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Abortion and another attack on women’s* bodies.

You may have seen the Abortion Rights Network press release on the amendment to further criminalize sex selective abortions in the UK being debated today. (It is important to say further criminalize since under our current laws abortion solely on the grounds of perceived biological sex is illegal.) For some of us there was a deep sense of deja vu. Bruce you see has form, along with Fiona Mactaggart and various religious motivated cronies she tried to get sex work criminalized in the UK by tacking an amendment onto the modern slavery bill. It was a frightening, hectic week when old divisions were forgotten and sex workers across the UK pulled together to defeat a dangerous amendment.

Exactly the same tactics are being used by Bruce today, unwilling to allow full and proper debate, aware of the dangers of her amendment she is trying to exert her power over others by the back door. There are huge parralells with the attitudes of swerfs to criminalizing sex work. Abortion is an emotive issue, and it is easy for us to say it would be better to live in a world where no one ever had to have an abortion. Easy, but wrong. Bodily autonomy must not stop at those acts we approve of, but extend into the right to do things to ourselves which others find uncomfortable or challenging to their personal ethical framework.

It is fine to find the actions of other people challenging, to reach a decision that it is something you would never do. However Bruce wants to have power over the bodies of other people, her moral disapproval must be acted out on the bodies of lesser women. For make no mistake she does see these women as lesser, they are brown, or queer, or sell sex, therefore they have no right to considerations of agency and autonomy which Bruce sees as her right.

Another parallel between the demand for sex selective abortions and the desire to criminalize sex work is the refusal to acknowledge the harms her power-hungry crusades will have on those she deems lesser. The harms of the Swedish Model are well documented and need no rehearsal here. The Abortion rights network sums up the harms of this amendment in their press release;

  1. To give a foetus status in law as an ‘unborn child’ for the first time in UK legislation, thus opening up the legal possibility for a woman’s right to life to become secondary to that of a foetus. In the 1967 Abortion Act, the physical and mental health of the woman is the overriding concern of a doctor authorising abortion. This amendment introduces a specific prohibition that trumps the wellbeing and life of the woman.

Sound familiar? The unintended consequences of the Swedish Model have been explained to people like Bruce over and over. Of course the question has to be raised, is this unintended? I would suggest not, just as people promote the Swedish Model because the know it harms sex workers, so it must be considered if this is actually an attempt to give a fetus personhood without openly debating the 67 act.

To make the vulnerable women that Fiona Bruce MP’s Sex Selection Bill (now withdrawn) claimed to protect, more vulnerable. If any woman is requesting an abortion against her will because she is being coerced, abused or threatened, it is vital that she can talk to the abortion referrer or provider about it, be supported to make her own decision and be signposted to agencies who can help her. This amendment criminalising a specific reason for abortion creates a barrier to her having that conversation with medical professionals and seeking support. Indeed, at worst this barrier may cement her connection to an abusive partner.

Again, could this be more familiar? A law that will actually prevent vulnerable people accessing support. A law that will push people who are being exploited into the hands of those who would exploit them. A law that places barriers to getting much-needed help and support.

Sex workers are used to having their bodies used as a feminist battleground, our rights mattering less than making a statement about some mythical ideal world where patriarchy doesn’t exist. It seems those who cut their teeth on trying to remove our rights are extending their sights to all whom they deem lesser, all women who they want to exercise power over. That this ammendment will particularly hit women of colour should surprise no one, erosion of rights always starts with those who society cares about the least.

* I am aware not just women can get pregnant or have abortions, I am damn sure that those supporting this bill would deny this however. When Sarah ditum supports something you just know that it’s a terf policy. Therefore for the purposes of this piece I think it is important to understand that this is about oppression of lesser women, but in the eyes of the framers women who are cis, even while they are in other spheres transphobic.

Full text of the Abortion Rights Network Letter


Edit;it seems that despite previously having tweeted in support of sex selective abortion Ditum has somehow come to support the position of my body, my choice. The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one.


4 comments on “Abortion and another attack on women’s* bodies.

  1. korhomme
    February 23, 2015

    A couple of points:

    1. The Abortion Act 1967 does not apply to N Ireland, where an abortion is only possible in very restricted circumstances. If a woman wishes to go to England from N Ireland, she cannot have an abortion on the NHS there.

    2. Strictly, Abortion has not been legalised in Britain; rather there is a legal defence to a charge of procuring an abortion.

    3. Apart from your considerations above, there is one overwhelming reason to defeat this Bill. It’s the presence of a genetic abnormality; some may affect only boys, while others may affect girls. If this proposal were to go through, it would be illegal to abort a foetus suffering from an unfixable and invariably lethal genetic abnormality. I very much suspect that Ms Bruce isn’t aware of this.


    • jemima2013
      February 23, 2015

      Very good points, and thanks for clarifying the exact legal status of abortions in this country, and NI.
      I did limit this to the human rights aspects, but am aware that the BMA and others oppose this due to the genetic element. However since Bruce is an evangelical Christian with links to the Evangelical Alliance, I am afraid I think she is totally aware. She opposes abortions on any grounds, just as those who support the swedish model oppose all sex work.


      • korhomme
        February 23, 2015

        I totally agree with your human rights points, I was just adding another layer.

        I live in N Ireland; people described as ‘evangelical’ or ‘fundamental’ Christians are all around me, and concern me greatly. So often these modifiers seem to refer to the Old Testament, surely a pre-Christian viewpoint? I thought that Christianity was about ‘love’ and ‘tolerance’ and acceptance of the underdog—so often the underdog is referenced in the NT stories. (I only recently discovered that the guy in the loin cloth in the Garden of Gethsemene, the last chap to flee when the plods came for Christ, his closest, his most reliable if you like, was actually code for ‘male prostitute’.)

        I very much like the position of the National Secular Society: “freedom of religion, freedom from religion”.


  2. wickedtragic
    February 23, 2015

    ‘Bodily autonomy must not stop at those acts we approve of, but extend into the right to do things to ourselves which others find uncomfortable or challenging to their personal ethical framework.’ Great opinion and very eloquently phrased.


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