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Gender Equality and Abortion Rights are not the Same Thing

Posted by Margaret Akers on 16 February 2018

Suffragists fought so women could have a voice - but pro-life women are silenced.

This week, Tom Hinchcliffe, a "Party Communications Manager" wrote a piece in the ​Huffington Post ​entitled Until Abortion Harassment Is Stopped, Gender Equality Will Never Be Achieved. Margaret Akers, Campaign Research Officer at SPUC Scotland, responds.

In his article (which is very like the one written by Fabian Hamilton MP in the Yorkshire Evening Post) Tom Hinchcliffe attempts to equate women’s suffrage with a right to abortion and a right to be protected from vigils outside of abortion clinics. With his words, Tom Hinchcliffe simultaneously infantilises some women while infringing on the rights of other women – namely the women who attend these vigils outside of abortion clinics. As a young pro-life woman, I have grown tired of being told, by the likes of Mr. Hinchcliffe, that my voice has no place in the women’s movement. He is right to celebrate those suffragists who advocated so that women could rightfully have a voice in politics, and I aim to have my say in the tradition they set in motion.

Offering choice

These peaceful pro-life vigils outside of clinics are important. I say peaceful because we must remember there have been no charges, arrests, or convictions for harassment or intimidation outside of abortion clinics in the UK. They are important because people’s right to attend them is protected and they are important because they offer legitimate help to women. Many women who seek counselling following an abortion say that they felt as though they had no choice and they wish someone had told them they didn’t have to do it. It’s for these women that people pray outside of clinics. Mr. Hinchcliffe asserts that these vigils ‘aim to harass them [women]’ and are ‘designed to cause distress.’  This could not be further from the truth. The vigil attendees care as much for the women as they do for their unborn children; they want to offer practical support so that women feel as though there is more than one choice.

Abortion is not liberating

Pro-life 'protesters' have legitimate reasons to be concerned. A study of American clinics found that 64% of women presenting at abortion clinics felt some element of coercion in their choice. Recent studies have found that abortion could be detrimental to women’s mental health. A study in New Zealand found that women who had had abortions experienced mental health disorders 30% more often compared to women who had not.1 Similarly, an American study found a 30% increased risk of depression and a 25% increased risk of anxiety following an abortion.2 Abortion has not been an undeniable good for women, and we need to stop pretending that women need abortion to be liberated. For many women, abortion is just another way in which they are controlled by others.

Let women speak for themselves

Mr. Hinchcliffe thinks it is 'surreal' that these pro-life vigils have been allowed to continue. What is truly surreal is that, after celebrating the anniversary of a women’s right to vote, women who do not believe abortion is good are silenced and disregarded. A society that has just celebrated women who spoke up in protest now aims to take away that right.

Mr. Hinchcliffe is right to insist that women who have experienced distress as a result of vigils outside clinics be consulted on the issue of buffer zones. Additionally, the consultation should include participants in these vigils, and most importantly, the countless women who have accepted the help they offer. There is more than one side to the story surrounding vigils outside of abortion clinics, just as there is more than one side of the story about how women are affected by abortion. It is time we heard the other side.

The Home Office Consultation on buffer zones ends on 19 Feb. Respond now.

1 Fergusson DM, Horwood LI & Boden JM (2008) Abortion and mental health disorders: evidence from a 30 year longitudinal study. British Journal of Psychiatry 193(6):444-451.

2 Sullins DP (2016) Abortion, substance abuse, and mental health in early adulthood: thirteen-year longitudinal evidence from the United States, SAGE Open Med 4:1-11.

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