I was going to stay out of this one; I really was. But a few people have asked me what I think about the whole thing, so fuck it. You’re getting my opinion whether you like it or not.
First, some background, for those of you who may have been blissfully unaware of this particular facet of the abortion debate. Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, is leading an attempt to pass a law making it illegal to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of the expected sex of the foetus. You might remember this issue getting a lot of media attention last year, based on some statistical analysis carried out by the Independent.
Now, whether people are actually choosing to abort a foetus because of its sex is almost besides the point (and I’m certainly yet to see any hard evidence that this is actually happening – please feel free to direct me to it, if it exists).
The point, for me, is that this appears very much like a sneaky attempt by those who oppose abortion in all circumstances to reduce reproductive rights.
I’m sure we can all agree that an epidemic of women in the UK choosing not to continue with their pregnancy because they don’t want a girl is…less than ideal. But surely this is a cultural issue – and I make no pretence to know how the hell you sort that one out. I’m sure there are lots of people with expertise in this area who are taking steps to Do Something. But this isn’t a matter for abortion law – in fact, technically, choosing to abort a foetus because of its sex is already illegal under our current laws. So why introduce another piece of legislation?
Say they succeed in passing this bill. Then what? How the hell can this possibly be enforced? I’m assuming that no one will be going in to see their GP and openly admitting that actually, they would rather not have a girl, thanks, so are we expecting doctors to guess? Last I heard, medical professionals aren’t actually mind-readers, so the only conceivable (hah) way to enforce the law would be to have doctors trying to guess the likelihood that a termination is being sought on the grounds of sex-selection, which is vulnerable to a minefield of cultural biases. Do we really want to get to a point where women from certain cultures find it harder to obtain an abortion because their doctors are scared of falling foul of this new law? Because from where I stand, that risks getting a little bit…well, racist as fuck, frankly.
And honestly, all of the above isn’t even really what bothers me most about this amendment. What really worries me is what would happen if the law passed, and could somehow be enforced. Surely we should enable women to have safe, legal abortions even if we don’t like their reasons – because we know what can happen when women can’t access this: unsafe, backstreet abortions; ordering drugs from dodgy websites; throwing themselves down stairs; suicide. Additionally (not to get too hyperbolic), what do we think the partners of these women will do, if they REALLY don’t want a daughter? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they’ll take matters into their own hands, is it?
Basically, I’m pro-choice. I’m even pro-choice if I don’t like your particular reasons for ending a pregnancy. Because, you know what? It’s none of my business, and either you’re pro-choice or you’re not. You can’t be pro-only-the-choice-you-would-personally-make. That’s not how it works.
And with the ongoing clinic protests (it’s now 40 Days for Life time, after all), do we really want to add further obstacles to women seeking a legal medical procedure? Do we think that Fiona Bruce et al really believe that this is an issue which requires further legislation? Sorry, but I question their motives. All this new bill does is to put abortion law back on the political agenda, and not with a view to making it more lenient. They’re seeking to criminalise abortion, to toughen up the laws through the back door. And I’m not okay with that.
You can write to your MP and ask them to vote no to the amendment here.
(* I’ve rather lazily used ‘women’ throughout this piece, but the point obviously applies to anyone who can get pregnant, including trans* folk.)