Get your Rosaries off my Ovaries

By Suzanne Moore

For all the liberal language, independent counseling is just an underhanded anti-abortion tactic

I do remember leaving the party very fast. I must have been about 11 and in a haze, looking through magazines while the women ooohed and aaahed over plastic boxes. God knows why my mum had made me go to a Tupperware party with her. In no shape or form did it resemble a party—it was just full of boring neighbors feigning huge enthusiasm for salad spinners. Nonetheless I felt the atmosphere change suddenly as the plastic lids were snapped back on the boxes. The women were no longer talking about the storage of leftovers but about getting “rid” of things. And “the right thing to do.” It was tense. My mum, menthol cigarette in a holder—an affectation she had picked up in the States—got to her feet and said: “Christ, you really don’t know what you are talking about. If it wasn’t for abortion I’d have a football team by now.”

In a blur, we knocked over mountains of sandwich containers as we were given our coats. Safe to say we never went to any more Tupperware parties. I thought at the time that it was because we were too good. I now see it’s because we were too bad.

On the way home she told me what it was like getting pregnant in the glorious 50s, years before she had me. Sitting in the bath, drinking quinine from the chemist she worked in then, eventually scraping together the money to go to London. There, in a small room, another woman clipped the neck of her cervix and told her to “just go.”

She collapsed bleeding in the toilets of Liverpool Street station. That’s where she miscarried or aborted the fetus, or the baby, or whatever you wish to call it. I am not squeamish about these words. I have no desire to reduce every abortion to a meaningless bunch of cells or cytoblasts as some feel compelled to do.

I know what having an abortion is like myself so I could make a terrible joke about it running in the family. Actually, my point is that abortion is a very common experience. Nor am I trying to suggest that the proposed amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill concerning counseling mean a return to these dark old days. The reason I am telling you all this is because I admired my mother’s refusal to be ashamed of her own experience. Now this new breed of anti-abortionists snip round the edges of the process with their strategies of delay ... er, sorry, “independent counseling.” But beware their language of care. This is not about care but about control. This control absolutely depends on shame: sexual shame. This shame keeps us quiet. Shame keeps us locked into individual guilt. Shame even makes us stupidly grateful that we are allowed to have any choice at all.

This whole debate around counseling pivots on the idea of deep and private shame, positing the idea of counseling being used to sell an evil procedure. Women are always “vulnerable” dupes, never simply adults who have made decisions. Some weird pension analogy has been brought in, though health care is nothing like it as advice and services do often come from the same people ie: doctors.

The truth is that, in theory; the argument about abortion is won. Most people, however uncomfortably, support a woman’s right to choose. We feel that pushing a woman to give birth to a child she does not want is heartless. We know the lengths women go to. The moral cowardice of the Irish polity results in those women, often alone and shivery, whom you see on Ryanair flights.

There is little point trying to persuade those who are religiously opposed to abortion (though I am intrigued at the Catholic attitude to the fetus—miscarried babies are not buried as they are not baptized) but we can simply remind ourselves we are living in a largely secular democracy.

Loving the unborn more than the born is politically convenient, as the unborn do not have to be housed or educated or parented. The 60,000 abortions that [Members of Parliament] Nadine Dorries and Frank Field hope to stop via “unbiased” counseling, will presumably produce 60,000 children that someone has to look after. (I am not sure where this figure of 60,000 comes from, but then to be fair I am not sure Dorries does either.)

We are repeatedly told this is an “emotive” issue. The new vocabulary of the anti-abortion lobby is full of vaguely feminist platitudes—not feminist enough to counsel the men who walk away from pregnancies but still. Underneath, we are fallen women, damaged goods and so terribly stupid that we can be persuaded to have a quick abortion by wicked charities. When we could be what? Wombs to provide babies for “proper couples” or go it alone as the root of all evil: single mothers?

This is nauseating. A vote of conscience? If MPs had one they would say it is not the business of the legislature to control women’s reproduction. They would stop telling us what is “emotive” and ask what actually is. I didn’t want counseling in order to have an abortion. I certainly did after a miscarriage—again an awfully common experience—but none was offered. No, instead let’s bring on an army of “independent” zealots who can tell us that abortion leads to cancer, mental health issues and infertility, and sod the evidence that having a baby is more risky than having an abortion. Anyone who talks about how easy it is and how the reality is glossed over is ignorant. You have a scan. You know and see what you are doing. It’s not a walk in the park but it is a huge relief. The emotive part is the enforced waiting.

Now the tactics are to further that wait. This is nothing short of cruelty dressed up in the language of concern.

As Field and all his cronies are so concerned about my reproductive cycle, I am happy to give them my gynecological CV. Abortions! Miscarriages! Natural childbirth! Caesareans! He and his fellow legislators can pore over it with their expertise, right? Their laws are important. My body isn’t.

For they have learned their lessons from America. As the public do not support an outright ban on abortion they will fiddle at the edges on time limits and counseling. In states such as South Dakota, pregnancy “help centers” have been set up where counseling means being lectured by unqualified, faith–based volunteers who are resolutely anti-abortion. Make no mistake, counseling is the route by which access to abortion is limited.

This smokescreen of language is worthy of George Orwell’s Newspeak. In the guise of impartial advice, the opposite will be offered. As illiberal as these times are, even Cameron is backing away, finally.

All fundamentalisms seek to control female sexuality. It’s the same old game. Get your rosaries off my ovaries, as we used to say. You trust me with a child but not with a choice? If MPs want to help women then they can make access to abortion and contraception more efficient. Who has the authority over my body—some geezer in the House of Commons? Or me and my doctor? Like my mother, I feel no shame and I refute this language of “care.” You want a definition of a nanny state? How about one that thinks it’s OK to poke around in your uterus?, September 2, 2011