When the Personal is Sometimes Political: Abortion on Demand
Holly Combe // 21 May 2008
I’ve been thinking about Zohra’s entry on the personal not always being political in the abortion debate but wanted to make sure we won the battle to retain the 24 week limit before I voiced my thoughts about it, as they specifically relate to how I think personal preferences and convictions on later abortion intersect with the need for abortion on demand.
While I think Zohra has very astutely highlighted the unfortunate apologist rhetoric of some pro-choicers, I also agree with some of the comments in response to it. I would say we need to stand alongside those people who support the right to choose, regardless of their own inkling with regard to what they think they might do and/or have done when faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
For example, a woman might personally feel that she could never have an abortion beyond a particular point, while also realising that there are many situations where a woman might want and need one beyond it. She can wholeheartedly support that woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy at a later time but have her own personal reasons not to do the same. I think such a standpoint is significant in the fight for abortion on demand because, as the law currently stands, that woman could
1) go to her doctor when just a few weeks pregnant, saying she needs an abortion as soon as possible because she doesn’t want to allow the pregnancy to develop to a point where she would feel unable to terminate it, and
2) still end up a lot more pregnant before she can get one.
I would like to see the medical profession adopting a code of ethics that views allowing a woman who emphatically says she doesn’t want to be pregnant to remain so for even a couple of weeks longer as wrong. Surely the apparent risk of regret that anti-abortion campaigns so like to draw attention to is worth it if every woman is given a better opportunity to terminate an unwanted pregnancy before it develops into anything resembling a “baby”? Okay, so this one is a bit of a no-brainer if someone is against abortion full stop but, despite the recent attempts to lower the limit, I still suspect that plenty of anti-abortion campaigners would prefer a woman to go through a later abortion rather than an early one. I would even go as far as to say it is actually in their interests for unwanted pregnancies (even those which -against their wishes- eventually end in abortion) to develop as far as possible. I think there are some people out there who genuinely want abortion to be really horrible, difficult and traumatic and that they know this is somewhat more likely to happen if unwanted foetuses are forced to develop beyond a cluster of barely discernible cells.
The campaign to reduce the limit was arguably little more than a diversionary tactic. I didn’t see those who argued for a reduction of the time limit loudly saying that early abortion should be made easier to make later abortion less likely. As Zohra noted, the debate on abortion law should be about improving access and advancing more progressive policies but that particular campaign has been sadly lacking. I’d say this has happened because pro-choice energy and effort has had to be put into defending a time limit that already had medical backing and really did not need to be challenged in the first place.
Photo by Labour Youth, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.