Last week, the Tab, an online student tabloid, published an article by an anonymous Cambridge student entitled ‘I shouldn’t have been aggressively reminded of my abortion at Freshers Fair’.
The author was complaining that she had been upset by a stand at the fair run by Cambridge Students For Life, an anti-abortion student society. The stall, she argues, had no place at an event that is meant to welcome new freshers, and was offensive to her personal choices.
Her article certainly offended me. Her own abortion, she tells us, 'crosses my mind only once in a blue moon, and never tinged with regret'. It is clear that she considers abortion to be a feminist issue, akin to equal-employment rights or women’s suffrage:
'I am a confident woman and assertive feminist. . . . I know my rights and I am proud to have utilised a resource we fought for centuries to obtain'.
She sounds as if she’s talking about taking the Pill, not terminating a pregnancy. They’re very different prospects: one prevents a life from starting, the other ends a life. This student may be misguided in discussing abortion in the same terms as contraception, but she’s not alone. It’s an attitude that is depressingly recognisable among my female peers.
The National Union of Students' Women’s Campaign runs a yearly ‘Abortion Rights Student Conference’ in association with the pro-choice organisation Abortion Rights - a group whose campaign literature talks about the fact that 'a third of women in the UK will have an abortion in their lifetime', as if it’s a good thing. The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti wrote earlier this month that we should stop describing abortion as 'a difficult decision' or 'tragic', and instead accept that 'abortion is good for women': pro-choice campaigners, she argues, need to 'stop equivocating about the morality of abortion and take a more hardline approach to our rights'.
The message is clear: abortion, like using contraception, is simply another example of women taking control of their own bodies. We are supposed to be horrified at what the author of the Tab article describes as Cambridge Students For Life’s 'implicit but blatant suggestion that you were once responsible for a life'. But why should we be? Who else does she think was responsible for her aborted foetus? Everyone has to shoulder responsibilities that they didn’t choose to take on, but that doesn’t meant those responsibilities can be taken any less seriously.
We condemn men who walk away from a partner’s unwanted pregnancy, but celebrate women who ‘exercise their rights’ and ‘take control of their bodies’ by undergoing an abortion. Pregnancy is a big responsibility: an entirely innocent life, or at least the potential for that life, is in your hands. In deciding to put a stop to the process that you, however unwittingly, began, a considered choice has to be made. Your responsibilities to your foetus need to be weighed up against your responsibilities to yourself.
I wouldn’t ban abortion, and in some circumstances I might decide to have one. But it should never be seen as the routine option.