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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
Abortion law
  Abortion debate goes from secrecy and stigma to a pack of lies
By Linda Watson Brown

A few months ago, a friend of mine went for an abortion. She is in her thirties, living with her boyfriend of three years, and using
contraception. All of this is perfectly normal. Women have terminations. Men are involved. Contraception fails.

As I'm writing this, part of me is wondering whether it reads a bit like a rather too clichéd "friend" story. Am I really writing about myself? Would I be too ashamed or embarrassed to come clean if I had been through a termination? I have no idea, because it isn't me and never has been - but the very fact that the entire argument is suffused with an air of secrecy and guilt should get our hypocrisy antennae on full alert.

At least one in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Ninety-two per cent of women agree with right-to-choose proposals. And yet we still dance around the topic as if it needs to be terribly furtive, and as if stigma is a healthy part of the process.

Over the past two months, the debate has taken a bizarre twist. Browsing through the press cuttings, you would be forgiven for thinking that women and the needs of women have very little place at the heart of these decisions.

In March, Stephen Hone decided to challenge his ex-girlfriend's choice to have an abortion. He spoke of his rights, his feelings, and his options. Mr Hone claimed that he had been assured the abortion would not take place without his knowledge, and that the foetal remains would not be disposed of without his involvement. He concluded by stating that he hoped his actions would bring his former partner "to her senses" and that they could continue their relationship. Finally, the courts ruled in favour of the woman, and - oddly enough - she did not see Mr Hone's activities as indicative of a warm, caring partner with whom she would wish to spend her life.

Last month, the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland announced that May 2001 would see the launch of its legal fight to try to win women the same right to abortion as those in the rest of the UK. Around 2,000 women come to the mainland each year, paying up to £900 each in costs for their abortion. They face added stress, isolation, and financial implications for the betrayal and refusal of their individual rights. Unsurprisingly, the Society for the Unborn Child in Northern Ireland wished to comment - as it has every right to do. Its spokesperson was a man and he spoke of the "outrageous interference in political and moral affairs". Quite right too - but, don't fall off your seats - it was not the interference in the political and moral affairs of the woman seeking abortion which was uppermost in his mind.

Last week in Britain, we saw SPUC launch a legal challenge to the provision of emergency contraception by pharmacists, and we saw militant groups censured for their habit of placing home addresses of doctors on their websites.

All of these examples have one thing in common. Lies. Lies which suggest that women are being supported by restrictive legislation which is promoted as somehow helping rather than hindering them. Lies which imply that a woman who seeks an abortion is stupid, or unfeeling, or promiscuous. Lies which still encourage the notion that emergency contraception is an abortifacient. Lies which promote the only role for men in the entire process as one of obstruction.

The last of these is to be challenged today by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. A leaflet, Men Too, will outline the ways in which partners can help women through the process from first clinical appointment to support months after the termination. Each woman responds differently to abortion, but unless we challenge the concept that men can only be involved as restrictors rather than facilitators of a healthy experience, the debate will remain entrenched in values and arguments irrelevant to today's socio-political process.

Men have no legal rights when it comes to abortion - and this is quite correct. The contract is between the woman and her doctor - and this too is as it should be as things stand. On an individual basis, it is admirable that steps are taken to address issues which men may raise, for many of them are as unaware of this ridiculously secret procedure as women can be. It is their mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, friends and colleagues who are undergoing the 200,000 and more abortions each year. But they too are confused by the treatment of an issue which is necessary, frequent, and socially vital but hidden and stigmatised.

On a wider level, the men who choose to obstruct and damage are the ones whose actions must be addressed on a wider platform. The actions they take must be swiftly dealt with when illegal, openly discussed when spouting misinformation behind a facade of ill-informed moral judgments.

We should all desire society in which abortion is finally unnecessary, because that society would be one in which women were never faced with unwanted pregnancies as the result of rape, or force, or abuse, or violence, or failed contraception, or lack of education, or lack of choices.

So, who is man enough to start fighting for that?

Monday, 14th May 2001
The Scotsman

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