It was the culmination of a 50-year effort by the American right to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed women the freedom to choose whether to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. Only a deep-rooted hatred, or fear, of women and our bodies could sustain such a political campaign over nearly two generations.
The political right’s determination to control women’s bodies, and therefore our very existence, found succour in one Donald J Trump, who during his 2016 election campaign declared that women should be “punished” for daring to end a pregnancy, if and when abortion was made illegal.
I have news for Trump who, despite losing to Biden in 2020, still controls the Republican Party. Forcing a woman to endure an unwanted pregnancy, then give the baby up for adoption, is punishment enough.
Making a girl give birth to her own sibling after her father has raped her is punishment enough. Reducing women to nothing more than society’s handmaids, whose only role is to reproduce the next generation, is punishment enough.
Nor are the American left heroes in this existential fight. A new generation of women, brought up to believe that politics is about individual identity and that old-school feminism – the kind that won the right to choose – is white, middle-class and reactionary, are about to find out that they were duped, big time.
No matter how hard you try, you cannot identify out of a pregnancy. I know. As a teenager I tried to convince myself that I was fat, not five months pregnant. That spare tyre is now 45 years old.
As Hadley Freeman wrote in Unherd earlier this week, how can the left properly discuss a woman’s right to control her own body when “too many liberal US politicians and liberal media sites can’t even bring themselves to say the word ‘woman’…?”
The USA is not the only developed society that has a problem with women and our biology. In 2015, Malta became the first country in the world to introduce self-ID, when it passed a law affirming a person’s right to choose their own gender. So far, so progressive.
"This law is a great example of what can happen when equality rights and dignity are at the forefront of political conversation," said Baroness Helena Kennedy QC at the time. What the Baroness did not point out is that Malta also has the strictest abortion laws in the world. Abortion is illegal on the island, for any reason.
This paradox, where a man can become a woman at will, but a woman has no control over her own body, may not trouble some folk, but in her recent report on Malta, Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, strongly urged the island’s authorities to repeal the provisions criminalising abortion.
“Protecting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights is an essential component of member states’ obligations to respect and guarantee women’s human rights and advance gender equality,” she added.
The UK remains an active member of the Council of Europe, so perhaps Commissioner Mijatovic might want to turn her attention to these islands next. Nearly 60 years after abortion was made legal in England, Wales and Scotland, it is still almost impossible to get one in Northern Ireland.
Abortion was legalised in 2019, yet the Northern Ireland Executive has yet to commission any abortion services, leaving it up to individual health trusts to offer procedures on an ad hoc basis.
The UK Government has been forced to step in and plans to override the devolved administration and directly instruct trusts to provide women with their legal rights. Yet, oddly, Northern Ireland is much further forwards in the introduction of buffer zones round abortion clinics than Scotland.
A few weeks ago, the Assembly passed a bill that will prevent pro-life protestors from intimidating women as they go for a procedure. A law that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says would pose many “legal complexities” here in Scotland and requires a further 18 months of research to gauge the “prevalence and impact of vigils/protests" outside abortion clinics in Scotland.
Why is Scotland’s 'first feminist' insisting on a delay, one that clearly harms women? Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland, says that the protests offer “real and tangible threats to abortion access in Scotland”. And she argues, persuasively, that inaction by the Scottish Government energises the protestors.
Scottish Labour has called for an immediate summit on the issue, with MSP Monica Lennon echoing Back Off Scotland’s assertion that delay is making the problem worse. She said earlier this week that the Scottish Government needed to be more transparent about the potential legal obstacles, adding “these delays have emboldened anti-abortion protests, which have got bigger and more intense in recent months.”
And Scottish Green Party MSP, Gillian Mackay, has decided not to wait for Sturgeon to mull over the complexities of a law that Northern Ireland has found easy to pass, and is bringing forward a member’s bill to introduce 500-feet buffer zones around clinics.
The right to control what happens to our own bodies is at the very heart of feminism and sexual equality. Without it, women have no power.
Sturgeon is no doubt sincere when she insists she is pro-choice. She has the power to make abortion as safe and unthreatening as possible. So why won’t she use it?