Tomorrow a “pro-choice” rally takes place in central London, in response to the Dorries/Field right-to-know campaign, which aims to make independent counselling a mandatory part of the abortion process. The well-rehearsed slogans and soundbites regarding a woman’s autonomy over her own body and her right to access safe healthcare are being shrieked across the ether with increasing ferocity.
Tomorrow’s rally is perplexing in that a woman’s right to choose is not under contention. Abortion “rights” are not being eroded, the right to procure an abortion is not under threat, the only threat is to those clinics with vested financial interests.
In its submission to the Charity Commission in January 2011, BPAS states “our main priority in the coming year is to ‘grow’ our business by utilising and expanding our capacity to treat clients and extending our collaboration with the NHS”. A collaboration which proves extremely profitable. According to their accounts, the provision of abortion services accounted for £23 million of their income in 2010, but these services cost them £22 million thus they only made a profit of £1 million. When outlining the overall financial health of the ‘charity’, BPAS state that they are now in a better position than previously because “it has relieved itself of the burden of a previously underfunded pension scheme to improve its overall position”. BPAS’s charitable feelings obviously don’t extend to their employees. In terms of its aims for the forthcoming year BPAS says that it wants “to increase the number and value of contracts with NHS commissioners” as well as “extend services nationally to meet the needs of a greater number of clients”. As the organisers of the rally note, “they are professionals, not volunteers”, these extra abortions are not going to be carried out free of charge out of the goodness of their hearts. Just so they don’t feel left out, Marie Stopes, mention in their annual accounts that in 2008 they received £59.9 million in governmental fees and reimbursement for providing sexual and reproductive services globally. In 2009 this figure had risen to £71.4 million.
It’s worth bearing the above in mind amid all the slogans. If abortion is the ‘healthcare’ that women have a right to, then in common with every other medical procedure women should accept that the final decision lies in the hands of the medical practitioner. A doctor is always a moral arbiter to a certain extent, in that they recommend the appropriate course of treatment for the patient, one that may not always accord with the patient’s wishes. A patient cannot simply demand a particular course of medical treatment solely based upon their gender or their feelings in any other situation. A pregnant woman seeking a caesarian section needs to satisfy the consultant that she has strong grounds for what is major abdominal surgery, that she understands the risks and that the alternatives are unworkable in her situation. She cannot just see her GP and be instantly booked in for surgery.
Safe healthcare is a right that everyone should have access to, which is one of the reasons why BPAS lost their bid to permit women to take the RU486 without medical supervision. Safe healthcare needs to be appropriate to the needs of the patient. Pregnancy does not, for an overwhelming majority of women, require medical intervention in order to save the life of the mother. In 2010 98% of abortions in the UK were carried out for social reasons under category C of the Abortion Act provisions. If a woman feels that she is psychologically at risk from continuing a pregnancy, then counselling needs to be an important part of the decision-making process, as it is with any other medical procedure, one in which the potential risks are clearly outlined. Only then may her ‘choice ‘ such as it is, be said to be truly informed, consensual and ‘safe’.
The irony is that by removing counselling from those who may profit from a certain outcome, Dorries and Field are actually reinforcing women’s choices, rights and health. What are the vehement pro-choicers so scared of? That a woman might not have an abortion? That abortion rates might go down? Or that she might be “manipulated” into keeping a child by an organisation which doesn’t worship the god or ideology of “evidence based practice”, subscribed to by abortion clinics, who hold that abortion is a good or at worst, morally neutral. That an organisation might give her the idea that killing an unborn child is wrong and give her practical, emotional and financial support, advice and encouragement throughout her pregnancy?
What could be more of a victory for feminism than women empowered to overcome social, cultural, financial and emotional constraints to pregnancy? If enough of them do it, society really will be transformed in terms of gender equality. A woman’s ability and right to bear children at any time in her fertile years being taken as a given and factored into employment and benefits legislation and filtering into attitudes. But whilst abortion continues to be debated in terms of an indefatigable right and inherent gender-privileged choice, regardless of circumstance, then the debate about support for women with childcare needs will never be advanced as motherhood will always be seen as a “lifestyle choice” and the demand for widespread abortion will increase, making the cause so much harder for those very few genuinely tragic and hard cases for whom the 1967 Abortion Act was designed.