It is 50 years this week since the 1967 Abortion Act legalising terminations of pregnancy came into force in the United Kingdom.
For some, this anniversary will not be a cause for celebration. Those who privilege the ‘right to life’ from the moment two cells have been joined, however accidentally, inappropriately or, in the case of rape, forcibly over the life, independence and already existing responsibilities of the woman who carries them have assailed the legislation for half a century and continue to do so now and to other laws like it round the world.
Many more others – I hazard – will, however, be sending up fervent prayers of thankfulness for this huge, hard-won contribution to a freedom men have taken for granted throughout history; the freedom to control our own bodies.
There are lots of things we could do to mark this anniversary. We could support the #Repealthe8th campaign in Northern Ireland that seeks to get the 1967 Act extended so that women can access safe, legal abortion there instead of having to travel – if they can face it and if they can afford it – to England for private procedures. We could support the decriminalisation of the procedure (women can still technically be jailed for life for having a termination) – a largely symbolic gesture here, but important again to Northern Irish women who are still prosecuted for things like buying abortion pills online. Or we could donate to the various US organisations fighting against Trump’s rolling back of both termination and contraception access (and childcare provision, and, and, and…) across America.
I’m going to mark it by setting out here, as best I can, the points I always try to make when discussing this subject with people less pro-choice than me. And they are these: Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. No-one has “Get an abortion!” on their bucket list. Neither is pro-choice the opposite of being pro-life. That’s a false equivalence and a pernicious one. Pro-lifers would see women forced to go through with pregnancies (the cruelty and inhumanity of which we do not have space to dwell on here). The opposite of that would be forcing women to have abortions. This is so far from what pro-choicers have in mind, I could laugh.
Read more: Why I had an abortion at 35
I don’t want anyone to have an abortion. What I want is to live in a world where a moment of getting carried away, or missing a single pill never has huge, life-altering consequences like pregnancy. I want to live in a world with no Weinsteins, no rapists or abusive men who force their wives to get pregnant to gain even more control over them. I want to live in a world so well-organised and in which health, wealth, jobs, power and resources are so widely and equally distributed that everyone leads lives unconstrained by practical considerations. But we don’t. So we need to give women as much choice as possible in how they counter that.
I’ve never needed an abortion but my friends have, at roughly the rate of the national average that tells us that one in three women will have one in her lifetime. Those friends will mark the anniversary by going about their lives normally. The lives they were able to choose for themselves, in the relationships they have not been confined to by the results of a single oversight, a moment of madness or a sexual assault, in the jobs they were able to qualify for or continue, and often with the children they have – when ready and able to care for them – gone on to have since.
Choice has made all these lives possible. Mark that.
Images: Rex Features