Laura Blum is an American student currently interning for bpas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.