The last female taboo

Throughout the course of history the topic of abortion has been a prominent one. Classed as illegal in the 19th century, it became legalised in the 1960s, but it is still an issue which, even in 21st century Britain, is still seen as a taboo. Evidence of abortions can be found dating back to Egyptian times, where the use of herbs, sharp instruments and abdominal pressure were thought to aid termination of the foetus.

In 1861 the British government set in motion the Offences Against The Person Act. Drastically changing the course for pregnant females, the law prosecuted those who had sought out illegal abortions and those who were offering them.

Abortion is still a taboo subject for women to deal with. Photo: Anneka James

However, in 1967 this decision was reversed with the introduction of The Abortion Act, which is seen as a monumental movement in the struggle for women’s rights.

Since then, the act of making abortions legal has faced opposition from many pro-life groups who believe that every child has a right to life. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is a non-profit organisation that defends the rights of the unborn.

The group’s main aims are to challenge political lobbies and provide free information to women. Anthony Ozimic, a spokesperson for SPUC, says: “Abortion is always wrong because every embryo and foetus is a human being, and
therefore an equal member of the human family with an equal right to life.”

SPUC do not base their beliefs on religion, but rather on science and their interpretation of human rights: “Every embryology textbook says that a human being’s life begins at fertilisation. International human rights conventions do not discriminate between born and unborn human beings: both groups have an equal right to life,” Ozimic says.

Choosing whether or not to have an abortion will always be a hard decision for women and only they can know the
emotion involved.

Sasha* was 20-years-old when she made the decision to have an abortion, and admits that the decision wasn’t an easy one to make: “It has to be said that that point in my life has probably been the most stressful time I’ve ever had, not just with the pregnancy, but everything had come at once. It’s horrible, that feeling of choosing your head over your heart.” 

Sasha remembers the process well, and says that the stress of being dissuaded by doctors can leave you feeling numb: “The initial care wasn’t very good. Because I was twenty, I was classed as an adult, and when I said that practically, it wasn’t an option for me to have a baby now, I got told that shouldn’t come in to it because I could get enough support,” she explains.

The process of getting an abortion can be a lengthy one. It requires getting two doctors to sign an agreement, and long waiting lists dictate whether you will have the pill form of abortion or the more intrusive, suction aspiration, which
removes the contents of the uterus through the cervix.

When it came to the abortion procedure Sasha agrees that the pill form was easier to handle: “I was about four weeks pregnant and I was dead set on having the pill abortion rather than the surgical – I could imagine nothing worse. The surgery seems too invasive and I was set against it. It was going to be too stressful for me,” she says.

She believes that the decision she made was for the best, but that support after the abortion was essential. “There are so many factors that come into it, but I can honestly say a good support network or just a best friend who will be there with you to talk things through will be one of the best things you can have,” Sasha says.

SPUC informs women before and during pregnancy on the advice and support available to them so that they aren’t tempted to consider abortions. They also provide counselling to women who have received abortions and are regretting the decision.

The organisation hopes to dissuade women from having abortions with the power of information: “The correct message to women about abortion must be two-fold: firstly, that abortion is always wrong, but secondly, that it is safe to regret your abortion, because pro-life people are there to support you.”

Running alongside the views of pro-life groups such as SPUC, are many charitable organisations supporting women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Marie Stopes is one of these charities, helping women to decide what’s best for them.

Marie Stopes offer free, confidential advice and run safe abortion clinics in the UK and Ireland. By providing advice and support, they believe that females should have the right to choose: “Counselling is available to all our clients, their partners and family. This is available on the telephone or face-to-face in our centres. The counsellors are fully trained and are all members of The British Counselling Association,” a spokesperson for Marie Stopes says.

The organisation, which was set up to help women cope with unplanned pregnancies, follows the targets set by the government to tackle teenage pregnancy.

Figures published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health show a 13% decline in teenage abortions since the introduction of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy – less than half of the 50% target that has been set for 2010.

These figures show it is vital that Marie Stopes continues helping young women who find themselves in confusing and stressful situations.

Abortions can stem from multiple bad situations, as many of the workers at Marie Stopes know. A spokesman said: “The reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy vary and depend on individual circumstances. These can include financial and emotional stress, medical reasons and absent partners.”

Sasha knows just how important it is to be 100% sure when making the decision to have an abortion, and doesn’t believe that it is an experience that should be viewed harshly: “I honestly don’t think that anyone can judge me if they haven’t been through something traumatic themselves.”

She advises those going through the same experience she went through to not ignore the situation, but make sure that they make the right decision:

“Don’t let anyone put pressure on you. You have to want this 100% because there is no going back after it’s done. However, do not put it to the back of your mind and think it will just go away. The sooner you come to a decision, the easier it is for you,” she says.

– Names have been changed to protect identities

Marie Stopes’ free, confidential advice line, OneCall, offers impartial, non-judgemental advice regarding abortions and unplanned pregnancies provided by trained nurses. Contact OneCall on 0845 300 8090.

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