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"Why I'm pro-choice… and pro-life"

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What subject makes women angrier – or sadder – than abortion?

The debate is horribly polarised as either pro-life, or pro-choice, which makes the other side pro-death or pro-tyranny – see how well we humans understand each other! It has flared up again recently, because of Tory MP Nadine Dorries’ attempts to offer all women “independent counselling” before they abort, as part of the health and social care bill, as if adult women do not know whether they want to have a child or not. She failed, and the debate has stalled again, which is all to the good; an uncomfortable compromise is probably the best that we can hope for.

Plenty of men walk away from fatherhood without being shamed; why can’t women do the same?

I am a columnist and I am supposed to take a line; that is what I am here for. But this is one of the few issues when I agree with everyone. Pro-choice women (of whom the most eloquent, for me, is The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore) argue that the state should have no control over women’s bodies; if they did, where would they stop? You cannot force women to have children, because it is, as she says, “heartless”, and you should not shame them for their experiences, that are peculiar to them, and belong only to them. Plenty of men walk away from fatherhood without being shamed, or scarred; why can’t women do the same? What if a pregnancy places the mother’s life at risk – what then? Women will still have abortions, even if they are illegal – they will go to back-street doctors, or drink gin and poison themselves, and the babies will die, or come out sick. And what about the economics? Can you make a poor woman poorer, and congratulate yourself on your morality? One current pro-choice slogan is “Get your hands off my eggs [pope] Benedict.”

One current pro-choice slogan is Get your hands off my eggs [pope] Benedict

I agree with all of this; a world in which women have no control over their bodies is not one I would wish to live in, because a state that demanded this of women would ask for so many other things, and all at a time when women’s rights in so many other ways are threatened.

The pro-lifers’ language is too hard and judgmental for me. Full stop. They have sympathy for an unborn human being, but none for a born one in trouble, which is, as Moore points out, far easier. Sometimes they are just bonkers, and murder doctors who perform abortions, at which point I think the debate is over. Pro-life? Really? They ignore the fact that only a tiny percentage of abortions now happen after 10 weeks, and say stupid things such as the morning-after pill is “an abortion pill”, which is ridiculous and a lie, the language of shame. They say that women who abort do it lightly, even friskily, and dance down the street with their freedom – gone, baby, gone! But most of all they say it is a baby, once alive, now dead. “I want to call for another right,” wrote India Knight in The Sunday Times, “the right to name the thing lying in the bowl. It is the same thing as the one lying downstairs in a cot. It is a baby”. And I agree with that too.

They ignore the fact that only a tiny percentage of abortions now happen after 10 weeks, and say stupid things such as the morning-after pill is an abortion pill

I had an abortion at 24, and I have always regretted it. If I could go back, I would have the baby, even if it meant it would have been adopted and brought up by strangers. Do you know who gave me the courage to write that? The pro-choice Suzanne Moore, who said she was proud of her mother, who had abortions, because she refused, “to be ashamed of her own experience”. I was very sick at the time, with alcoholism, and I kept the baby for three months before I climbed on the trolley at Kingston Hospital – which was covered by a blanket, it was green I think – and did it. It was somebody else’s baby too, of course – but I don’t know whose exactly. I thought at the time I waited so long because I wanted to punish myself for being an alcoholic, but now I think I wanted to have the baby and I hoped that if I waited, something would happen and the baby and I would be OK. But nothing did. I was drunk all the time. My family were right when they said I could not have looked after it, even if it had been born alive – which, with all the vodka I was drinking, I doubt.

So. Not dancing down the street then. I hope that other feminists can forgive me; my shame is my own. This is not a pro-life article. I remain pro-choice – but that is the choice I must live with.