Abortion should not be a political football


The media were full or reports yesterday about the fact that Donald Trump has reinstated the anti-abortion Global Gag Rule (or the Mexico City Law). Many reports and commentators made much of the fact that he was surrounded by men at the time of signing the executive order.

Feminists often speak of how “men still tell us what we can do with our bodies”. But I find this statement dangerously naïve.

Take a look at any protest against Planned Parenthood or outside any abortion clinic. What you will notice is that the majority of the protestors are women. So when a group of men support the signing of a pro-life order, you have to remember that most of those men are likely to have wives or girlfriends at home who are cheering them on.

The debate between pro-life and pro-choice is no less bitter now than it has ever been, with very strong feelings on both sides. Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule should not actually come as a surprise – it has been revoked and reinstated each time the political leadership of the White House has changed. Reagan introduced it; Bill Clinton repealed it; Bush reinstated it; Obama repealed it and now Trump is reinstating it.

What a ridiculous waste of time and money. And how frustrating this must be for the programmes which benefit from funding whenever the rule is repealed, only to lose that funding each time the rule is reinstated. Isn’t it time for both sides to stop treating this as a political football, and come up with a solution that both sides can live with?

Because the thing is, it’s not purely about ideological beliefs around pro-choice vs pro-life.   I noticed a number of women on Twitter commenting yesterday, along the lines of “I don’t care if you have an abortion. I just don’t want to have to pay for it”. Many of them (as well as many men) make the same arguments around sexual reassignment surgery – they don’t have an issue with people having the surgery but they don’t see why their tax dollars should pay for it.

Now this is an interesting argument with which I have a lot of sympathy. Most people object strongly to the idea of their tax dollars being used to fund irresponsible lifestyles or personal life choices – look at all the arguments in the UK around whether or not bariatric surgery should be available on the NHS, or arguments around the amount of time and money that gets spent by the NHS on treating drunk people. Where abortion is concerned, as long as there is even the shadow of a suspicion that some women use abortion as a form of birth control, instead of taking precautions to prevent pregnancy in the first place, there will always be a large number of people who will object to having to pay for it.

The sad thing about all of this, of course, is that arguments around women using abortion as a form of birth control, tend to concern themselves with American women, who have various contraceptive options available to them. The reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, on the other hand, will not impact American women at all – those who will be impacted are those in poorer countries who do not have the same access to contraceptives or even to contraceptive advice, that American women do. But I suspect many of those who are cheering the reinstatement of this rule, will fail to appreciate this.

So what can feminists do, if they really want to ensure that abortion, and advice about abortion, remain legal and retain funding both domestically and abroad? Well, sorry to say it but dressing up in pussy hats and giant vaginas isn’t going to do it. Nor is marching with giant placards proclaiming messages of varying levels of anger. Instead of shouting about how the reinstatement of this rule has taken the United States back 30 years, maybe it’s time to accept that the United States never actually moved forward. It’s all very well for liberal governments to repeal what they see as regressive legislation and declare that progress has been made – but if they fail to get the conservative voters onside, they will just see that legislation reinstated as soon as the government changes. That is the very opposite of progress.

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