In light of anticipated attacks on the Abortion Act of 1967 and an imminent visit from Ann Widdecombe to our university union as part of her “Passion For Life” tour, we organised a public meeting on Abortion: A Woman’s Right to Choose. Over 30 people turned up and out of this we built a picket of well over 100 to protest against the Widdecombe meeting.
Both the picket and the meeting encompassed a broad spectrum of political forces, from Labour students to trade unionists to people who hadn’t previously been politically active at all – some of whom were actually leading the chants and general direction of the demonstration. Maud Bracke, an academic and lecturer at Glasgow University said, “There were more people than I expected. It’s great to see both women and men and people of all different ages and political groups.”
There was a definite atmosphere of defiance and anger, with an array of homemade placards that read ‘Keep Your Laws Off My Body And I’ll Keep My Hands Off Your Throat’. Significantly, there was also a tone of confidence and focus among the protesters. Naomi McAuliffe from Women’s Abortion Rights Scotland said, “What was brilliant was not just the turnout but the fact that people were shouting about it. People know that this is part of a campaign to chip away at abortion rights and ultimately to outlaw abortion. As long as we keep shouting we can fight this.”
Around 15 of the activists from the picket managed to break through the stringent police and security guard line with the intention of bringing our arguments to any middle ground in the debate. Unsurprisingly the meeting was far from being an open discussion of the issues, and was in fact no more than a gratuitous celebration of bigotry by no means limiting itself to sexism.
Nola Leach, director of Care, described the level of abortions taking place as a modern day holocaust. Laura Jones, Women’s Officer on the Student Representative Council at Glasgow University said, “Does comparing women in desperate and vulnerable positions to the perpetrators of the Holocaust not strike these people as disrespectful on any level? The decision to have an abortion is not taken lightly and it is not a desirable or enjoyable experience. To make such a comparison is flippant, irresponsible and shows and blatant lack of human compassion.”
The panel spoke with apparent concern about so-called “Abortion Syndrome”, a notion that has been widely scientifically discredited. As Laura Jones pointed out, “‘Scientific’ information given in pamphlets and literature provided by anti-choice groups – which are in no way legally accountable – differs widely from that provided by the NHS who are under a legal obligation to provide accurate information. It is actually judgemental bigotry that is largely responsible for the emotional side-effects and guilt associated with abortion.”
The repressive and reactionary tone inside the meeting meant the only option left for us to force out our arguments was to interrupt the speakers with heckles and chants.
We heckled male speakers with chants of “No Uterus, No Say!” The following speaker, a “Pro-Life Feminist” made the illuminating response that she in fact did have a uterus, to which the reply came, “but you don’t have mine!” This exchange points to a fundamental failure of the anti-choice lobby to understand the implications of the statement, “A woman’s right to choose”.
Helen Stephen, Chair of Glasgow University Labour Club said, “It’s shameful that in the 21st century women still aren’t allowed to make choices about their own bodies.”
The ultimate aim of the anti-abortion campaign is to regain some of the control they have lost to the women, and men, who have fought for these rights in the past. It is for this reason that Abortion Rights campaigns must re-frame the argument as a political one rather than moral. From the experiences we have had in Glasgow around this campaign, it seems there is a clear majority of angry people to be engaged with over this issue. This must be tapped into – and by pulling in these broad forces this is a fight we can win.