Culture or Shame: Abortion in the UK / Emily Ingram
First things first: I have always, and always will be, pro-choice. In my mind, it should really go without saying that any woman who isn’t in the right social, financial or emotional position to bear children should be free to make the right decision for them, however difficult that decision may be.
On the 70th Birthday of our National Health Service, I found myself in that very same predicament. As a recent graduate in a part-time job, hoping to continue my studies and kick-start an academic career, I knew as soon as I saw that second purple line which decision was right for me.
Of course, that didn’t make it any less painful: with the loving support of my partner, mum and friends, I wept, sobbed and ached my way through the next week-and-a-half, all whilst waiting to be far enough along for the procedure to take place [5-6 weeks].
During this time, I desperately sought comfort from other women. Too scared to tell anyone outside my close-knit circle of friends and family, I would scan magazines, blogs and charity websites for anything that could give me some guidance. Whilst most websites offered a little help – sometimes personal, sometimes clinical or even gruesome descriptions of the more extreme abortions - it struck me that the internet is the only place that women could try to talk openly about their experiences.
This left me with a distinct sense of something gnawing away at my gut - a mix of guilt, sadness and pent-up emotion that I wanted to shout out loud and, simultaneously, couldn’t reveal to anyone.
In 2017, the department of statistics reported that around 194,668 women in England and Wales had undergone a termination procedure - the equivalent of 16 per 1000 women aged 15 – 44.
NHS England also states that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
So, if this is the case, then why are women like me still so uncomfortable talking about it?
It’s a complex question. Understandably for some, the answer can be found in the clinic waiting rooms, on the faces of the women who are simply too upset to comprehend their experiences outside of their own minds.
For others, it is the disturbingly harsh lexicon surrounding the issue that prevents us from discussing it aloud. Terms like “abortion”, “termination” and “unwanted pregnancy” are the first that come to mind: something I found particularly painful when informing friends and work colleagues.
There’s also an odd sense of guilty privilege. Whilst stories such as that of Iowa State continue to emerge of women across the Western world slowly losing their abortion rights – not to mention those who have never held such rights, and continue to die as a result of desperate, home-made techniques – it’s difficult to deny the sigh of guilty relief I felt when I realised just how accessible the services are in a city like Manchester. When ideas like that flood the mind, the best option seems to keep quiet and be happy with your lot.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that many still neglect to mention the pains, quirks, and emotional battery of abortion, despite it being one of the most pressing women’s issues of the past two centuries, as well as an incredibly uncomfortable physical process. Some women feel contractions as though giving birth, whilst others endure maddening mood swings – yet most continue their lives as normal, without uttering a word of their physical or emotional pain.
So, in spite of that cocktail of guilt, fear and self-loathing that is so often served alongside abortion, I urge all those who feel that they are strong enough to speak about their experiences to do just that. Whether it’s at work, home or in the safe confines of women’s/LGBT+/activist groups, we must speak for those who can’t, to let them know that they are not alone.
Words by Emily Ingram
Edited by Lydia Ibrahim