Thirteen weeks

// 15 October 2012

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Poppy shares her story of abortion, arguing that the legal time limit should not be reduced.

thank you choice heart.jpgIn October four years ago, when I was 21, I walked out of my bathroom in shock after seeing that the pregnancy test I’d just used had two blue lines on it. I checked the instructions again and again, but my body had already told me: the day before I had been so nauseous I was actually sick in the street. I couldn’t remember having my last period. I was so exhaustingly tired.

At 21 I was living with my (now ex) boyfriend and had just started as a temporary assistant at a publishing house. I’d graduated in the summer and felt like my life had just got started. So when I found out I was pregnant it turned my world upside-down. Before I held that test in my hands, I had always said that I’d be straight down to Marie Stopes, no questions asked. But the reality was that I had a very real decision to make and I very much struggled with it.

As a result I became very depressed – to the point where I was signed off work. My boyfriend went from loving and supportive, to distant and angry. He wouldn’t talk to me about it but he’d shout at me to get out of bed, to make a decision. He even went so far as to ban “the P word” around him. All I wanted was for him to say “I’ll support you whatever”, but unfortunately it never came.

During the difficult days that followed, it dawned on me that I didn’t want to bring up a child just yet. I wanted to have a secure job, and a loving partner, and to feel like I was giving them the best start in life. But not just that – I wanted to live my life first. Unbeknownst to me, by the time I finally picked up the phone and rang the clinic I was nearly 13 weeks pregnant.

In the past few weeks I have watched US and UK right-wing politicians (Mitt Romney, Jeremy Hunt, Nadine Dorries, Maria Miller – to name a few) toy with the idea of reducing the legal limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 12 weeks. It angers and saddens me that these politicians, who are mostly led by their religious views, want to take this right away from women. The 24-week upper limit on abortion has considerable backing by the scientific and medical communities and so it is disturbing to me that these politicians, who hold a substantial amount of power in Parliament, could bring forward a bill to challenge this.

Jeremy Hunt has been made the new Health Secretary for this country – yet he believes there should be a 12-week limit on abortion. How can a man with such stunted ideological ideas lead the way on health matters? Especially health matters concerning women.

I very strongly believe that if you take this choice away from women, then you are putting feminism back by 50 years. Without control over our own reproductive rights, we are left with very little. Take that away and we would be in a very bleak predicament.

I imagine a very different life for me today if I had walked into a clinic four years ago and been told I was one week too late to have an abortion. Today I have a really great job and a partner who I know would support me and love me if we ever had to face that predicament together. And though the decision was hard, I don’t regret it for a second. It gave me the choice to live my life, just me, for a while longer. One day I will choose to have a baby, and it will be the right time.

We need to do all we can to support a women’s right to abortion, and a 24-week limit. It’s so important to feminism, and to you, in case one day you see the two blue lines you weren’t ready for.

Photo of a red, heart-shaped placard bearing the words “Thank you for giving me a choice” by SMN, shared under a Creative COmmons licence.

Comments From You

Cycleboy // Posted 15 October 2012 at 1:46 pm

I wonder, as the limit as to when medical science can keep a new-born alive reduces, whether we are not mixing up two arguments.

At the moment, it seems that our yardstick for allowing abortion is at what stage an embryo can survive outside the mother’s womb. Let us suppose that, at some future date, we could nurture an embryo from zygote to 9 months outside the mother’s womb. Using our current arguments, in this future world, abortion would simply not be allowed.

Surely, we should be having two separate discussions: 1) should abortion be allowed at all? Is it a moral decision? If you decide that it IS a moral choice, THEN 2) discuss the time limit.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 16 October 2012 at 1:39 pm

@ Cyclyeboy: I think it’s more complicated that this. One of the main questions here is why does the ‘mother’ have an obligation to keep the foetus alive, when it’s at a stage that can survive outside the womb? We don’t expect people with two healthy kidneys to give one up just because it will save someone else’s life. We don’t ask people to give up pieces of their liver- even to their own family members. (And it’s not about risk- childbirth is risky, just like an operation has risk). The ‘logical’ argument would seem to be that if the foetus can survive outside the womb, then why can’t women induce early and let the machines do the final months? The answer is that it’s not this straightforward. But, why are women’s choices to maintain life ‘a moral issue’, but everybody’s choice to donate an organ is not? Why is it a moral issue when a women decides what to do with her body, but it’s not a moral issue that a small number of people are allowed (encouraged even) to be massively wealthy and buy lamborghinis or thousand pound handbags, whilst other people are literally allowed to starve to death. So one very specific set of ‘resources’ are the subject to moralisation and legislation, but a whole set of others are not.

Alasdair // Posted 16 October 2012 at 4:58 pm


Not really. Current abortion laws are based on balancing a woman’s right to control her body with the state of development of the foetus. Arguably, that’s more important than whether it can survive outside the womb. Even if it were possible to raise an embryo to term at 12 or 6 weeks or whenever, that wouldn’t mean abortion at those stages shouldn’t be allowed, because at those times it is still primitive and undeveloped, so little harm is caused by aborting it. Abortions at later stages do raise more concerns, but more because by then the foetus is more developed (though ‘viability’ does come into it as well).

In any case though, I’m not sure how helpful it is to talk about hypothetical scenarios. Maybe one day it might be possible to grow a child in an entirely artificial womb, and who can say what that would mean for human civilisation? But when politicians are talking not about the distant future but about reducing the time limit in the here and now, I think that’s what we should be concerned with.

As for your two questions: most people here think the first question is a no-brainer and have already said ‘yes’ to it. No, some people don’t think abortion should be allowed at all, but in such cases you can’t really have a productive conversation with them about where the time limit should be. If you’re having that conversation, we assume you already accept that abortion is permissible in at least some circumstances.

Rose // Posted 18 October 2012 at 2:29 pm

@Feminist Avatar – Massively agree!

Though I would take it further, if there is a possibility of medically removing a zygote and artificially developing it with some lovely tech. you still have to find people to raise that kid. They still don’t have loving parents that want, and can support, them. Abortions happen for good reasons, sometimes kids are born for all the wrong reasons. For me, it’s not a question of whether or not some tissue can be turned into a human, it’s whether or not it’s a good idea.

I found out that I was pregnant at 8 weeks, as a teenager. My assumption was suicide. It was hours before abortion occured to me as a possible way forward. This was because I had heard so much hate against choice, that the existance of that choice hadn’t seemed real. I was half right. Two doctors, a load of hoops, and a ‘councillor’ who ranted at me about how I would never forgive myself for murdering my child’ (her words), and there were delays, and all sorts. I was told I was unlikely to get an abortion and should consider other options – my only other option was suicide, and yes, I had told them that. (yes, in England, in this century).

It took an older friend that I confided in literally shouting at them down the phone to get the abortion to happen. It happened at 13 weeks. Being pregnant was horribly trumatic: abortion was the cure not the problem.

Cycleboy // Posted 19 October 2012 at 8:27 am

@Feminist Avatar: Interesting line of reasoning, I must ponder on it a while.

I’m certainly not suggesting abortion is a simple issue, nor even that I’m trying to simplify it. However, I have often heard people state lines of argument that tend to get tangled because they have erroneously imagine it to be a single issue, when it is, in fact, more complex. And, like you, I think this is one such issue.

@Alasdair: I like the clarification about what the law is actually doing. I’m not sure I really understood it quite that clearly, but I’m quite sure many other people don’t.

I’m not convinced by your rejection of the hypothetical argument, though. A Dutch woman stated she despaired of political debates in the UK, because no-one dared to state the extreme positions. The example she gave was immigration. In The Netherlands, someone would state one extreme, shut all the borders, another would state the opposite, open all borders, then, having discussed why neither are practical, work towards a practical option. Nobody in the UK would dare do this for fear of crucifixion by media. I’ve often heard people stating a case which, if taken to its logical (or illogical) extreme, will often reveal its flaws.

I think your line of reasoning about raising a 6 or 12 week embryo is exactly the sort of reasoning I was expecting. However, your statement that little harm is caused begs a definition of ‘little harm’. Some arguments about this, as well as other issues, often mention harm to society, as much as harm to the individual. But, perhaps that IS complicating the matter.

Laura // Posted 19 October 2012 at 9:06 am

Cycleboy: This may seem like a really interesting, nuanced debate with loads of hypotheticals to you, but for women this is our lives you’re talking about. Without legal access to abortion, women die. Without access to abortion, we cannot determine the course of our own lives and we cannot be free from male oppression. I’ve written about this before so I won’t go on, but it really makes me feel screaming when I see men debating abortion as though it’s some kind of interesting ethical conundrum.

Cycleboy // Posted 20 October 2012 at 5:27 am

@Laura: My apologies if the debate sounds somewhat detached, it certainly isn’t meant to in any way lessen the dilemma a woman goes through at such times. Indeed, I was once involved when a close friend had to make this decision. Esoteric arguments was the last thing she needed and she certainly got none from me.

Sadly, whether we like it or not, the law is made by parliament and, as yet, this is still dominated by men. Like you, I also feel that some of the men pontificating on this subject have little knowledge of the difficulties many women face, especially the poorer communities of the world, and therefore have little right to make decisions for them. Especially when they make specious claims to bolster their otherwise unsupportable views. Unfortunately, they do make such decisions and it is this we have to battle. To borrow a military metaphor, when one goes into battle one needs to be sure ones weapons are at least as good as those of ones opponents. I am sure I, Alasdair and Feminist Avatar are making our arguments in the honest belief we are at least helping to clear away some of the fog that surrounds this debate. Whether or not the arguments we present are adding to this debate, I am not qualified to judge. I must leave to others, or history, to decide.

Laura // Posted 21 October 2012 at 6:36 pm

Thanks Cycleboy. I think I was misdirecting some of my irritation at Mehdi Hassan towards you to be honest – I appreciate you weren’t trying to minimise women’s experiences.

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