Most people who know me will know that I’m a Christian. Some will also know that I found my faith not in the ubiquitous Church of Scotland either, but in the Baptist Church. My church defines Christianity not just as a belief system, but as a lifestyle. We take Jesus very seriously. As a result, I get a lot of ‘Baptist guilt,’ and I find myself constantly asking myself whether I am a good enough person, whether I do enough to help other people, and whether I am really ‘walking in my faith’ (which is Christianese for ‘am I doing all the things I am supposed to be?’) My point is, I take my faith seriously, and it is a massive part of who I am.
It therefore may surprise the reader to know that I am also a pro-choice feminist. The pro-choice Baptist, it sounds like a massive anomaly. However, I am pro-choice because I believe that people should have free will, and I believe in the separation of Church and State. My faith would not mean anything to me if I had not chosen it, or if I had been forced to follow its precepts out of fear of punishment. Women, therefore, should have free will over their bodies; the choice to keep a baby means nothing if a woman makes that ‘choice’ out of fear of imprisonment. Nobody should be forced to live under the rules of a faith they have not chosen for themselves, and nobody should be forced to give birth to a child simply because religious people have decided to limit their choices.
One incident has stood out for me recently, as a reason to keep talking about reproductive rights and abortion, and keep putting forward the pro-choice message to Christians in particular. That is the shooting outside of a Colorado branch of Planned Parenthood (a large non-profit family planning organisation) last November. 3 people were killed, and 9 injured, in what is believed to be an attack motivated by the gunman’s opposition to abortion. It is sickening that so-called ‘pro-life’ activists would go so far as to kill people because of their beliefs. I also wonder what they hoped to achieve here; was it to make people afraid of going to Planned Parenthood? Was it to put pressure on politicians to restrict abortion rights? Because here’s a newsflash; making abortion illegal is not just a breach of human rights, it also doesn’t work.
There will always be women who require abortions; due to their age, their financial instability, bad relationships or other complicated situations. There will always be women and young girls who have been raped and are pregnant as a result, or women for whom carrying a baby is physically unsafe due to their own poor health. If the law prevents these women from accessing abortions in a safe, clinical environment, then they will attain them in unsafe ways, either at home by themselves or through backstreet abortionists, who often use unsafe equipment and put women’s lives at risk. Women who live in such countries who experience miscarriage are also often falsely accused of breaking the law.
This brings me to El Salvador, the country with the world’s strictest abortion laws. Abortions are forbidden in every circumstance, with no exceptions for women who have been raped or whose health is threatened by pregnancy. It is a place where women’s rights to reproductive freedom are violated, and women face imprisonment if they are suspected of procuring an abortion. Amnesty International has highlighted stories of women who have experienced miscarriage, and endured the trauma of the loss of their baby, and then by the horrifying consequences of being accused of getting an illegal termination. Women are imprisoned for ‘murder’ under the law, and can be sentenced to decades in prison, where conditions are reportedly very poor.
Here in Scotland, it is sometimes easy to become complacent with regards to our reproductive rights. Free contraception is fairly easy to procure. Terminations are not technically given on demand, but a woman in need can usually get one as long as she has the approval of two doctors who agree that the continuation of the pregnancy is a threat to her physical or mental health. The law which legalised abortion has been in place since 1967, and yet still does not apply in Northern Ireland, where the UN has recently condemned their restrictive abortion laws as a breach of women’s rights. In the UK right now, there are women who are being denied the right to a safe termination. In the United States, people have died at the hands of the anti-choice movement. In El Salvador, women who have procured terminations, or are even suspected of doing so, are called murderers.
What we must remember is this; reproductive rights are human rights. They are a vital part of women’s rights to healthcare, education, and the right not to be discriminated against. The UN General Assembly Resolution 2542 even states that people should have the right to freely determine whether or not they want to have children, and how to plan their families. The provision of safe abortions is a key part of that right.
So what can we do to help women across the world secure their reproductive rights, as well as protect our own from those who wish to take them away? Whichever faith you belong to (or none) you can get involved in pro-choice activism, from signing Amnesty International petitions (you can find petitions relating to abortion law in El Salvador on their website) to attending protests. Every year in late October- the anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act- the ‘Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child’ hold an anti-choice vigil in George Square and every year they are met by a counter-protest held by pro-choice activists, organised by various feminist groups and members of the NUS.
Ultimately, I believe that pro-choice Christians need to speak up, and engage our counterparts within the faith in a constructive conversation about free will. We need to take responsibility for what has been done in the name of our faith.