Tuesday 12 March 2013

The reality of anti-choice activism in America - and what it means for the UK

Laura Blum is an American student currently interning for bpas.

Growing up in a largely conservative, Republican county of Maryland, anti-choice activism is something I’ve become quite accustomed to. One of my best school friends belonged to an evangelical church that displayed hundreds of small white crosses on their lawn every year, each cross supposedly representing an abortion. Other churches in my hometown hung full-colour banners with slogans such as “I’m a Child, Not a Choice,” complete with close-up photos of unborn foetuses. There are no abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood branches for 20 miles in any direction. But we are home to Birthright, an organization that claims to offer “caring support” for pregnant women, but in truth relies on misinformation and shaming tactics to prevent women from making an informed choice about their pregnancy.

None of this is new, of course. Anti-choice activists have been bombing clinics and threatening doctors since Roe v. Wade, but it wasn’t until the early nineties that they began to murder their targets. I was lucky enough to be born in 1992, just as the US anti-choice movement was becoming lethal.  In March 1993, abortion doctor David Gunn was shot and killed during a pro-life protest. In 1994, four more people were killed by extreme pro-life activists. And the violence has hardly abated since then. According to the National Abortion Federation, between 1977 and 2009 there were over 6,000 reported  incidents of violence (including 8 murders, 41 bombings, 175 arsons, and 4 kidnappings) and over 150,000 reported  incidents of disruption (including harassment and bomb threats) against abortion providers in the US.

Terrifying, isn’t it? And yet so commonplace that when I recently visited a Planned Parenthood in Delaware, I wasn’t surprised to find a heavy, bomb-proof door installed at the clinic entrance. Nor am I surprised when I read about yet another legislative attack on reproductive choice. These things trouble me, of course--but they don’t shock me.

I imagine it must be hard for people who haven’t grown up in such an environment to understand just how normal it seems. When I try to view the current climate of US reproductive rights from an outsider’s perspective, it seems appalling, backwards, and disturbing--which, of course, it is. Whilst I would love it to change, I have to accept it as the current reality.

In the meantime, I must do my best to thrive in a country full of people who want to punish me and shame me simply for having a uterus and being able to reproduce. People who would rather see me die than get an abortion. People who think that if I accidentally get pregnant, it’s my fault anyway for making such bad decisions, and I ought to just live with the consequences. People who think that even if I’ve been impregnated by rape, I should be forced to carry out the pregnancy because it would make the best of a bad situation. Sure, they’re a minority, but they’re an extremely vocal one--and they have many powerful allies in national and state government.

During my time with bpas, I’ve heard a lot about the “Americanisation” of anti-choice activism. Whilst this term does need to be put in the context of anti-abortion violence worldwide, it is certainly apt. Many people working in the women’s sector have noticed how anti-choice groups in the UK have been adopting tactics used by some of the more extreme anti-choice organizations in the US. And some of the most vocal anti-choice groups in Britain today, such as Abort67 and 40 Days for Life, are direct offshoots of US organizations.

When I look at the history of anti-choice violence in my home country, I see an unmistakable trend. Harassment leads to death threats, death threats lead to bombings and arson, and before long, abortion providers are being murdered. I’m not one to be alarmist, but the evidence is too strong for me to ignore. And I can’t help but worry about what might happen if the burgeoning anti-choice movement in the UK is left to its own devices. They may seem relatively tame now, but unchecked extremism has a way of escalating.

The UK already has a lot going for it in terms of reproductive rights and pro-choice fervour. But we mustn’t take these things for granted. I don’t want girls in Britain to grow up like I did, surrounded by hateful messages, not being offered a true choice and not being trusted to make decisions for their own lives. I don’t want to see British abortion clinics close down under threats of violence. We can prevent this from becoming a reality, but we must remain vigilant, and we must work together to defend our rights. And above all, we must not be silent. If pro-choice activists in Britain make our voices louder than the hateful anti-choice zealots, we can beat back the tide of extremism, and keep the country safe for patients and providers alike.

1 comment:

  1. "between 1977 and 2009 there were over 6,000 reported incidents of violence (including 8 murders, 41 bombings, 175 arsons, and 4 kidnappings)"

    That is shocking and domestic terrorism! you can tell how little the government cares about people with uteruses by how little this terrorism is addressed =(