Thursday, 7 March 2013

Here’s a toast… to abortion rights, on International Women's Day

I wrote this some time ago (this will become obvious given that it mentions a few news items that are now not so topical), and not got around to publish it. Today, International Women's Day, seems like an appropriate time to share it.

Here’s a toast… to abortion rights 
This is what a feminist doctor looks like

Ani diFranco’s song Self-Evident, which is mostly about the September 11th attacks but also about so much more, includes the line:

“Here’s a toast to all those nurses and doctors who daily provide women with a choice”

Today I provided a woman with a choice – her choice for an abortion. A termination of pregnancy. I administered and inserted the medication to end her early pregnancy. In practical terms, it was the same as what I often do for miscarriage, there was no difference in the procedure; the difference was that in this case, the embryo/foetus was alive. We were ending her pregnancy because she wanted us to.

I am really proud of this. I am pro-choice and proud of the fact that I can help make abortion accessible to women who want it (following appropriate counselling) and that we live in a country where this is available. I believe women* have the right to choose.

That’s not to say I think abortion is great; it’s a shame to lose potential lives especially when there are so many people in the world who would do anything to have a baby, but the right of the woman to have control over her body and her future trumps any right of some cells and tissue that are only a potential person rather than an actual person.

In a month where the news has been full of debate about Savita Halappanavar, the woman who died in Ireland, from septicaemia due to infected products of conception (infected pregnancy/miscarriage), after she was denied an abortion for a pregnancy that was failing anyway and making her very unwell. Although the Irish law is extremely restrictive on abortion, it appears that they could have ended her pregnancy, and increased her chance of survival, whilst still acting within the law, given that there was “real and substantive” threat to her life.

So this is how I express myself as a feminist doctor – I do the same job as other doctors would, I just get a bit more enthusiastic about it and about the opportunities that this job provides, opportunities for making the world a better and pro-choicier place.

I’d stiill do this even if we had vile campaigners, (such as Abort67, who have recently been targeting university campuses [graphic picture in link]) protesting outside the hospital, although I am very glad that there aren’t any. They’re probably not aware that we do social terminations in the NHS hospital, since it’s not an abortion clinic. The protest groups are deeply unpleasant, wildly inaccurate in the “facts” that they quote, and wave horrific pictures, which must be so traumatic for anyone who has ever miscarried a wanted pregnancy, to see – some of those pictures could bring back very painful memories.

In conclusion, I am glad I can do important things in my job, and please would Jeremy Hunt and vile Nadine Dorries (the jungle could keep her) back right off and leave me to do my job to the best of my ability with the best medical evidence available. Kindly stop spouting rubbish about abortions and throwing your political weight around, when we could be having sensible discussions about how to ensure reproduction rights for women, whilst also considering also the appropriateness of interventions concerning the foetus. Note sensible discussions.

Right, I’m off to a Reclaim the Night march and rally (gender inclusive).This is what a feminist doctor looks like!
(yes, it's not Reclaim the Night time of year, but it was when I wrote this!)

This is a picture I took of the badge display at the Women's Library in London, which I visited recently. It is a wonderful treasure trove of feminist history, I'd thoroughly recommend it! (Visit before 22nd March, when it closes and moves to a new venue in June)

As an aside, I recall a conversation amongst medical students when I was in my 3rd year of medical school (5 years ago – took the scenic route through medical school) about FY1 junior doctor jobs. We discussed that gynae might be good, and someone pointed out that you’d have to do abortions if you worked in gynae, and that really put me off. I remember thinking that I agree with women having a right to an abortion, but I didn’t want to actually do the abortion myself. I had a different, and rather inaccurate, understanding of what the actual process involved, but I’m very glad my opinions have changed since then. I’m glad the women I look after can have someone performing their abortion who’s not uncomfortable about doing it.

*women and any other pregnant people – people with various trans identities can have anatomy permitting them to become pregnant without defining themselves as women. It wouldn’t be the first time (e.g. the American Thomas Beattie, and the wonderful Jason Elvis Barker). I have frequently referred to “pregnant people” in a range of contexts, rather than “pregnant women” and almost every time, it gets me a funny look, but I maintain it’s more accurate and inclusive.

Personally I’m a lot more comfortable with the term “woman” to describe myself than I was a few years ago (one can be both trans/of queer gender and identify as a woman without being a transwoman, they are not mutually exclusive) but even so, if I were to become pregnant, I might rather be thought of a pregnant person than everything being “woman” somehow. And my own identity and preference doesn’t make me any less of a feminist.

One day, I intend to follow up this post with another post looking into what happens when women are denied the right to abortion, and also what happens when they do have an abortion - there is some interesting research I'd like to collate. Watch this space.


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