality. The work EFC are doing isn't just debating in the abstract, this can and will have grevious consequences.

Claire // Posted 09 April 2010 at 08:56

I think there was a huge irony in Amy Clare closing her blog the way she did. Despite her arguments against privilege, she was after all exercising a privilege as a blog owner. She was oppressing comment. For a post which addressed privilege and oppression, that was inconsistent. I think her response to Kate of "knock yourself out" is also immature and an inappropriate and violent image.
This is my last post. I've enjoyed the comments, especially gadgetgal's on many subjects. I wanted a feminist perspective on surviving childhood sexual abuse, rape, domestic violence, the normal workplace issues, maternity, sex, fertility, the works. But I have got heartily sick of what I can only label "fundamentalism" in so many of the threads. We spend so much of our time not supporting each other or causes but in debating who can belong to the feminist club and who cannot. I am disappointed that otherwise sensible and creative women should fall into this trap. Sometimes I think A Million Women Bicker would be a better banner than A Million Women Rise. Instead of offering support, genuine interest in others' perspectives and the advancement of equality and feminist theory, many posts seem to me to be pretentious pseudo-academic texts which are more alienating than uniting, and more self-conscious than self-aware.
If this is feminism, I reject it.

sianmarie // Posted 09 April 2010 at 09:22

argh - don't want to derail further but wanted to second laura's comment that blog moderation is really hard work and can often by depressing (esp if the MRAs turn up) so lets not judge unless you have had to deal with all the crap that moderation throws up.

also - i really support education's work. at school my SE teacher told us unequivocally that abortion was wrong, a terrible stance to take to a bunch of 15 year old girls - some of whom had had abortions/were about to get pregnant. choice and the right to the full picture in education is vital. you can be anti abortion for yourself, but we need to respect the right to choice and we have no right to impose your own decisions for your own body on to other women's bodies.

looks like the tories want to reduce the abortion time limit without making access to abortion any easier. if this happens then we will need to continue to stand strong and fight for our right to bodily autonomy.

JenniferRuth // Posted 09 April 2010 at 10:12

I also support Kate in her comments regarding the moderation and what Aimee said regarding Amy Clare's post. I understand that it can be hard when people are disagreeing with you but I don't think anyone over-stepped a line in that comment thread. I felt I would have liked the chance to respond because I think that Amy misread what I was trying to say completely. However, I can also understand why she closed it - we all get a little tired of debate from time to time! It can be emotionally exhausting.

I also think this applies to this post. In this thread I really feel that it went off-topic by the 4th comment. One of the reasons I haven't contributed to this thread is because it was derailed into a morality of abortion debate. This debate has happened over and over with the same tired arguments. How many times does someone have to explain the difference between being personally and politically anti-abortion? How many times do we have to explain that "baby killer" is emotive language? How many times to we have to tread over this same ground? I would love it if we could have a conversation about education regarding abortion or about the laws surrounding it or whatever without it going back to feminist 101 analysis of abortion.

I mean, I'm not saying that the basics of morality and abortion shouldn't ever be discussed. But sometimes, it's like we can never get past that on The F-Word to actually discuss any other abortion topic. It's just the same thing over and over.

Education For Choice // Posted 09 April 2010 at 10:25

Thanks for sharing this, Sianmarie. You raise an important point that I tried to allude to in my post- 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime in this country. It will affect everyone at some point, whether it's you, a partner, or a friend. This is why it's so important to approach the issue in a way that is respectful of all experiences. Same goes for teenage parenthood and adoption. Thanks also for raising the issue about the abortion time limit- my colleague and our director Lisa will be addressing this issue in a forthcoming post.

@Shea: EFC addresses primarily pregnancy decision-making because of the design of the curriculum. IVF and other technologies are usually discussed in religious studies, but because we only have an hour (typically) with students, and because those issues are not part of our charitable aims, we don't normally address them.

Also, the "morning after pill" (which we prefer to call emergency contraception, because you can take it for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex; plus now there is Ella One, just approved as emergency contraception for up to 5 days after unprotected sex) is not an abortifacient. Medically conception as defined as the point at which a fertilised egg implants in the uterus, not when the sperm and egg meet. See: You may personally believe that conception begins when an egg is fertilised, a belief to which you are entitled, but medically this is not considered to be the case. I REALLY do not want this to become a debate on the subject- I have already acknowledged it's a viewpoint you might hold and explained the medical side, so I would appreciate if people did not go off on a tangent with this one!

Thanks again all for the excellent comments!

Jeff // Posted 09 April 2010 at 10:47

Sorry Shea, I said I'd stop de-railing. So I won't address your more general points on abortion here. Though if you actually wanted an answer, I would be happy to do so via email.


In regards to this though - "I actually agree with Ally here, I don't see how you can be neutral in the provision of sex education. There must be an ethical framework underpinning this teaching. And at some point you have to come down on one side of the debate."

I do disagree. I don't see what would stop someone from teaching a classroom exactly what abortion is, how it is carried out (and not the never used method that most pro-life groups try and pass off as the norm) and without using emotive nonsense to influence all that...without adding "And by the way, abortion is/isn't morally acceptable". Whatever your views on it are, it's perfectly feasable to keep them out of education.

"I also want to take the opportunity to point out the phenomenal arrogance of a man commenting in a feminist friendly space that abortion is morally wrong when this is a decision he will never ever have to face. This is the very definition of male privilege."

Probably true, but that doesn't preclude the necessity of speaking out in support of your moral beliefs. There's no point in holding them otherwise.

Troon // Posted 09 April 2010 at 11:41


I checked this briefly in a break, and your comment stood out so strongly I did wish to respond. I am probably the wrong person to be doing so since I would never describe myself as a feminist in this particular space, more simply someone who finds more said here accords with my sense of empathy, compassion and fairness than what is said elsewhere. And, as you know, I can spectacularly fuck up in measuring appropriate boundaries for my own comments and in expressing them in the ludicrously aggressive and pompous language 25 years of academic education has banged into me. I hope this isn’t one more such moment.

I hope the very inappropriateness of my commentating can be helpful though. As someone definitely outside the ‘club’ hope I (not a feminist) occasionally do have something useful or supportive to say. Others who are feminists disagree on specific issues-feminists are after all are not pre-programmed robots who have to agree on everything (Julie K’s feminist hair cut comment stands out). Both of which hint that defining a position as feminist does not make it intrinsically correct. And too often it feels, as someone who tries to limit their comments to issues where I have some direct experience, but which intrinsically therefore deal with a particular form of feminism (education and parenthood) as if even within feminism some areas in which women are treated like shite are not considered really important enough on their own. And the way both can develop into the use of ‘proper feminist’ as a tool to focus and close debate in generalities and confrontation is distressing, even to someone with the immense privilege of simply stepping back and admitting I’m not.

And then you get the debate on abortion on Feb 26th-which started off in precisely the terms you describe (explicitly so) but became about respect for difference and mutual support. Which found new ways not only of thinking but of arguing. And which because it became about individual women in individual circumstances achieved intellectually what this debate hasn’t, developing positions from compassionate specificities rather than easy moralising simplicities (abortion and choice separated as issue, a move beyond arguing about when ‘life’ begins, an acceptance that nobody can know the ‘facts’ behind any one abortion and judge another, a rewriting of pregnancy into the debate). Which did so over one of the most emotive issues of modern life. And that’s why I commented yesterday, and why I find it so painful that it should be this poorer version of the same debate that sparks you to leave the website.

I hope you look again. Can I say that your comments (assuming there is one Claire) have been valuable to me in opening my eyes more directly to your experiences, and in modifying how I both express and think about my views. That is probably just be a sign of my empathetic and intellectual feebleness, but it is valuable. And if it’s valuable to me, it will have been more so to those more directly affected by what you comment on. Whether you wish to identify with feminism, what you did here was worthwhile.

@Others on speciesism
Sorry, this is awfully long. The less important de-rail is Amy Claire. Can I please suggest she be asked to reopen the thread, if only to selected commentators. The heat of that debate drew three issues-meat eating, speciesism as ‘anti-suffering’ and the broader ‘speciesism as analogous to sexism’ together in non-helpful ways; her signing off let her misrepresent some of those she directly wrote against and had no chance of reply; and her summaries of their views now stand. Surely now calmer heads and hearts are at work they at least could have a chance to respond?

Sorry to further derail Education’s piece.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:16

You constantly force people to reiterate the same ground. Both of the anti-abortion posters here (or at least me, if I have misremembered Jeff from the other thread) are against producing too many embryos in IVF and producing embryos for embryo research. I accept that if you think it is acceptable to have IVF, but not to have an abortion you are being inconsistent in a way that suggest you care more about stopping women from having sex than you do about the autonomy of the embryos.

That is not true if you make an exception for rape: what you are saying is that a woman who has had no opportunity to exercise her autonomy is in a different position from a woman who has had a choice whether or not to take a risk that something will happen. In the former case her autonomy should take precedence over the autonomy of the baby in making its own decision.

I do not have any problems with gay people. You are misrepresenting my views, again. Not believing that people can have rights for others to provide services to them personally when they offered generally, is not the same as being anti-gay.

Well what is and isn't psychological disorder is simply an invented construct which has no scientific basis. It is simply how bad does something have to be before it is no longer a mere emotional problem but a psychological one? The answer is usually when it affects the economic output of the person sufficiently for it to be worth the economic input of treating it.

Sure, there is evidence to suggest people have fewer emotional reactions to abortion as opposed to miscarriage, and even that the emotional problems are the result of stigma rather than connected to the abortion. People should have that information. I don't disagree on that point.

Obviously my friendship choices are limited by the information I have available. Did that even need saying? Was it relevant to the debate in any way? No, no it wasn't.

@Education for choice: I do believe life begins at conception, and I also think that a comprehensive education would explain that understanding of when life begins, particularly since the medical definition is likely to be misleading. I would have considered using a coil right up until the post above, and if I had, I myself would have done something I consider to be murder without even realising. It really is crucial that the biological facts are given out and to be honest I have always thought that they deliberately skimmed over that part to encourage more people to use the morning after pill rather than get pregnant. Not giving me that information to make an informed choice (as my school didn't) could have resulted in a psychological trauma for me that was akin to rape. I hope that's been sorted out, and I hope you'll take that point seriously when you are giving students ALL the information as opposed to the convenient parts I was given.

Education For Choice // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:27

@Ally, the religious studies curriculum (which is mandatory for all students) already focuses extensively on the question of when life begins. As such it forms a part of our discussion on the subject (for example, we look at those who believe life begins when an egg is fertilised, those who believe life begins at medical conception, those who believe life begins at some point during the pregnancy i.e. ensoulment, as described by Thomas Aquinas and the Quoran, and those who begin life as we know it begins at birth) As I have already stated several times, we encourage students to consider a wide variety of perspectives without asserting that any one has more value.

This is part of the reason that EFC has been recognised as a best practice model of abortion education by the Government's Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV.

Jeff // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:37

Just curious EFC, what classes do your presentations get given to? I.E. RE/PHSE/Biology/"Citizenship" (or whatever it's called these days)

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:41

@Education for choice. I am glad this information has improved, it sounds like you have improved quite a lot in terms of actual content. When I did it, we studied fertilisation and implantation as separate things in biology and conception (which was taught as fertilisation) in RE. The mechanics of the morning after pill were never fully explained-we were told that it prevented conception, but never told that conception extended to implantation. I found that information in an A-level textbook later and was incensed that it had been misrepresented, but there was still no information about the precise mechanics of the coil.

Jeff // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:42

Whoops missed something.

"(or at least me, if I have misremembered Jeff from the other thread) are against producing too many embryos in IVF and producing embryos for embryo research."

I'm not really "against" IVF Ally, in the same way that I'm not "against" abortion. I think the two have moral problems, but I wouldn't extend that to wanting limitations applied to them.

Laura // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:51

Could any further comments about comment moderation please be sent directly to us through the feedback form (under Contact Us) and not posted here. We will be discussing this at our upcoming meeting.

Kate // Posted 09 April 2010 at 13:59

@ Ally: "Not believing that people can have rights for others to provide services to them personally when they offered generally, is not the same as being anti-gay."

You're going to have to try harder to convince people you're not anti-gay if you post statement like that. You appear to be saying that a right can be offered generally but denied to a gay person purely on the basis of their sexuality. And you reckon that doesn't make you anti-gay?

Anyway, back to the point. It just isn't credible to start from a basis that women chose to have sex and thereby forfeit all right to controlling their fertility. That's just a blind denial of where the human race is sexually. As soon as you have reliable access to contraception you break the link between sex and procreation. Sex is now firmly established as a "recreational" pursuit, albeit one which many/most people attach a lot of criteria to ("love", monogamy etc.) This means we're far less tolerant of accepting accidental pregnancy as a by-product, or punishment or whatever way you want to think of it. I welcome the right of anyone over the age of consent to have a healthy sex life, which is one of the reasons I support comprehensive sex education. It's not just about arming young people with the facts in case they "slip", it's acknowledging that there's nothing wrong with young people of a certain age making an informed choice.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 14:56

I don't believe anyone has rights to have services provided for them by other people. Advertising such services is an invitation to treat-and then the parties decide whether they want to offer services or not, and the other side decides whether they want to pay the price or not, for whatever reason they see fit. It is not that people have different rights, its that everyone is entirely at the mercy of the whim of the other party. And that's fair, because both parties are in that position-there are many bars that exclude heterosexual people and many more that require attendees to be gay friendly, similarly some religious people wish to limit who enters their business. It isn't a one way street.

All I can say is that I am fortunate enough to have both gay and heterosexual friends who don't think that constitutes a big 'fuck off' sign and who agree with it.

Back to the point: your argument only makes sense if you don't believe that there is another human being whose life must be taken to allow that autonomy. When babies can be removed from the woman without actually killing them, we will be in a position where we can ethically retain autonomy after sex without killing another human being in the process. Until then sex is a risk, and contraception can only reduce that risk. Not to mention that many many of the women who make use of "on demand" abortions haven't even fully (or sometimes even partly) made use of the contraceptive options. In fact one woman has even admitted she "couldn't be bothered to go and get condoms". Noone who believes a human life at the embryonic stage is worth ANYTHING could countenance an abortion for that reason.

cim // Posted 09 April 2010 at 15:44

Ally: "When babies can be removed from the woman without actually killing them"

...and then what? Raised by robots until they're old enough to fend for themselves? Placed in the already over-stretched foster care system in the hope that suitable adoption opportunities come up? The need for support to live doesn't end at birth.

"Noone who believes a human life at the embryonic stage is worth ANYTHING could countenance an abortion for that reason."

Why stop at fertilisation as the start point, then? The egg has almost all it needs before then anyway. Why is a method of contraception that prevents the egg from finding any sperm morally better than a method that stops it doing anything else once it has?

Troon // Posted 09 April 2010 at 16:06

I tried to ask yesterday that writers remembered they were writing in the presence of women who had had or were thinking of having abortions, but nothing has changed, and further pain has been caused, all in order to reach a point when we could just be linking to points made previously any way.

Could I simply ask anyone thinking of posting to remember what continuing the debate does when there is justifiably loose moderating, but when one side of that debate is represented by a woman who feels morally forced to answer any opposing point and directly states that her morality precludes any sensitivity to others' feelings? My body is not threatened by allowing her views to stand, and thus I cannot and am not advocating that they should or that others should; be censored, just pleading that anyone considering posting think of the worst possible response from any women reading who have had or are choosing to have abortions, and assess on those terms whether any comment (even a pro-choice one) which does not directly address them but which continues this debate in general terms is actually helpful?

aimee // Posted 09 April 2010 at 16:21

Cim: your comment is spot on!

Getting back to the topic in hand.. I think it's wrong to intriduce any kind of propaganda into the classroom at all. Why are pro-choice or pro-life organisations being invited at all? Surely the best thing to do would be to tell young people about the services avaliable to them in an impartial and non judgemental manner, free from opinion?

Jeff // Posted 09 April 2010 at 16:31


I agree completely, and that seems to be what EFC is all about. It certainly seems that way from their website anyway. If you navigate via their website to the "Abortion Education Toolkit" you can have a look at the aims and principles involved in the presentations they make. It's really very good.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 16:45

@cim: It is obvious why an unfertilised egg is not a human being and a fertilised one is. It does not have the necessary genetic material.

Adoption is not a moral choice in all circumstances, but it is always a better one than abortion. Surely it should be up to the child to decide whether its life is worth living, not you, or the mother?

@Troon people have to face up to the arguments surrounding their decisions in life or they could just not read the thread. There are plenty of threads that don't discuss abortion, this one obviously had that potential from even looking at the title. The f word isn't an abortion support group debate at an abstract level is part of its remit. If people want a feminist space that is exclusively pro-choice, then I am sure it would be possible to find one. At the moment, this isn't it.

@Aimee: that point has been made, and challenged, and reiterated multiple times: read the thread.

sianmarie // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:03

troon - well said.

Troon // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:12

"people have to face up to the arguments surrounding their decisions in life"

The problem is they don't. If they make a choice to post comments attacking the one in three women who will have an abortion, with the result that one of those women reading wonders whether anyone walking down the street is likely to tell them to fuck off, or whether her friends will when she reveals her choice, then the poster isn't living with the consequences of their choice, that woman and those who try to support her are. And if that poster argues a woman in another country should die because she is pregnant, she isn't living with the consequences of it-because nobody is, the only consequences are death. And if the poster argues that women who are pregnant should remain so, and their lives and those of their children are blighted, the poster isn't living with consequences. And when that same internet poster wishes to deny gay couples hostel and B&B accommodation, so that a homeless couple could be deprived of shelter on the basis of who they fuck, that poster isn't living with the consequences of their views, others are. Because there is a disjuncture between the practical implications of what is said and the saying of it, and in that space argument can become its own reward.

And if that poster's name becomes known, she (absolutely rightly) wishes it removed to avoid any direct consequences of her choice to express her views. And that's the point, the position of judgement here is fundamentally unequal, and that demands we act accordingly.

And to any woman walking down the street who I upset with this post, please note nobody is likely to do this, and it is they who are wrong if they do. And my apologies for it.

Rebecca // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:18

@Shea, EFC: the morning-after pill works by preventing ovulation, no? It's just that it hasn't been proved not to prevent implantation, or something silly like that.

@Ally: No, there are no bars that ban heterosexual people. And a ban on bigots (you know, for the safety and protection of the clientele) is an entirely different creature from a ban on gay people. As you've already had explained to you, it's perfectly legal and acceptable to throw someone out of your hotel for making noise, or leaving a mess, or any jumped-up reason. But you can't throw someone out because they're gay, or black, or Jewish.

Really, you needn't bother. You've made it obvious that you're a homophobe, and repeating more homophobic arguments certainly won't change that impression.

Rebecca // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:20

also @Ally: I notice you've chosen not to respond to my argument about "babies" being given rights that no person actually has - to claim other people's blood and organs when they do not choose to donate them. Is that because you have no answer?

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:47

I said the arguments, not necessarily the consequences. I expect to be judged for the choices I make.

I would not deny gay couples entry to a B&B if I owned it. I would not deny straight couples entry to a bar that I owned. And as it happens this particular poster has been in that position. My (then) girlfriend missed her train home. We couldn't go back to mine because my parents were expecting a "boyfriend" to have been staying and would have quickly cottoned on if they'd come home that day to find her there. With us both out of money at the end of term we had £50 between us and after waiting until midnight to get a left-over room and searching for ages the only place we could afford a room was muslim-owned. Fortunately, his belief system only extended to a rather rude snigger, before letting us in (after he'd tried to make us have separate rooms, which we couldn't afford). Needless to say she was drained and upset. If he'd refused us we'd have had to spend the night in the train station. I still think he ought to have a right to do that.

I am also not immune from any of the other possibilities that you mentioned happening in the future.

The reason I was particularly anxious to keep my anonymity is to avoid that fact being discoverable by anyone who knows me. Partly because I don't want them to know, but more importantly because she doesn't either and it isn't only my secret to keep, not because I am not willing to take responsibility for my political beliefs. I am quite happy for anyone on the F word who wants to take something up personally to be given my email address. If there was a meet-up and it was possible for me to attend, I would go. I do not shy away from responses to taking controversial positions. I had to make a choice earlier on the f word (there was another post by yourself and Horry on breastfeeding I think where I mentioned not all my partners ha been men) whether to remain anonymous and bring that part of my life to the discussion, or to be open with my identity. I chose the former, and may live to regret it as it is quite likely anyone who reads any of my posts and knows me would know who it was.

Horry // Posted 09 April 2010 at 17:49

“... one woman has even admitted she “couldn’t be bothered to go out and get condoms”. Noone who believes a human life at the embryonic stage is worth ANYTHING could countenance an abortion for that reason”.
For all the lofty abstraction you’re apparently aiming at, this really is a sweeping statement too far. There is a balance between what value you place on an embryo and what cost is inherent in a woman being denied an abortion. And there will always be a cost, and going through a pregnancy you don’t want to go through with is a massive one, not just to an individual, but to anyone who thinks the bodily autonomy of pregnant women should be as inviolable as that of anyone else. It’s not about “not being bothered“ to get condoms, it’s about not wanting to be pregnant, regardless of how you got there. It’s not “go on, nip to the vending machine and the non-existant embryo lives“ (or rather doesn’t, but then it can’t die and that’ll make anti-abortionists happy, or rather it won’t because they’ll move onto the next person, or something ...). You’re suggesting a “trivial“ reason for getting pregnant equates to a trivial reason for not wanting to remain pregnant. Really, whether you want to be or not, there’s never anything trivial about pregnancy. If you think it’s a suitable punishment for not being arsed to pop out to the shops, then you’re wrong. And even if you don’t agree with me there, perhaps you can accept that people who think that embryos are worth something (I do) might yet think abortions for the not-quite-arsed-to-go-shopping are nevertheless acceptable.

"Surely it should be up to the child to decide whether its life is worth living, not you, or the mother?"
Whenever I've been pregnant, I've been quite happy for my fetuses to decide whatever the hell they like, although I've no idea whether that's involved them defining the value of their own lives. Still hasn't had an impact on my belief that I should still get to decide who occupies my uterus, be it for their life-worth-living or not.

BTW, apologies for my earlier post, I really did mistake you for someone pretending to care about women having abortions. Quite an error on my part, and I certainly won't accuse you of hypocrisy in that area again.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 18:04

Also the glass bar excludes men on grounds of gender.

I have also heard a number of other bars in london where lesbian women have complained about being asked to kiss to prove they are actually lesbians because they 'don't look like lesbians'. That doesn't sound like heterosexual people are allowed in to me. It also doesn't sound very gay friendly but anyway...

One of my friends was also asked not to kiss her boyfriend in a gay friendly bar.

In all these situations there are valid and sensible reasons for the discriminatory policies- giving people a space to be with people who are like them, so that they are free to be themselves, particularly when they can be excluded and stigmatised in mainstream culture. This can be true for people of particular religions as well as sexualities.

As to your point about the baby being dependant on the mother's blood and organs- when a woman has penetrative sex with a man she knows what she is risking and she can choose to have sex some other way (it isn't the only way to orgasm, even from your g-spot), and she can reduce the risk to less than 1%. The fact that a baby relies on its mother physically is precisely the reason why I think that her autonomy, and whether she could have avoided the pregnancy needs to be considered and weighed against the rights of the child to continue living, which is why I don't think it is possible to expect a raped woman to take a pregnancy to term when she has had no opportunity to exercise her autonomy. I thought that was clear from what I had already posted, I am sorry if it wasn't.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 09 April 2010 at 18:05

Emergency contraception works does several things at once- it gives you a big dose of hormones that prevents your body from ovulating and it changes the hormonal balance of your womb so it is unable to implant a fertilised egg. As sperm can stay in alive in your body for several days, this ensures that if you are going to ovulate shortly after sex you won't (and so there is nothing to fertilise). It means if it is too late and the egg is already fertilised, it will not implant in the womb. If the egg has already implanted in the womb, then you are pregnant and there is no evidence that emergency contraception causes an abortion (you would need to seek a medical abortion at this stage or start planning for motherhood).

Where debate exists between the medical community and pro-lifers is whether the fertilised egg is a life. The medical community does not accept that it is life that can be 'aborted' until it implants in the womb- there are many complex reasons why they think this.

Part of the problem here is that there cannot be a form of emergency contraception that doesn't change the hormone balance of your womb at the same time as it stops you ovulating. This is because your womb's hormonal balance is linked to your menstrual cycle. Your womb is only able to accept an egg at certain times of the month- at the same time as you ovulate- and both of these are controlled by the levels of hormones in your body. As they are related, if you give someone hormones to change when they ovulate, you will inevitably alter the hormone balance of their womb. Incidentally, all contraceptions that stop you from ovulating (such as the pill or depo) also affect the hormone balance of your womb. They always come together and are usually sold to you as 'double security' against pregnancy.

Just because it was raised upthread- how the coil works is that (in modern forms) it is a T-shape that physically blocks the bottom of your womb stopping sperm from entering. Due to the material it is made from, it also slightly affects the chemistry in your womb and so makes your cervix mucus thicker which also acts to prevent sperm passing. Finally, it affects the hormone balance of your womb so it will not implant a fertilised egg. However, it usually does still allow you to ovulate. So, I guess if the physical barrier of the T-bar and mucus fails to work, there is a chance that an egg could be fertilised and not able to implant itself on the womb. However, if the coil hasn't stopped the sperm at this stage chances are it isn't working and therefore won't be affecting the chemistry of your womb either.

gadgetgal // Posted 09 April 2010 at 18:28

@Claire - I'm sorry you're going, I like your comments too! But I do understand - sometimes some of the topics can veer off into in-fighting, and that can get very irritating (and worse, turn into a waste of time and energy that could be better spent anyway!). But I think I'm going to stick with it here - I still live in hope that the more people talk things out the closer we'll get to moving forward. Maybe that's just the pie-in-the-sky American in me talking, but I'd really like it to be true! And if you ever feel like coming back to comment I'll be chuffed to see your postings!

@Jeff - I thought the EFC website was good too (although the initials still make me think of Everton Football Club!). Lots of info available and easy to find my way around. I have a couple of teacher friends I've recommended it to, although they know their stuff so they might have seen it anyway!

Laura // Posted 09 April 2010 at 21:40

Ally said: If people want a feminist space that is exclusively pro-choice, then I am sure it would be possible to find one. At the moment, this isn't it.

I would personally like TFW to be an exclusively pro-choice space. I strongly believe that holding a viewpoint that ultimately leads to the deaths of tens of thousands of women globally every year is incompatible with feminism, and I massively dislike space being given to anti-choice views here - there's plenty of other places for anti-choice views to be aired. I intend to raise this at our next collective meeting.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 22:10

I can only say in response to that, that I certainly hope you alter your remit to a safe and friendly space for pro-choice feminists if that decision is taken, because I don't think feminism is yours to define pro-life women out of, even if it is your space.

aimee // Posted 09 April 2010 at 22:20

@Ally: Well no debate has arisen which has afforded a satisfactory answer.
I totally agree that TFW should be a pro choice space, because I believe that pro women necessitates pro choice. I wouldn't mind, however a debate about the moral issues surrounding abortion at all as long as it was conducted in a reasonable and open minded way. You are however, nothing but hostile towards women. I really don't understand how placing more value on the life of an unborn, non sentient foetus than on the bodily autonomy of a grown, individual women is feminist? Where does one draw the line? At what point does a bunch of cells become more valuable than the woman? and even if you feel that personally, why do you think it's acceptable to judge other women, based on their own personal decisions about their own bodies? You didn't create the cells. They're not in YOUR body.

Ally // Posted 09 April 2010 at 22:28

@ Feminist Avatar. I am very glad you posted that. I have obviously been grossly misinformed about the contraception available, and I hope that Education For Choice gives that information and its implications in detail in lessons. You may have literally saved my life- I was literally going to make an appointment for the pill/similar in a few weeks time, and I don't know if I could lived with what I'd done if my GP had not informed me of that an I'd gone through with it. Thankyou very very much.

Shea // Posted 09 April 2010 at 22:57

@ aimee- well said.

@ Rebecca- the MAP does both, I think Feminist Avatar gives a fairly comprehensive over view. Although the coil she's referring to sounds like Mirena (which secretes hormones), rather than the copper coil which has a greater failure rate.

@ EFC - fair point. I didn't realise you get such limited time. I don't believe that life begins at conception, so for me neither the MAP or coil is abortafacient, but if you do believe this, then they are (which is what I was challenging).

I think you are doing brilliant work though and I thoroughly support it.

@ Laura Woodhouse and others - I totally agree with you that TFW should be a pro-choice space. As we saw from the other thread there is nothing feminist about making women who have had abortions feel like "baby killing" whores, (there are enough people in society generally who will do this). I also second your viewpoint that I don't see how holding a view that would lead to the death or injury of thousands of women globally can ever be considered feminist. It seems the antihesis.

A further point-- it seems to stifle debate in this area, as old ground get rehashed and time is spent debating with one predominant anti-choice commenter (I know I'm guilty of prepetuating this though).

Troon // Posted 10 April 2010 at 00:14

I’m glad you responded to what I said, as I logged on to apologise for it and for the way it was done. As I said, I was not criticising your desire to remain anonymous, nor your reasons for doing so. I am sorry to that you suffered such prejudice.

Please let me explain myself a little, since I am now certain that I may do so (I know the woman I am about to refer to is not going to read this thread and that she will let me post). Yesterday my concern was that abortion became dewomanised, that pregnancy and numerous real women were effaced in ways likely to cause pain. Today by contrast has been a tale of two young women within this thread for me, both living in the same town, both (presumably) preparing for the run up to exams that may be critical to their lives. There may be other similarities too-I don’t know your background or how much of a struggle it was for you to even have the chance of sitting those exams. One of those women was you, the other a student who made the decision several months ago that she did not wish to take them in the later stages of pregnancy (please note I’m not seeking to suggest to anyone here that her background makes her decision ‘more’ acceptable-any reason to be or not to be pregnant is as serious or trivial as the pregnant woman wishes it to be). She reads the F-word, and finds herself as a result of what you write not only suffering once again for a decision she was entitled to make, and which she is coming to terms with in the knowledge there will always be anti-abortion rhetoric to cope with, but genuinely terrified that she may be accosted and attacked by someone such as yourself in ways that, even if she reveals her distress, mean she will be dumped as a friend and will continue to be verbally attacked. And she doesn’t deserve that for having an abortion, she simply deserves the right to get on with her life and review her choices as she sees fit, something made all the harder by the small, college-based communities in which both of you operate. And it is your choice in this instance to cause her that pain afresh, despite being asked to think on what you are doing, not hers for having had an abortion. And I find what you did damaging and unnecessary, since it is not achieving anything at all but making your voice heard, and may affect her entire life, and I lashed out more than I would have wished to.

But I shouldn’t have done, especially not in a thread where I have asked for calm. It wasn’t necessary for me to protect her-were this a real room she would already be being protected and supported by others better than me-or to patronise others in her position. It wasn’t necessary or coherent for me to attack another woman in a very similar position to hers in life, who continues to write in a very hostile environment, and whose life I know little about and whose reactions and motivations I can’t gauge. And it certainly isn’t necessary to have the bullying middle-aged man snarling at an undergraduate for expressing her views thoughtlessly, appropriating someone else's pain in pious justification for doing so. I am very sorry, it makes me the worst sort of hypocrite, and I shan’t be posting again on this thread unless you ask me to. That makes me sorry for behaving badly, though, and deeply questioning my own abilities not to, not accepting in any way that I am wrong for thinking you too are behaving badly.

Rebecca // Posted 10 April 2010 at 08:38

Funny how that bar bans straight and gay women, not "heterosexuals."

(Although, if you actually read the article, you'll see that the usual female patrons were evidently hostile to the gay male clientele. Perhaps one could make a case that the better way of dealing with it would have been to throw people and groups out on an individual basis, but it's a far cry from "My religion says I should hate you so I will deny you, specifically, the goods and services I offer."

I'm also amazed at your implication that religious Christians don't have a place to be with others of their kind. I believe that place is called "church."

I hope you realize that you're arguing that some children are worthy of life and some are not because of who their parents are. While I don't think an embryo is a child, you evidently do, and that's what you're saying when you say that it's okay to kill the child of a rapist and a victim but not the child of consenting people. This is about punishing people for having sex, not about saving lives.

Speaking of rape: let's use a different analogy. Do you think that a woman who has once had sex with a man is obligated to always have sex with him when he wants it? After all, she exercised her autonomy in having sex with him the first time.

Anna // Posted 10 April 2010 at 09:43

Ally - are you in favour of establishing right-to-die clinics for those who decide that after all, they didn't want to live (not just the terminally ill/long term disabled but for those who have simply decided they don't want to live?)

This is a genuine question, I just wondered how far your 'the child should decide whether it wants to live, not the mother' spiel goes.

Education For Choice // Posted 10 April 2010 at 10:55

Hi all,

I'm writing to let you know that, first, I won't be publishing any comments about Amy Clare's earlier post, as these are clearly off-topic. The F Word bloggers will be posting something in the future about comments policies, and you can comment there.

Second, I am going to turn off comments for this thread in 24 hours (Sunday morning). The reason is that I actually don't have time to moderate more comments for this thread, especially given that comments now have little to do with my original post. EFC is a small charity with only a handful of staff members, which means that it has been a significant drain on staff time (and my personal time) to moderate comments this much. I want to encourage dialogue as much as possible, and comment moderation is a responsibility to which we committed when we signed up to be guest bloggers. That said, as this thread has gotten off track (no judgment, just an observation), I don't feel it's within my responsibilities to continue moderating. I hope that the 24-hour notice period gives you a chance to say anything else you'd like to say so you don't feel like you are being censored.

Let me just say that the amount of time I've poured into this and the hard questions it's raised give me renewed respect for the incredible work that the F Word bloggers do! Props to them.


Ally // Posted 10 April 2010 at 11:53

@ Rebecca I don't think that the only sensible justification for allowing people to discriminate is to create a safe space for themselves. I think another sensible reason is to allow them to make a living in a way that doesn't require them to compromise their own beliefs, and I think the right to do that is more important than the right to holiday. I would not take the same position, if for instance, the wilsons or whatever they were called refused equal employment opportunities. That may even extend to insisting that they welcome gay guests in order to avoid a hostile work place for those employees, but obviously would not apply in a family owned, family run business which is too small for the Equal opps legislation to apply.

The baby of a rape victim is worth the same as any other, but the need to provide another opportunity for the woman to exercise her bodily autonomy is there in the former case and not in the latter. This is obviously the rationale, you are creating a straw man argument.

@Anna: yes, absolutely.

@Troon what annoys me about your posts is not that they are pompous (they aren't) nor that you don't have any or as much personal experience as a woman (the argument remains the same no matter who says it) but that you think decisions about the beginning of life, and the prioritising of those interested parties is one that should be made solely on emotional and experiential grounds. That philosophy should take a back seat. That the right answer is always about how much pain something will or won't cause. What annoys me more about how you bang on and on about how women of experience are more qualified to answer and how much better the conversation is when it is about 'a tale of two young women'. You never stop to consider that some of us might be more qualified than you to comment not because we are women but because we have read more philosophy, or thought about it longer. Depending on your subject that may or may not be justified with regards to an undergraduate, but plenty other readers are older than that and have postgrad qualifications.

Academia and life are not separate things to me, the former determines how I behave in the latter.

As to the worries about attacks from other students: no pro-life person at this university is going to seek out an individual to shame them or decide that they are going to debate an indiviual's decision. That certainly is not true of me: I have a view of whether abortion should be legal, and how it should be taught and the morality or immorality of a decision already taken is gratuitous and useless.

I can't speak for her friends, but I think most students would bite their tongues and hold their judgements in hiatus at least until after F.

I wish your student the best in the other unmentionable F word.

As to the F word site content, maybe a trigger warning would be appropriate, as is widely used for discussions of sensitive subjects elsewhere on the internet. It is not as if triggering content wasn't likely or predictable-that would be true even in a pro-choice environment.

@ Education for choice: thanks for all the work posting the comments, and my sincere apologies for the thread derail. It is sometimes difficult on blogs when one feels something needs to be said to find an appropriate place to do it.

Maeve // Posted 10 April 2010 at 11:57

Kate, thank you for this very valuable post. I do feel it would have been much less draining on your staff and personal time had not one commenter in particular been allowed to dominate this debate with motives which - given that they are clearly anti-feminist but choose to comment in what is supposed to be a feminist-friendly space - can only be malicious.
I know that, for instance, Twisty (I blame the patriarchy) on her blog simply refuses to tolerate 'fighting rearguard actions' type comments from mra's, except to occasionally showcase them in all their stupidity. I think that's right, and I think it would save a lot of grief on TFW.
I can imagine how any feminist comments would be treated on an mra site, that's if they even got posted in the first place.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 10 April 2010 at 12:09

Just for quick clarification- the reason copper is used in 'coils' is because copper affects the hormone balance of your womb (also great for reducing symptoms of certain types of arthritis- bad if you are allergic to copper as some people are). Some coils are a combination of silver and copper to increase this effect. Many modern coils also release hormones, in addition to the effect from the copper.

Secondly, @ Ally: I would suggest (although you make wish to discuss this with your doctor) that the pill or similar hormonal drug is a perfectly safe choice for a pro-lifer (as long as it is the fertilised egg you are concerned with). This is because it alters the effect the balance of your hormones to stop you ovulating at the same time as it affects the hormonal balance of the womb (this is because they are in-sync). If your contraception fails and you ovulate, the liklihood is that it will also have failed to affect the hormone balance of your womb and it would be possible for a fertilised egg to implant. You can see this in practice where quite a number of women fall pregnant on the pill (all contraceptions have a failure rate)- it appears if they are ovulating, their womb is also receptive to implantation. I just thought it was important to clarify that, but I would also say that if you have concerns about how particular contraceptions work you should discuss this with your doctor (esp a family planning doctor)- s/he is likely to have regularly met people who need their contraceptions to work in particular ways for religious/philosophical reasons (fertilised egss is not the only issue that can be raised here- some people cannot interfere with ovulation for religious reasons; others with the passage of sperm etc) and should be able to explain the mechanics of each type, so you can make informed choice.

Ally // Posted 10 April 2010 at 13:29

@aimee. I think we've established where I draw the lines as far as is possible to do so in the abstract.

Also at least half of the babies that die through abortion are female. Sentience is not the thing I think makes people human. Neither is 'breathing'.

Rarely does anyone change sides through debate of abortion, and that isn't the only point of a pro-life view being here. Part of the point is that feminism, which I see as having at its core the desire of women to work together to move towards equality between the sexes, whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not, can
only exist for all women in meaningful numbers and in a meaningful way if we admit people who don't have feminism as their only (or even their core) belief system. I am a libertarian, I am a capitalist, and I am pro-life, but I am also a feminist, I support equality for women and I don't see what feminism has to gain by excluding or alienating people who belong to any of those categories,or the many more women (such as muslim and christian women) whom the overwhelmingly secular movement (if we can call it that yet) would exclude.

For this reason I think it is important to have well known central feminist spaces where feminists of all creeds and convictions are able to communicate without being silenced, even if that does result in
"in-fighting". I hope readers who have read my posts will consider my (secular) views on abortion carefully, particularly if the pro-life stance has previously been presented to them by Christian groups, but a more realistic hope is that existing pro-life feminists may just feel refreshed or included as a result of knowing that there are more of us
out here, and we aren't being silenced. It also stops the site from coming a self-congratulatory in-crowd who view everyone who isn't pro-choice (or whatever other position you want to insert)as automatically less intelligent than them.

Rebecca // Posted 10 April 2010 at 16:17


If a B&B is too small for anti-discrimination legislation to apply, is it okay for them to ban, say, Jewish people? What other kinds of business legislation are they too small for - is it okay for them to abuse their employees? Is it okay for them to have an unsanitary kitchen? Is it okay if their "home" is unable to be evacuated in case of fire?

Re: rape exemption: No, you're no more convincing than you've been before. I am directly asking you why life is more important than bodily autonomy except when a woman has chosen to have sex. (Or, you know, in every other case in the world where we don't force people to donate body parts.)

You might respond to the analogy, too. After all, as I said, she chose to have sex with him. Why isn't he entitled to her body now?

Rebecca // Posted 10 April 2010 at 16:20

also @Ally: I completely agree that we don't need to limit the space to people who have feminism as their only belief system. However, you're using that argument to support bringing in a view that is actively hostile to women and to feminism. A feminist website can't keep around that kind of view, just as it can't keep around the view that rape victims were asking for it or that the proper place for women is in the home.

Ulla // Posted 10 April 2010 at 16:45

I'm quite new to this blog so I beg everyone's pardon if I'm not quite up-to-date with everyone's roles and/or positions in the current debate.

Nevertheless: Wasn't the original post about sexual health education? I find it quite hard to grasp why the only aspect of sexual well-being which is worth debate here is the question of whether one thinks that abortion is morally justifiable and/or should be legally accessible to every woman.

Someone pointed out earlier that this argument ignores the stage of development in human sexual behaviour, which is true, I think. Pleasure is probably the purpose the majority of sex acts are performed for these days instead of sex mainly as a means of reproduction. We have developed way beyond this.

As a consequence, no one should be scared into a specific kind of sexual behaviour and creating horror scenarios about abortion, loading the rhetoric associated with it with terms like murder, taking the life of a human being, killing babies and the like is definitely a strategy designed to scare. What is needed in sexual health education instead is a discussion of how becoming a sexually active adult may change the way a person feels about themselves and others.

Of course, one issue are the various ways in which one may prevent becoming a parent which are available and what to do in order to obtain them, but I don't see why this remains the only focus of sexual health education.

To me it seems that that kind of sexual health education does not live up to our reality of sexual behaviour. We advertise everywhere how a fullfilling sex-life is basically THE prerequisite for a worthwhile life and especially for a "successfull" partnership, but when it comes to educating teenagers about it the only thing we keep telling them is how they absolutely need to prevent becoming pregnant. This seems plainly wrong to me because essentially it equals a secularized version of a theology blaming all the evil humanity is capable of on its female half.

Lately, I saw a piece on German television about what the author called the "porno generation", i.e. a tendency among younger people to think about their sex life in terms of performative categories they receive from the consumption of pornographic material mostly on the internet. It was really sad to watch that piece because, among other sad things, it showed a mother of a 14year old girl who thought that she provided useful sex advice to her daughter by telling her that she had had oral sex with her boyfriend and suggested that her daughter tried it with her own boyfriend, too. The mother then said that sex was quite important to her and that she felt useless if there was no one around to have sex with.

I think that it is this kind of attitudes towards sex that we have to think about. I think most teenagers are quite familiar with the "mechanics" of sex and contraception. What they have to be educated about and that probably goes for female teenagers in particular is how to deal with the emotional impact of becoming sexually active. I cannot substantiate that claim with any kind of statistics but from my own experience and from what I heard from women who have been accidentally pregnant it seems that often these pregnancies are not so much the result of a lack of information about contraception or a lack of fear of abortion but about emotional issues which may temporarily erase the ability to behave responsibly in the sexual field. And this is no moral issue and nothing which can be "healed" by complicating the whole process with lots of philosophical/ethical/religious baggage. So if we talk about sexual health education I think we should make sure that we have our priorities right.

aimee // Posted 11 April 2010 at 08:28

Ally. To clarify, I don't think that you should be silenced, but I do think your methods have been less than admirable... in that they are not only judgemental and have made women who have had abortions feel bad in a space where that's not supposed to happen, but they are frankly just a bit rude.
With regards to 'in-fighting'... there's nothing wrong with in-fighting! It's the kind of thing that anti feminists use to decry feminism by playing into this whole bitchy women stereotype and trying to imply that feminists just argue all the time. Surely ALL members of any kind of movement or group have disagreements and fights! So it's not in-fighting that's the problem.. in fact i think it's healthy and necessary. What's not necessary is when that fighting actively makes other members feel uncomfortable.

Latest Comments

Reclaiming The F-Word

Founder of The F-Word, Catherine Redfern, has co-authored a new book with Kristin Aune. Find out more at the Reclaiming The F-Word website.

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word Feeds
  • #
  • #