Hazel McHaffie

equality

Abortion: rights, choices and heartaches

Whatever you feel about the rights and wrongs of abortion, I suspect the news this week of the Supreme Court’s decision in the USA to overturn Roe v Wade and end the constitutional right of women to decide about reproductive matters for themselves, putting the decision into the hands of the legislature in each State, will have had an effect on you. And if my understanding is correct, some Republican States will even make it illegal to intervene in cases of ectopic pregnancy where the fetus, growing usually in the fallopian tube, cannot be viable, and the mother’s life is at risk.

Phrases like ‘going back 50 years’, ‘a dark day for women’, capture the sense of shock and outrage so many feel in the 21st Century where equality, autonomy, rights, interests, are everyday words, not esoteric ethical terms.

I guess my own circumstances influence my personal views, but I confess, I foresee dire consequences. I was in clinical practice in the days before the Abortion Act came into force here in the UK in 1967, and saw at first hand the maternal death, the terrible damage, and the family heartache caused by both self-inflicted and back-street abortions carried out by unqualified people in unhygienic conditions. It underlined for me the desperate measures women would go to to end an unwanted pregnancy. It shone a light on the grave disadvantages of those with limited resources and choices. It highlighted the anguish of losing a baby. It brought me face to face with the tragic death of young girls.

Nor is the closure of these specialist clinics only the end of a single service: abortion. There are far-reaching repercussions. Because these centres – well, the good ones anyway – don’t just process patients on a conveyor belt; inbuilt into their work is listening, counselling, supporting, guiding; helping vulnerable women and girls to address the problems which make them consider termination in the first place. Decision making is a staged process. And it includes guidance for the future: dealing with the grief and guilt, avoiding further unwanted pregnancies, coping with the responsibilities they already have.

Opponents of abortion have a right to their opinions, but in my view, they do not have the right to force their opinions on others, especially on those who are at their most vulnerable and traumatised.

The reasons for seeking to terminate a pregnancy are legion. Ending the life of an innocent child is indeed a big deal, but what of the well-being of …

Sally, who has been told her 20-week fetus has a lethal abnormality.

Jacqui, whose mental health is precarious already, and who knows she can’t cope with a dependent child when she’s struggling to look after herself.

Dolly, who has learning difficulties and scarcely understands what’s happening to her body, and of her mother, already worn out looking after Dolly.

Precious who has been told her unborn child has a genetic condition that will mean he will never walk or talk or know her.

Twelve-year-old Caroline, who was sexually assaulted by her father and now has a positive pregnancy test hidden in her school bag.

Mother-of-three Hetty, who’s daily struggling to cope and simply doesn’t have the financial, emotional, or physical wherewithal to raise a fourth child.

Trixie, caught between a pregnancy which will end all contact with her family on the one hand, and the judgement of her church which forbids abortion and preaches eternal damnation on the other.

Teenager Katarina, who was assaulted by a stranger when she took a shortcut through the park so her mother wouldn’t be worried that she was late home after sports practice.

Fatima, who is in an abusive relationship and regularly raped by her partner, and now expecting his child, whom he attempts to dispose of through violent kickings every Friday night.

Elizabeth Jane, who has just got that longed-for promotion at work and for whom pregnancy right now would be the end of a promising career.

Yasmin, who has been through years of infertility treatment, ending up with five viable implanted eggs requiring selective reduction to ensure her own and the babies’ safety.

First-year university student Andrea who was taunted for still being a virgin, and in a drunken moment of madness allowed a persistent boy to remedy the situation.

It’s not for me to pick and choose which of these pregnant women/girls deserve my sympathy, which should have a choice, who qualifies for an abortion. It’s not for me to force them to give birth to these babies and live with the horror of what that means. I won’t be there.
It is for me to understand and support and stand up for the freedom to choose.

If you want to hear firsthand what a ban on all abortions can mean in real life, listen to an American lady speaking to Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Andrea Prudente was on holiday in Malta this month, when she began bleeding profusely at 15 weeks – her placenta had started to sheer off. Then her waters broke and she was told her much-wanted baby could not survive. But Malta is the one EU country that bans abortion in any circumstance, even when the fetus can’t survive, even when the mother’s life is in grave jeopardy. And this lady’s life was indeed in danger; nevertheless she had to risk a flight to another country to obtain the medical assistance she needed. It makes harrowing listening. But we can’t turn away from this reality and sanitise it. It’s happening to real women in June 2022.

America’s overturning of the constitutional rights of women doesn’t stop abortions; it stops safe abortions!

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

Mother … ? Father … ? In-between?

Cue: Big sigh. I have a need to vent; excuse me if I do so on my blog this week.

Sometimes I feel a sense of despair when yet another claim is made for equality; it feels as if individuals and groups want it all. The activists’ mantra seems to be, ‘If you can have/do/be X, Y or Z, I must be able to too.’ And when it comes to gender issues, the boundaries are now so fluid that the demarcations are becoming well nigh impossible to pin down. On the matter of transgender rights, we’ve already had controversy over access to public toilets and changing rooms, housing in prison and on hospital wards, school uniforms, sport, Girl Guides … and we’ve all seen how, as societal expectation and scientific capability allow for increasing flexibility, rights and interests become mired in doubt and challenge.

Boiled down to the perspective of a single person, my sympathy does go out to anyone so unhappy with their biological identity that they will risk public opprobrium and undergo hugely disturbing physical and psychological procedures to ‘right nature’s wrong’. I’ve met a number of transgender women and I’ve absolutely no reason to suspect their motives for wishing to accompany me into the toilets bearing the figure of a person in a skirt in Debenhams/John Lewis/the railway station.

But when it comes to gender issues impinging on families, my allegiance swings to the innocent children caught in the crossfire. As a rule of thumb, instinct tells me that their rights should trump those of the warring adults, so I confess, I breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday when a High Court ruling decreed that in the case of a transgender father the baby’s rights should prevail.

For those who missed the story …
The transgender man in question, Freddy McConnell (a journalist with The Guardian by trade), was born female, but suffered from gender dysphoria, so elected to transition to become a man. However, he decided to retain his uterus so he could still give birth like a woman. Hmmmmmmm. A classic case of wanting cake and eating it, methinks. And yes, he went ahead and duly had a baby. But ahah! Was he now mum or was he dad? Well, apparently, the biological exclusively-female necessities having been taken care of, he wanted to be a man; he wanted to register as the father on his child’s birth certificate. Perhaps unsurprisingly the authorities objected; after all it is unprecedented. So he took them to court – as you do – for refusing to let him exercise his rights to be identified as male. The lawyers for The General Register Office, however, argued that, since he gave birth to the child (a boy), he must be registered as the mother; the child had a right to know the identity of the person who carried him. Back comes Freddy McConnell like a plucky wee terrier with an appeal higher up the legal ladder.

Result? In the High Court on Thursday, the President of the Family Division, sided with the earlier ruling, basing his decision on the common law definition of a mother. He too, said the child had the right to know the true identity of the person who had borne him, and that person was his mother. But he also pointed out that, there is a far-reaching issue underpinning this case. Now that it’s perfectly possible – medically and legally – for a person legally defined as a man to give birth, there is a pressing need for Parliament to address this whole question. Well, at least it would be a change from the current shenanigans relating to the B word, wouldn’t it?!

Now, I’m no legal eagle, but isn’t it also relevant that the birth certificate belongs to the child, not to the parent? It’s a legal document that sets out who a person is; it must record the truth. And in addition, to me it feels wrong for a baby to be an unwitting pawn in a political campaign, to be singled out for future problems, to be branded as ‘different’ from birth, before he has any chance to formulate his own views on the subject.

One possible solution springs instantly to mind … could there maybe be a special certificate for such cases, merely asking for the name of the ‘Parent’? I’d need to think more about the ramifications of such a move before promoting it outside the confines of my personal blog … and before all the heterosexual non-transgender equal-rights activists jump on that bandwagon and want ‘Parent ‘on their certificates too! Because of course, singling anyone out for special attention and different treatment immediately raises issues and hackles elsewhere.

But, hey, if a couple (Hobbit Humphrey and Jake England-Johns, to be precise, who are both circus performers living on a houseboat near Bath) can legally bring up a child as gender neutral, keeping the infant’s sex a secret even from family, to avoid the unconscious bias around the girl/boy divide until Anoush is old enough to choose how ‘they’ (parental choice of pronoun for their offspring) will be defined, then perhaps anything’s possible!

I was myself brought up with a strict moral code that encourages putting others’ comfort, welfare and interests ahead of my own. And I’m old enough now to feel a degree of nostalgia for a society that was centred on that philosophy rather than ‘I want and I will have!’. I’m with the Dowager Duchess on this one: Has the world gone completely mad?

, , , , , , , , ,

Comments