As this Autumn’s 40 Day’s for Life campaign comes to an end, my mind is drawn back to the different encounters I have had over this campaign at the entrance to Marie Stopes Clinic in Birmingham. One incident in particular sticks in my mind. A young woman pulled over in her car to ask if I was giving out leaflets. I said I was and this opened up a whole conversation about why we were there. She wasn’t very happy at all about our presence, thinking we were intimidating women who had made the decision to have an abortion. I reassured her that this was not why we were there. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not harass women. We are there as a peaceful presence and to offer women another choice, should they want to speak to us. This changed the tone of the conversation and the young woman shared that she had an abortion at this clinic a few years ago. She went on to share just how much she was struggling with this decision. “Even though it was the right thing to do I still feel guilty about it”. She was incredibly emotional, as was I, as she shared a weight she had clearly been carrying for some time. I just tried to be there alongside her in her upset. To try and tell her that we don’t judge any woman who makes the decision to come to the clinic- it is not a decision any woman takes lightly, at least not the ones I have met. We are there to offer her another choice, the choice of life and if she has had an abortion we are there to offer healing. We were there for a good 25 minutes and as she left, I apologised if I had made her upset and wished her a nice afternoon. She simply smiled at me and said don’t apologise, I feel much better, thank you for listening to me.
I was clear in sharing with her, that I think women deserve better than abortion. I shared my belief that women deserve real choice and not just one choice. I shared how it breaks my heart that a number of years later, this young woman in front of me, is left on her own to wrestle with her conscience and the hurt she is experiencing from an abortion. And it infuriates me that a few weeks previously, a woman returned to the clinic a month after having an abortion, she was seeking counselling and was outrageously sent away from the clinic not with a counselling appointment but with a picture of the scan of the baby she aborted. Is this respecting the rights of women? Are these the kind of healthcare choices we wish to advance in society? I am sorry, but women deserve better than this!
One of the phrases that comes up time and time again in the abortion debate is the notion of “choice”. The woman’s “right to choose”, being the sacred mantra of the pro-abort groups. I am definitely not advocating a pro-choice position here, but my gripe with this movement is that it only advocates one choice and goes all out to defend, uphold and promote this choice. If we are going to talk “choice”, then let’s talk about putting ALL of a woman’s choices on the table for her when she finds herself pregnant. Let’s bring the choices of life, impartial counselling, support, love and practical help to the table. Let’s share the effects abortion has on women, their mental and physical health and their relationships. Let’s give her the choice to see her baby’s scan. Let’s give her all the information she needs to make her choice an informed choice. Let’s empower a woman with a reminder of just how resourceful and resilient she is and then let her make her choice- free from pressure, stress or drama. If we are going to talk choice, then let’s give a woman ALL the choice. And then let her make her mind up. If you want to defend a woman’s “right to choose”, then this surely implies that she must have a number of things to make her choice from- and not just an abortion or an abortion.
This narrow vision of “choice” was clearly evident at this year’s March for Life. The anti-lifers who picketed the March, were certainly vociferous and creative in sharing their “pro-choice” message. What I, and many others, found particularly interesting, was they seemed to reserve their loudest noise and abuse for Sophie, who shared how she had changed her mind about having an abortion after witnessing the March for Life last year. She stood on stage with her beautiful baby boy, and thanked the crowds for their witness and presence. The noise from the pro-choicers was horrendous. Now I can totally understand them wanting to scream down the Bishops, Ryan, Stephanie, our MCs or musicians…. But to attempt to scream down the story of woman who made her own choice, who chose life and not abortion- well I would ask the question, how pro-choice are you? Surely as pro-choicer you would want to celebrate the fact that Sophie had made her choice, exercised bodily autonomy and kept her baby? Choice is choice. But this was not so. If you read the pro-choice reports from this event, you will also see Sophie’s story is omitted from their accounts of the day.
This campaign has got me fired up once more for the pro-life movement. We’ve got a long way to go in the pro-life battle in this country, but could changing the “choice” mantra be a step in the right direction? I feel it’stime we start reclaiming some of this pro-choice rhetoric and using it to open up conversations with women and abortion service providers, about putting ALL the choices back on the table for women, in a truly impartial and supportive manner. Women deserve better then abortion, but more often than not they don’t get to hear about their other “choices” unless they meet someone witnessing outside a clinic during a campaign like 40 Days for Life. Who knows what the answer is, but these are just a few of my thoughts as this Autumn’s campaign draws to a close.