While abortion is technically legal in this country, are women still held on trial in the moral sense?
Whether it’s a nervous glance over the shoulder or a voice lowered to a whisper when abortion is mentioned, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of uneasiness and stigma surrounding pregnancy termination. According to the NHS, 13,286 abortions took place in Scotland in 2018 alone, and yet abortion is still rarely talked about. The fact that abortion automatically brings female sexuality into the conversation makes it even harder to discuss in a society where girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies. Because, essentially, what makes the discussion about abortion so uncomfortable is not just the ideological debate about personhood and consciousness, but the fact that it involves sex and the female body.
With the current political climate leaning towards the right, it should come as no surprise that abortion is once again in the centre of the debate. The introduction of the controversial “heartbeat-bill” in the US (a bill seeking to ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy), was a bitter pill to swallow for the pro-choice community and was criticised by physicians, as well as activists. Elinor Tipper, President of the Glasgow Students for Choice Society on campus, said the bill is specifically designed to make women feel guilty and ashamed by humanising the feotus. Many physicians have argued that the rhythm specified in the six-week abortion ban is a group of cells with electrical activity and is in no way produced by a fully developed cardiovascular system, as the title suggests.
Although abortion has been legal in England, Wales and Scotland ever since the 1967 Abortion Act, the tactics of the anti-choice community led to an aura of shame and fear around abortion through misinformation, propaganda and bullying. The Glasgow Students for Life community is no exception. From posting offensive pictures to their Facebook page comparing abortion to slavery and concentration camps, through showcasing plastic foetuses at the Freshers’ Fair, to bullying people on social media, the anti-abortion society will go to any lengths to discourage women from choosing abortion. Elinor Tipper, who had an abortion herself, says she started Glasgow Students for Choice right after the anti-choice society got affiliated, because she wanted people to know that “there was somewhere for someone in the same position as me to seek support, seek help, but then also just to know that there are people who believe that everyone has a right to choice”.
The pro-life community (a title most ironic considering how little they care about the lives of actual women), believes that life begins at conception, and views women, first and foremost, as a container for that precious life, while claiming to be pro-women. But denying women the option to choose what happens to their own body is not feminism and “forcing someone to carry out an unwanted pregnancy can seriously affect their physical and mental health”, according to Elinor. In my opinion, the anti-choice mentality is particularly harmful, not only because it is highly anti-feminist, but also because it might discourage women from seeking out services like post-abortion mental and physical care.
One of the main goals of the pro-choice society is to start a conversation about abortion and to encourage women to seek help. Elinor shared her own experience with her abortion, saying she was afraid to tell anyone or to ask time off from the University, thinking that some people might not approve of her decision, which ultimately led to her prolonged emotional recovery. “It took me a year to be able to openly talk about my abortion… I decided to make a social media post, that I had had one and that I wanted to increase the conversation around abortion because, from what I could see, it was something people were scared of. The response I got was amazing”. She also stressed that Glasgow Students for Choice is a pro-choice society, not a “have-an-abortion” society. “It’s important to hear different stories and look at different perspectives to be able to decide what’s best for you.”
Dealing with an unintended pregnancy, especially as a student, can be extremely stressful for both parties involved, but it’s important to educate ourselves on the options available and make a decision that’s in our best interest. Because whether you decide to carry out your pregnancy or to have an abortion, the important thing is, it’s your choice.