When we first found out about our University's new anti-choice group, the "Glasgow University Protection of Unborn People Society" (now rebranded as "Glasgow Students For Life"), we were hoping to interview them in order to put faces to the nameless admins of the society and to find out what their wider aims are for our University community. We contacted them for interview twice, both before and after their open letter to GUM, but our requests were declined.
It then occurred to us that the discourse surrounding abortion shouldn't belong to those who seek to obstruct a woman's right to choose - instead, this platform should be given to women who have actually gone through the experience of having an abortion. With that in mind, we spoke to two students at Glasgow University who have had an abortion while studying here.
For the purpose of anonymity, the names of interviewees have been changed.
Did you have a strong opinion regarding abortion before your procedure. If so, what was it?
Sophie: Yes. There was never any doubt in my mind that abortion should be a viable option for all women. But I also took for granted my own ability to have an abortion without being judged by my family and simply by knowing the option was legally and safely available to me.
Emma: I had strong opinion regarding my stance on abortion, but not on anybody else or their opinion. I knew if it was what I wanted and deemed right then I should be allowed to autonomously make that decision. Me being in a position to hold that belief means I also have the respect for anyone else to make their own decision and form their own opinions, as long as those opinions are a personal choice and are not enforced on by others.
Did your opinion of abortion change after your procedure?
S: Not massively. If anything, I became much more openly pro-choice, as I could better empathise with those who do not have the option available (e.g. envisioning how different my life would have been).
E: My opinion didn't change, but I think it's impossible for my experience to not have some effect on my understanding of what happens. Every step of my procedure was explained properly, and I was offered support before and after the procedure which only reinforced my views that it was the right decision for me.
What would you want people to know, or try to understand, about the experience of abortion?
S: I actually don’t think there's enough awareness around the physical pain you experience after the procedure. When people judge and condemn abortion, it's almost as if the woman is to blame, and that all pain is self-inflicted. I think because women don’t feel like they can talk about what they’ve been through (due to the taboo status) this means that they can’t talk about the physical pain. I would never have felt comfortable telling my work that I was in pain and that was why, so I just worked with horrific cramps (cramps which made period pain comparatively light!).
E: I'd want people to know that although the decision to have an abortion may seem easier than going through with the pregnancy, which it undoubtedly is, it doesn't mean that it won't have an effect on the individual. It is normal to doubt your own judgement and ability to make such a lasting decision when you are in such a vulnerable position, making loneliness a recurring feeling. Even though you will be going through the procedure alone, that doesn't mean you can't ask for help from friends, family, or professionals.
What are your broad thoughts on the anti-choice movement, and how have these thoughts evolved?
S: I would say post-abortion and in becoming more aware of social justice issues in general, I have moved from simply being pro-choice to also being actively anti anti-choice. When I was nineteen and had an abortion, my views were probably quite selfish and inward-looking, and my own experience fuelled my advocacy of "pro-choice". However, now my anger with the anti-choice movement is almost unrelated to my own experience; my sentiment is more fuelled by the belief that every woman deserves the right to full bodily integrity and autonomy.
E: I don't think there is any need for an anti-choice movement, given that the choice to have an abortion or to fulfil a pregnancy should be entirely down to the individual. If these people are so adamant that every life matters, there are other causes they can seek to help with, such as awareness and funding for refugee children, the thousands of children in the UK that need fostering or adoption, or trying to improve the lives of the ridiculous amounts of homeless people in Glasgow alone.
Have you ever encountered anti-choice protestors, and if so, what happened and how did that experience make you feel?
E: The closest I have come to encountering protestors myself was the immense amount of pressure my extremely Catholic high school put onto students to become anti-choice. We were exposed to some very shocking images and videos of abortions taking place at as young as fourteen, and had posters around the school depicting the abortion of an unborn foetus equating to the mass murder of black people.
How do you feel about an anti-choice group emerging on campus?
S: I don't feel threatened, but it is disappointing to see this generation cling to archaic values like this. It decreases my hope that we are moving towards a more accepting attitude regarding abortion. Whilst they may be on the fringes, and are open to being challenged, it still signals that society is not accepting of abortion. And prevents women from feeling like they are fully free to choose, since even if they are physically free, there is a chance that they will be subjected to verbal and ideological judgement.
Regarding their recent open letter to GUM and attempts to rebrand, do you think that this is a substantive effort on their part, or simply a smokescreen?
E: The rebranding still holds pro-life, anti-choice values, so their direction has not really changed. Offering support to people dealing with the decision, procedure, or aftermath of an abortion is important, but having an ulterior motive is wholly unhelpful and insensitive.
S: I read this letter with an open mind. Campus does need more support for mothers, although I feel like if a student group wanted to provide that, they could do so without any links to pro-life campaigning. I was initially in favour of a lot of what they had to say until we come to "we firmly believe in the inalienable right to life for all children, regardless of gender, ability or manner of conception". Number one: yes, this makes the letter a smokescreen and undermines their other aims, some of which would be useful to the University. Number two: this statement is self-contradictory. When you start claiming "inalienable rights" you really have to consign yourself to total universalism. Yet, in being anti-choice, they disregard the inalienable rights of women to control their own reproductivity. There is irony also in their use of "real choice" since, by arguing for women to always choose life, they are advocating the denial of women their own choice.