Growing up in the evangelical Christian bubble of Northern Ireland in the 90s, I was well aware of what abortion was, even before I knew where babies came from.
The essence of a pro-life argument is easy for a child to grasp. Babies are humans, killing a human is wrong because all life is valuable, no matter how small or vulnerable you are. Therefore, abortion is wrong.
For a long time, this way of thinking was just second nature. Everyone agreed with these sentiments, how could you not? In school, English classes primed you to write your pro-life speech to read out in front of the whole class. R.E classes taught you the religious, moral and ethical arguments you could regurgitate for why you actually held these views. From my memory at least it was just an accepted, unquestioned truth.
I moved to Scotland to go to University in 2012. Fresher’s week is never really the time to bring up religion or politics with your new and hopefully soon to be friends. However, over the next four years the very rare times abortion was brought up in a conversation, it was a resounding women’s right to choose. Whenever, wherever and whatever for.
My little country of Northern Ireland was shunned as backward at best, and at worst infringing upon human rights. A patriarchal misogynist system that clearly did not trust women to make their own choices. The people of Northern Ireland, the same.
In consequence my way of thinking was slowly changing. Of course I remained pro-life at heart, but who was I to impose my views on other people? Of course women had the right to choose what happened to their own bodies?
As time went on, admittedly I grew somewhat embarrassed of the pro-life cause. I began to cringe at those people that stood and shouted with their placards and pictures of dead babies. I was disgusted how some people would come out with awful statements like, ‘it was her fault she got pregnant in the first place’, as if the only reason abortion should be illegal is to discipline a sexually active woman. And I especially hated how so many supported abortion criminalisation as a social justice issue, yet cared nothing for or turned a blind eye to other issues such as gender equality and healthcare reform.
Living in Scotland also meant that I met and made friends with other women who had had abortions. I got to know them, and the complicated social, economic or health factors which contributed to their decision to terminate their pregnancy.
These factors, to many staunch pro-lifers, didn’t seem to matter much. For them there was no excuse for an abortion. In my heart, even if I still technically believed that, I could not understand why these reasons were just ignored or dismissed.
For a lot of pro–lifers the abortion conversation was all about the baby. The woman and the factors surrounding her pregnancy didn’t matter much.
Becoming increasingly aware of the feminist conversation and also the heart wrenching stories of real women, added to my frustration. Who was I to deny any of these woman a ‘solution’ to their very real crisis?
So if I was truly honest with myself, whilst remaining pro-life in conviction I felt I could no longer stand up for those personal convictions in any public way. In my attempts to be a ‘progressive’ Christian, (whatever that was… some vague attempt to seem more loving and understanding than my more vocal counterparts) my favourite phrase became, ‘well I’m personally pro-life, but…’.
I resolved to say little. Not make a scene. I could hold my own personal convictions, whilst being ambivalent towards its legality, right?
…Until I couldn’t.
When I returned to Northern Ireland the conversation had changed. A political push to ultimately get the English and Welsh 1967 Act, or something similar, extended to Northern Ireland was well underway.
Their campaign had a force and energy which pervaded even subliminally through mainstream media. I became aware of little things such as the syntax rules concerning the use of the phrases “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion” and “anti-choice” instead of “pro-life.”
I noticed how stories with a pro-abortion leaning were continually picked up and ran, whilst there was complete radio silence on any story that may promote a pro-life ideology.
I noticed how debates were deliberately framed religiously, ignoring the voices of other groups of all faiths and none such as atheists, humanists, secularists and new wave feminists that also stood for life.
I especially noticed how a lot of abortion campaigners liked to play down their pro-abortion stance and instead focus on the pro-choice and women’s rights narrative. Whilst this narrative was tempting – watching their marches, demonstrations and festivals, I couldn’t help but notice the degree to which we were desensitising ourselves to the reality of what abortion was. The termination of a life – something that should never be celebrated.
I squirmed as women cheered whilst drones in the sky dropped abortion pills.
I was disgusted at the tone of a prominent feminist and pro-choice speaker who boasted on Twitter that she would love to kick the ***** out of some pro-lifers, and I was troubled by what seemed like the sheer unquestioned acceptance of the aggressive pro-choice rhetoric by my younger generation.
That old familiar rhetoric that shouted If you were pro-life you were anti women. That women needed ‘choice’ and that to deny women that was a patriarchal misogynist act.
There had always been a number of things that frustrated me about the pro-choice movement, however I was finally beginning to articulate what that was. The fundamental flaw in that narrative; It seemed the pro-choice argument was all about the woman.
Whilst the pro-choice narrative was tempting, it ultimately allows people to avoid the essential and hard questions about the very real ethical concerns surrounding abortion.
Whilst for multitudes the soundbite of the pro-choice mantra has become accepted wisdom, nevertheless there remains at its core a very deliberate rhetoric that, quite subliminally, will go to whatever lengths necessary to dehumanise the preborn child. Using language that reduces that life’s value to nothing more than a cluster of cells, a parasite to the body and a biological inconvenience.
As history shows, once the dehumanisation of a people group has occurred, so can follow the denial of any rights and their subsequent disposal in whatever way is deemed convenient. Reducing the preborn child to this status allowed the pro-abortion argument to be solely framed around a women’s body and ‘choice’. A narrative which is a lot harder to be seen opposing.
But even that narrative was flawed.
I rejected that abortion was considered progress when real progress is working for structural and systemic change to ensure that women are empowered in their fertility, pregnancy or motherhood, not instead of! The quick fix of abortion doesn’t support women in the long run because it doesn’t call for this change. It doesn’t allow for real choice.
I rejected the rhetoric that said to gain equality with men in terms of education, financial security, or pursuing dreams I have to end the life of another. That isn’t real equality… that was oppression redistributed.
I rejected the idea that just because I believed in the intrinsic value of the life of a preborn child – I can be considered not really a woman but rather just a reflection of an internalised misogyny.
And I rejected the popular rhetoric that says if I am pro-life I am anti women.
As a woman and as a feminist I was disturbed that my ‘rights’ were being invoked by others to support the abortion campaign.
I did care about women, I did care about women’s rights, I cared about women’s equality, I cared about women’s support and help in a pregnancy crisis AND I also cared about the life and dignity of the preborn child.
And you know what, that’s ok. They are not mutually exclusive.
Because of that I could no longer stand by and let a generation of men and women be cuckolded into a certain ideology in a misguided attempt to stay relevant and with the times, to not cause offence to friends or get on the wrong side of popular opinion.
My conscience could no longer allow me to remain only personally against abortion when what was being said was so wrong. I realised that my previous position – the passive progressive – was my attempt at finding some type of compromise between the extreme pro–life and pro-abortion positions. But it wasn’t.
By remaining silent, I was in effect, supporting the narrative that was being accepted by so many men and women. By publicly remaining neutral and for choice, I simply allowed the dehumanisation and termination of the unborn child. A position that didn’t stop abortion and equally didn’t truly help women. I was frustrated and something needed to be done.
But it turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling like this.
In fact, far from it.
Other individuals and organisations have felt as equally alienated, unrepresented and frustrated by the present abortion debate.
But we haven’t remained passive this time.
Instead we’ve come together as a new movement, one which seeks to reframe the abortion debate in Northern Ireland and beyond. We stand with women and children to protect the life, health and dignity of both. We defend our current law which strikes that difficult and delicate balance between the protection of both mother and unborn child. We care about the reasons why women feel they have to choose abortion, advocating for better services and support, extending from pre to post birth, so that no woman in a pregnancy crisis feels pressured to make a decision based on lack of necessary support. We stand ready to change wider culture, in relationships, in families and in the workplace. To challenge the current narrative surrounding progress, rights and equality and re-humanise the conversation that has previously pitted the lives of mothers against those of their unborn children. We have a vision to see a people and place that values the life and health of women and preborn children and pursues the wellbeing of both because we recognise that Both Lives Matter.
I may not be a mum, although I hope to be one day, but it is a joy to stand to bring about a better society for women and children more generally.
To support the equality of women and dignity of the unborn felt like a very lonely place to be. But we are not alone. I am so glad that I now stand with other individuals, men and women that like me believe that… Both Lives Matter.