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Abortion: rights, freedoms and cognitive dissonance. Co-authored with @JackalPants

December 18, 2012

I have a wonderful friend in Alex Patterson, who constantly helps me to be a better feminist and human being. This post started out as an email to me with an idea he didn’t know where to go with. I offered to edit / co-author and host it on my blog. We hope you like it.

Here’s a thing – we allow members of parliament a vote of conscience on abortion. That seems right to me- it seems right to most people, I reckon. We understand that abortion isn’t an issue where party politics should have any sway; it’s an issue of fundamental human rights and what it means to be a person. So we allow a free choice to our politicians as to what they think the law of the land should be. We understand as a nation that they should be allowed that freedom to choose their position.

So why don’t we allow that same freedom to choose to those affected by the laws those same politicians make? We clearly understand the fundamentals here. Our politicians get the right to vote however they like on abortion legislation and this is rarely disputed. However, why do we only extend that freedom to elected representatives, the vast majority of whom will never be personally affected by said legislation? Why not extend it further, to those who are pregnant, who do not have to consider the grand scheme of morality and medical options and create a grand rule for all pregnant people but can instead look at their own situation with the close scrutiny it deserves? They can make a decision more informed than the distant face of the law ever could.

The rights of a pregnant woman over the rights of the fetus were recently tested in the ECHR in the case of Ternovszky v. Hungary in which a pregnant woman fought under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention for the right to deliver her baby as she wished, even if that differed from medical advice. The case upholds the rights of the pregnant woman above those of the fetus, who at the point of birth is as yet not a legal person. It leaves open the tantilising possibility of at-will abortion should someone choose to cite this case in fighting for an abortion not currently allowed under the law.

The blunt fact of the matter is that there is no one narrative for “person gets an abortion”, and there is certainly no perfect narrative. Abortions can be needed because a much-wanted baby has terminal developmental problems, because a couple simply can’t stretch their finances enough to offer a new child any decent standard of living, because a sixteen-year-old girl is too young to accept the responsibility of a child, because a rapist has impregnated a woman who in no way wants a child, because a trans man cannot put himself through pregnancy while taking the hormones he needs to maintain his mental health. 

And that’s not even counting those who get pregnant for all the right reasons, and then find they want to change their mind. Several friends have said that they would be unwilling to ever get pregnant as they find even considering the idea of another being inside their body too much to handle. What if you only discovered or developed this phobia once you had already conceived? Should you be forced to carry this child to term purely because your reason does not fit a tick box? We are sure there are good reasons that neither of us has heard of or thought of. There are, after all, roughly 7bn people on this planet, and half of them can become pregnant. That’s a lot of individual lives and cirumstances. 

There’s no one good law that can limit abortion to “acceptable” abortions, because there’s no such thing. Every abortion story is completely different. I trust the pregnant person in question to think it through; our country, it seems, only trusts our politicians.

Alex can be found on twitter as @JackalPants, and writes fiction at


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