One day, I might need to have an abortion. And should that day come, I want the process to be as straightforward, pain-free and removed from other people’s moral judgement as deciding to go and buy a bag of chips. Here’s why.
I was brought up Catholic. Not just Christmas and Easter and When Granny Comes To Stay Catholic, but Catholic-plus. The package with every single Catholic channel: no wheezes, just Jesus; The Holy Ghostest With the Mostest; Hate Your Bod, Love Your God. There was church on Sunday, after Sunday school. There were catechism classes. My forehead was regularly smeared with grey gunk for mysterious, spiritual reasons. Come Easter, we had to camp out at church for a solid week. You needed to put the hours in if you wanted to get to those eggs.
In all other ways my childhood was a garden of privilege, joy and delight, but being raised by otherwise sane people who Adored The Lord, was – well, look at Rod and Todd Flanders. I remember refusing to speak to classmates who said “oh my God” (at one particularly desperate moment I think I incanted the Hail Mary at a dinner lady). I wasn’t allowed to get my ears pierced or watch Friends or refer to the Pope as “that creepy man with the big hat”. I was brought up to be deeply suspicious of people with divorced parents, gay people, people who lived with their partners before they got married and people who didn’t say Grace before they ate. My period talk was double ended with a “and now you’re becoming a woman, be careful about how you dress because men just can’t help themselves” talk.
So just how did I shake off my Catholic shackles to become a proud, shouty, sweary, slaggy, cheerful, smearily made up bastard liberal media lovechild?
To become less Jesus-y, first I had to become more Jesus-y. I had to think about compassion. This business of casting stones. I started reading books by gay icon Armistead Maupin, and I thought that if his character Michael Tolliver was real, I’d want him to be happy and I’d want to be his friend. And I thought about the way he wrote about sex – and romance, yearning and desire. It was my first glimpse of sex that could be tender, joyful and positive. What was wrong with people wanting to celebrate and enjoy their bodies together? How could that be as bad as hitting someone or stealing from them?
I started to think about the sex I might have one day. I didn’t want to be ashamed of it – and I certainly didn’t think it was fair that heterosexual, Catholic, contraception free sex could equal life changing consequences for women (pregnancy) when the dude you had been sexing could, in theory, just wander off.
At sixteen (AND A HALF!) I finally lost my virginity. Even though I wasn’t pissed and under a pile of coats, and spent days and weeks and months of agonising over whether I was ready, and was very much in love with my boyfriend and I’d been going out with him for well over year, I still felt gut-churningly guilty about it. In fact, I wasted the next five years feeling horribly guilty about sex – and staying with that boyfriend because if my first wasn’t my one and only, that made me a BIG WHORE. Also, despite using condoms AND being on the Pill, I worried about potential unwanted babies every single month. The dude I was schtupping might have been a Maths PhD scholar-to-be, but he was incapable of reading a bus timetable. I did not want him as the father of my unborn child.
It would have been nice to feel a bit more relaxed about sex. To know that as long as I took sensible precautions, there was really nothing to worry about – and if something did go wrong, I had options. That if my womb did something I had expressly asked it not to do, I could get that put right with minimal fuss. And that if I mentioned it to other chicks, they might nod wisely and say “ah, that happened to me too. It’s good that it’s so easy to sort out. Everyone was really nice.” Not “YOU MONSTER! That bundle of cells was SPECIAL AND SACRED AND ENCHANTED! You practically KILLED BAMBI!”
If you believe abortions are horrible, disgusting secrets for women to feel ashamed of, you might as well tell women they have to feel the same way about sex. I think it was Caitlin Moran who compared “good” and “bad” abortions with Chris Morris’ good and bad AIDS. Pregnant from a rape? It’s OK, we’ll let you have that abortion because you probably feel vulnerable and miserable anyway. Pregnant from a one night stand? Pregnant because you were a bit pissed and the condom sort of wiggled to the end of his knob and you’d just finished your period and you thought it would probably be OK? You’d better be crying and ashamed, lady. No more sex for you until you find a husband! That is, if you can find someone who’ll take on damaged goods.
No child ever asks to be born. But their mothers and fathers should be asking for them – not just accepting their presence as an inevitable, unwanted punishment for having sex. Some unplanned children are very loved – but some grow up with parents who, for whatever reason, weren’t ready for them and can’t support them. It’s crazy that proving you’re not able to have a child is as hard adopting a cat. And if Jeremy Hunt gets his way, it’s going to get even harder. Making it difficult for women to abort the bundles of cells they can’t support is going to make life difficult for everyone.
So make it as easy as it can be, for the sake of compassion. The only meaningful choice is pro-choice.