An open letter to the Abortion Rights campaign

I am posting this blog on behalf of two friends of mine, Laura Rogers and Rebecca Galbraith. Before I continue, I will provide you with some background. Both women are actively involved in the pursuit of greater rights for women, and both helped with the organisation of the hugely successful Feminist Fightback conference last month. It is fair to say that they take nothing other than a very active approach to the push for equality for women.

Below are extracts from an open letter they posted to the Abortion Rights campaign on 2 November 2007. Preceded by the statement “1000 ‘pro-life,’ 2 pro-choice,” this letter draws attention to the failure of the Abortion Rights campaign to mobilise sufficient numbers of pro-choice supporters at Parliament Square to counter the masses of pro-lifers gathered to “mourn the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act,” on the 40th anniversary of the legalisation of the procedure. Rogers and Galbraith remark:

“This anniversary should be our platform for change; it is unbelievable that the opportunity has not been fully taken to defend and extend women’s rights. Why are we barely defending an act of Parliament that reflects an era of women’s liberation we should have expected to move beyond, when we should be fighting to move these rights into the 21st century? By this we mean that all women should have the right to have a child, or not…

Where is this pro-choice majority that Abortion Rights claims so proudly to represent? And why were there only two of us there on Saturday to support the millions of women who have made a legitimate choice?”

Their letter draws attention to the need for us to be more pro-active in ensuring that as pro-choice individuals we remain heard. Unfortunately, having the capacity to choose is no longer seen as a right, but as a privilege, and we have to fight to ensure this is not taken from us before it is too late.

Here is more from Rogers and Galbraith:

“…religious reactionaries and anti-abortionists were able to mobilise a thousand people to mourn the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act. Their ‘funeral march’ for the 6 million pregnancies terminated since, showed the most grotesque lack of respect and empathy for ordinary women everywhere…With little provocation their softly-sung hymns, generous ‘forgiveness,’ and cries of ‘love and charity’ turned to shrieks of disgust, contempt and hatred. According to this bunch, ‘women have a right to keep their legs shut’ and ‘abortion is no solution to irresponsible sex.’

Many of the shrill voices we met with on Saturday shrouded their misogyny in a confused argument about the increasing abortion of girls in China and India, calling themselves feminists on this basis. We think it is sheer ignorance and short-sightedness not to see this patriarchal brutality as one-and-the-same as the patriarchal brutality for which anti-abortionists in this country are evangelising…

The result of Abortion Rights’ decision not to organise public demonstrations means that in this 40th anniversary year there was only one national public pro-choice demonstration – a 300-strong march organised by Education Not for Sale Women and Feminist Fightback. If Abortion Rights…had either supported this march or called one of its own, it would certainly have been much larger…

…Now more than ever, when medical advances are making the 24-week limit more contentious, and pressure from anti-choice campaigners is mounting, we need a pro-choice programme with confidence in the strength and validity of its arguments. Now more than ever…we need a pro-choice campaign that stands against the privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS. Yet, here too, Abortion Rights’ politics are inadequate. Filling your platforms with right-wing MPs, peers and other respectables means that you are forced to fight a politically self-limiting campaign. This kind of campaign cannot raise the demands necessary to provide working-class women with a true choice. To call for a living wage, publicly funded childcare and a rebuilt NHS just doesn’t fit with an establishment political agenda. Your campaign is not only quiescent, it is politically cowardly.

…Abortion Rights you should be organising a high profile, militant campaign to assert our right to choose. We want a national demonstration to rival that organised by NAC in 1979. We want pickets, counter-actions, a real fight. It is time not only to defend the rights of women already won, but to loudly make some progressive, positive demands of our own.”

If you wish to see a copy of the full, unabridged letter (as I fear I have not done this justice with my editing) please contact Laura Rogers and Rebecca Galbraith on [email protected].