Abortion has been legal in this country since 1967 (well most of it, Northern Ireland continues to cling on to a law made in 1861). Whilst the criminalisation of termination is no longer in the living memory of many people, a culture of shame surrounding abortion continues to perminate.
One in three women have had a termination, but it remains a subject never discussed in polite company and very few people tell family and friends about their experience. Whereas people regularly announce and ask advice about various ailments on their social media feeds seeking a termination is done in hushed tones – and so the stigma and assumption of remorse remains.
Earlier this year the BBC drama Call The Midwife, featured a storyline where a woman died as a result of backstreet abortion. At the end of the episode, viewers were directed to the BBC’s Action Line website that provides information about issues aired in programmes. Except that this time there was no information about abortion. The BBC claimed the issue was “contentious” and that it could not be seen as “supporting one side”. It remains unclear what they mean by this, how can providing information about a medical procedure be ‘supporting a side?’ Would they follow this argument through about other things once illegal such as say, equal marriage, committing suicide or marrying someone German? We can only hope that they don’t think they fact some people fought against changes in all these areas does not mean the bbc think we need to present differing viewpoints on them too. To be fair to the BBC an outcry has seen them apologise for this decision.
Abortion should be presented as a medical procedure accessed by some people. It is not a case of ‘picking a side.’ After all there are some medical treatments which various cultures and groups are opposed to such as blood transfusions and vaccinations but we do not hide away information on how to access either of them lest someone take offence.
Abortion has always been opposed by some, for the simple reason it gives women control over their bodies and situation.
Does the attitude of secrecy towards abortion derive from the fact it is only accessed by women and the patriarchy dictates that womanhood is defined by the wanting, having and raising of children?
Although most of us are pro-choice there remains in our subconscious, an expectation that women not wanting a pregnancy are a bit odd. This presents itself in the way women without children are continually asking when they will be having children and if past child bearing age why they did not have any. My experience is that childless men are not held to account on this matter! Men do not seem to be judged on their contraceptive failures either!
We should move towards accepting that abortion is a common part of life and as such should stop treating it as something that should be shrouded in shame. Lots of things in life are not ideal, but that does not mean they should be taboo.