Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: “We must stand together for our reproductive rights”

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After protestors gathered outside an abortion clinic in London this month, our columnist explains why she’s fed up of having to defend women’s rights over their own bodies. 

I don’t know how many times this needs to be said before all those who need to hear it have understood, but here goes: if you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one.

That’s it. You do you. It’s your body – I want you to have absolute dominion over it. I want to have absolute dominion over mine. That seems to me to be the foundation of any kind of wider freedom. Without it – nothing.

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If you’re a man – and it’s surprising how many of the most vociferous anti-abortion campaigners are – I will amend the message slightly: if you don’t agree with abortion, don’t impregnate anyone unless you are sure that it is a wholly wanted baby you are ready to support for the rest of its life. Whenever you date that from. Side note: if you want to be totally sure that you will not commit what you believe to be a terrible sin by becoming responsible for an unwanted pregnancy that will require termination, you can get a vasectomy. Once again: simple!

I am driven to reiterate these basics because, as I type, protesters from the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants are gathered outside an abortion clinic run by the British Pregnancy and Advisory Service (Bpas) in north London, praying, handing out flyers, following women and shouting at them as they access care. Behaviour that is making patients feel harassed, intimidated and altogether worse during what will usually be a fairly bad time already.

According to Bpas, this is the 44th clinic to have suffered unwanted visitations from protest groups who feel compelled to interfere with women availing themselves of their legal rights. They suggest such groups have been emboldened by the active Home Office decision in 2018 not to enforce buffer zones around clinics to keep protesters away.

That decision is emblematic of the entire abortion debate. It represents government indifference at best. At worst it associates the procedure with the kind of behaviour and morality that those in charge – yes, largely men of a certain age, class and ethnicity, with the least working knowledge of the subject – still feel at some level should be punished. You only fail to protect people going about their lawful business without harassment if you reckon they deserve it or believe that they aren’t important enough to bother with. Not, of course, that those two are mutually exclusive.

It also highlights the need for constant vigilance when it comes to defending our reproductive rights. What does it say about the vulnerability of these rights that there are multiple groups organising against them and that no hand from above will reach down to quash them? It means, as ever, that it is up to those most in need of protective rights to look to each other and organise ourselves.

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It’s exhausting, infuriating and it shouldn’t be necessary, but it has never been more so. The president of the United States just addressed a rally of pro-lifers for the first time (though I prefer the term ‘forced- birthers’ as being a little clearer about what the effects of their beliefs are). His team is busily assembling all the legislative parts needed to overturn Roe v Wade and outlaw legal abortion. And, as we know, when America sneezes, Britain catches a cold.

We must stand together. I plan to start a Forcible Vasectomies for All campaign, but until then I will do my bit to make every child a wanted child by continuing contraceptive use and signing up as a Friend of Bpas. The membership donation is a small price to pay when you consider the potential cost.

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