A Personal Response to Ireland's Decision to #RepealThe8th
I cried last week when our Irish sisters were finally granted the rights they have deserved for so long. That 66.9% are heroic and brilliant, and I appreciate them endlessly. But this isn't a piece of writing about why abortion should be freely available and safe in every country on earth. We know this, and to anyone that doesn't, I implore you to read the work of those who can explain its absolute importance far more eloquently and reasonably than I can.
If I happen across a debate on abortion (whether in real life or on the internet), my actions go one of two ways: I either become incensed and throw out any and all insults I can summon to mind, or I say nothing at all, because, as I'm about to argue, I hate the entire atmosphere of the debate around abortion. We speak of abortion like it’s somehow simultaneously heinous but necessary, and even those who are absolutely in support have a habit of performing piety and humility when they stand up for reproductive rights. By this I mean the classic argument in favour, which sounds something like this:
'I don't LIKE abortion, nobody LIKES abortion. I just think it should be legal.'
'I'm not pro-abortion, I'm pro-choice.'
I do not mean to shame our comrades in the fight for reproductive rights - of course any and all support is welcome and appreciated. I merely mean to express that the discourse around abortion is one of tip-toeing around the subject, and pandering to those who still wish to shame women for exercising their right. In my mind being pro-choice IS being pro-abortion, because abortion is an available option. We are in favour of abortion because it's liberating. It exists for the liberation of women from a fate that they do not desire. The number of times I've typed out the word 'abortion' during this process has made me squirm. Clearly, I still have work to do on the attitude ingrained in my own head. But this is exactly what I'm trying to express - it remains a dirty word, a final, distraught, morbid choice (even if, to a lot of women, it's a blindingly obvious choice that was never in question).
This manner of speaking on abortion abounds because as with all other issues women face, we wish to be 'taken seriously', and seen as reasonable, intelligent human beings (we live in hope). We wish to be seen as practically minded and pragmatic, for the purposes of tangible change. I cannot keep count of the number of times I have launched into a debate by assuring my opposite that 'I'm not crazy. I'm not one of those crazy feminists.' This piece is partly to take the stance that I cannot summon the courage to in real life.
But imagine I am a crazy feminist, and imagine I DO like abortion. I love and appreciate it as I would any other service available to me via the NHS, and I think it's high time we stopped placing it in a separate sphere to all other matters of health. An abortion is a practical process that is performed for material reasons, because all the effects of a pregnancy have material impact on a person. That's it. I like that in this country, at least as it stands, one may present a physical problem, and have it solved. I like, nay LOVE, that a woman may live freely, and - should a mistake happen - it may be corrected without shame. Every year the health service spends millions on that which many would call 'mistakes' regarding physical health. I drink, I smoke, and I've had an abortion. I am not ashamed of any one of these things. It seems entirely contradictory that women are consistently called over-emotional and impractical in political spheres, until we attempt to take control for practical purposes, at which point it swings to the other end of the spectrum, and we are called evil and unfeeling. Perhaps the world just needs to wake up and realise that what we do is for the practical, palpable improvement of women’s' lives everywhere. I love and appreciate each and every step that we take towards this end. Abortion is one of them. So be it.
Because I look back on the time I had an abortion, (for want of a better word) fondly. Hear me out.
I'm not by any means saying that each woman should hop, skip and jump her way to the clinic, and celebrate the termination of her pregnancy with aplomb. It's a serious medical procedure that can be immensely traumatic. There is no happiness to be found in the raw process. When somebody undergoes surgery for any other ailment, we wish them luck, think of them sympathetically as it is carried out, and then congratulate them on their safe recovery. I see no reason why abortion should be treated differently; spoken of in hushed tones, and pitied as if it isn't always a step in the right direction for the woman who has chosen it for herself and herself only. If the woman chooses it for her own benefit, it is unquestionably right and unquestionably GOOD.
That is exactly what it was for me, pregnant at 17 and trying to get some A-Levels.
I had possibly the best experience of the NHS and its sexual health services that anyone could have, and this I put down to both luck and what can only be described as the kindest, most understanding women I have ever come across.
I was diagnosed pregnant, and told the nurse I didn’t want to tell my family. I was consulted and referred without question and without intrusion, and the whole process, from start to finish, was done in nine days. I was never contacted outside an NHS building, and was greeted with smiles and hugs from every nurse I met. At every step in the process, I was spoken to as a complete, adult, individual and complex person. I was given space and time to express my concerns, my views and my personality, and I was never contradicted, but for the help of my own safety.
From beginning to end, it was the essence of choice. I chose to undergo a procedure, I chose when it would happen, and I chose how it would happen. Every detail of the experience was for me and nobody else (had word never got out that this had happened to me, it would have remained that way). At the time of the procedure I was just under 6 weeks pregnant, and the foetus was 3mm each way. Still various people in my life found reason to contact me and explain what they thought was the correct course of action. The point stands that if it had been 23 weeks it is still a good thing to exercise your right to choose your fate. But I diverge.
As I walked to theatre I felt terrified. I choose the word terror because it wasn’t shame, it wasn’t regret, and it wasn’t sadness. Terror is fear, but also the ability to see impressiveness, and that’s exactly what it was. I feared for the physical pain, but I was overwhelmed by the impressiveness of the swiftness and ease of the process. I was overwhelmed with love and appreciation for the NHS and the people who make it. I still am as I write this, and imagine the impact they will have on the lives of women in the coming years. I think of them not as harbingers of bad news, and bad experiences, but only of good news, and good outcomes.
The negativity ended as soon as I broke the news to the first nurse. From then on it was only progress, calmness and positivity. It is an attitude I have carried with me ever since. I choose to celebrate abortion as one would the success of any form of medical care. A problem arises, and is solved as quickly and smoothly as possible, with all the power given to the patient. Afterwards, the problem doesn’t exist anymore, and it cannot be a burden.
At it’s core it is good and only good. The knowledge that this power will soon be transferred to Irish women fills me only with joy.