Whenever I say anything about wanting liberation for women from the lion’s share of both domestic labour – and abuse – there will always be some smart Alec who sends me a message to remind me that as a serving member of parliament, I can hardly complain that women haven’t been liberated.
Apparently, because we have allowed 222 women out of 650 members to have a seat in the House of Commons, obviously, women have it made in every regard. I can tell you, the women I saw this week looking deeply harassed in the queue at the school-uniform shop didn’t look all that liberated but yeah, sure, we are not, in the UK, officially still kept as the chattel of our husbands or fathers. Lucky us.
We can often mistake years of some progress and a march towards equality as something for which we should be grateful. I mean, we had to fight pretty hard against some pretty fierce resistance, so I am not entirely sure to whom we should be grateful but grateful we must be.
In Texas, a new law – that has avoided pushback from the Supreme Court – will disallow women from seeking an abortion and disallow the providers offering them beyond six weeks of pregnancy. A sudden and blunt reminder that progress for women was nothing but a smokescreen. Texas is a reminder that we will never quite be able to rest on the laurels of battles won. We obviously didn’t show quite enough gratitude.
Abortion is simply not the political hot topic here that it is in the US. In America, if you are running to be on a local education board, or a municipal body about planning, you have to pin your pro-choice or anti-abortion colours to the mast. The vast majority of UK representatives – even up to the very highest echelons – would rarely be asked to put their position on such matters on their campaign literature.
I, honestly, don’t know what are our prime minister Boris Johnson’s views. It would be unimaginable for that to be said of a US president. So perhaps it is hard for me to understand exactly how this anti-women legislation has been passed in Texas regardless of the clear constitutional right to an abortion that was defined by legal battles of the 1970s.
It feels like a punch in the stomach to me, a privileged woman living thousands of miles away. It must feel utterly devastating to the marginalised women of the alleged friendship state.
I have had an abortion. I am one of only three members of parliament ever to make this admission and one was a man speaking on behalf of his wife. We are by no means the only ones and there is no reason why people should feel the need to share something so medically personal but the fact that in all the years of parliament only three people have ever broached the subject speaks to how, even here, the topic of abortion is still taboo.
I did not find out I was pregnant on the occasion of my abortion until I was around nine weeks pregnant. It is by no means an exact science. I didn’t know because I hadn’t had a period for around 12 months because I had been pregnant and breastfeeding my eldest son. It was only when I started to get the other symptoms of pregnancy – such as sickness and nearly falling asleep in my cereal – that I thought to test. I didn’t know I was pregnant with my eldest son until I was nearly 12 weeks pregnant.
Women’s bodies are not robotic machines that all work one way. We are not predictable scientific entities that can be programmed for political ideology – no matter how much anti-abortion activists want that. To ban abortion at six weeks is to ban abortion completely and we should not conceive it as anything else. The six weeks is a fig leaf.
Of course, when we discuss and argue for abortion we are duty-bound as women to be heard leaning on the hard cases, and, sure, I have seen them. I have met women seeking an abortion after rape many times. I have sat through a domestic homicide review about a woman whose violent partner found out she had terminated a pregnancy in secret. He murdered her.
It matters in every hard case I have seen that abortion is available and easy to access but I am sick of needing to prove that the reason abortion should be allowed is because women are treated so poorly in other areas.
My case wasn’t a hard one, not by the standards of hardship we put women through. I was already a mother, I had a home and a loving partner. I just could not see how I could be the best mother I could be, how I could thrive on my own behalf and the behalf of my family, if I had another baby so soon after the birth of my son. It was a medical decision I made with my husband and I have not regretted it for a second, although I have certainly felt that I had to pretend that I was filled with deep regret. We are expected not only to be grateful for access to services but also to act in a certain way once we’ve made use of them. Gracious sorrow is still the only acceptable response.
What has happened in Texas is a cruel reminder that we women must never get above our station, we must never march too far forward, we should never and can never take rights we have won for granted.
I might have a seat in the House of Commons but I still have to sit through hours of debate by men about what I can and cannot do with my womb. Feminists like me must now get back on a battlefield where we thought we’d raised our flag. But battle we will, because the women of Texas are relying on us to be pro their lives and if we let this one go we will all be next.