The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Your Silence Will Not Protect You*

"No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."
- Margaret Sanger

Joanne Dunlop • 31 October 2004

Let's get this out of the way to start with: I do not pretend to understand your beliefs because I simply wasn't raised to know of their existence, or your struggle, for it is not mine. I am a liberal, a feminist, a student, young and female. I am an Atheist, a former Jehovah's Witness and from an almost entirely, let's say...aspirational Protestant family. I am also, extremely, rabidly, militantly and unapologetically pro-choice (or pro-abortion if you wish, or, my personal favourite, anti-life) and I believe that the issue of abortion is one that it is vital all sections of Northern Ireland address, and soon. I also believe that Roman Catholicism, second only to Islam, is the most restrictive, oppressive, and damaging to women religion in the world. Oh, I know that most Catholics don't really think that women are nothing more than walking uteri, capable only of popping out foetus after foetus. I know that plenty of people consider themselves good Catholics and still use birth control. I know that of the thousands of Northern Irish women who travel to England every year for abortions, many of them are Catholic, quite a few probably even against abortion - until it happens to them of course, and then it's different.

It has been said to me so many times that abortion in this country is not a political issue. This astounds me for I can think of no more perfect an example of a political issue. Not only that, it is one of the only political issues that both sides of the Catholic vs. Protestant debate can agree on. Where women's rights are concerned, old Ian and Gerry could have quite the male bonding sesh. I think attitudes towards abortion in Northern Ireland are fairly typical of attitudes that present any kind of challenge to the status quo here - ignore it. Bury our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist. The fact that abortion is relatively easily available to Northern Irish women in England (in private clinics at a cost of up to �1000 rather than the NHS of course, despite the fact that we are tax-paying UK citizens...and yes we are, whether you like it or not), makes this possible. I guarantee that if the UK had banned Northern Irish women from travelling to England, abortion here would have been legalised a long time ago. As it is, we have one of the most restrictive laws in Europe. In 2004, we still have a law originally based on, and only slightly modified since, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. Victorian law in the 21st century. That's some deep-ass denial.

There is some good news, however. After three years, the FPA (Family Planning Association) have finally succeeded in their attempt to order the DHSSPS to review the Northern Ireland abortion guidelines. This will not change the law, but it will hopefully at least make it clearer. After the first failed attempt by the FPA, the leading anti-abortion organization in Northern Ireland, Precious Life, (a group that has been involved in violent protests, has recruited an army of girls that are practically foetuses themselves, and has aligned with and modelled itself on the same far-right American groups whose members have been responsible for attacks on US abortion clinics and doctors - and there you were all this time thinking I'm the extremist - oh, don't believe me? one word: Google), declared victory and stated that Northern Irish law was clear enough as it is. This despite the fact that the current law prohibits almost all abortions unless the woman's life is in danger or there are serious foetal abnormalities, yet approximately 70 abortions (though there are no official figures) are performed here "therapeutically" each year. After the granting of the review this month, Precious Life yet again declared victory (wow, impressive!), this time stating that the review would actually tighten the above abortion law here - er, how exactly can a law like that be tightened?

What it all comes down to, for me at least, is that old maxim - "my body, my choice". I am well aware that abortion is not a pleasant issue. Nor is it the right option for all women with an unplanned pregnancy. Of course some women who have abortions will regret them. We make a lot of choices in life, and we don't always make the right one. Does that mean that the choice shouldn't exist for anyone else? Yes, abortion is a significantly bigger choice than most, but are women not capable of making that decision for themselves? Do we not have the ability to make our choices and bear the consequences? Why are we still being treated like the infants the government and anti-abortion groups want to force on us against our will? Why aren't we more outraged at this? Abortion exists, has always existed, will always exist, in Northern Ireland. You almost certainly know at least one woman who has had an abortion. You might not know you know, but you do. And it is time, long, long overdue, but time, now, for Northern Irish women and men (for this is not a fight we can win alone, nor is it only a "women's issue") to demand an explanation for the hypocrisy of this situation. To "stop exporting the issue", to demand the right to decide what happens to our bodies before that right is completely taken away.

"I will choose what enters me, what becomes flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics, no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield, not your uranium mine, not your calf for fattening, not your cow for milking. You may not use me as your factory. Priests and legislators do not hold shares in my womb or my mind. If I give it to you, I want it back. My life is a non-negotiable demand." - Marge Piercy

(*Title quote by Audre Lorde.)




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

31 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Blanket Interview: Hugh Orde
Carrie Twomey & Anthony McIntyre

The Convict and the Cop
Suzanne Breen

Thanks and Goodbye
Diarmuid Fogarty

In Response to: John Kerry, the Wrong Choice
Saerbhreathach Mac Toirdealbhaigh

The True Face of a One-Eyed Jack
Richard Wallace

Hurley's Twisted View
Lonnie Painter

Three More Votes for Kerry-Edwards
Kristi Kline

Your Silence Will Not Protect You
Joanne Dunlop

The Orange Order: Personification of anti-Catholic Bigotry
Father Sean Mc Manus

Double Standards and Curious Silences
Paul de Rooij

29 October 2004

Questioning Collusion
Mick Hall

Mary Kelly’s Protest ‘An Act of Passive Resistance’
Ruairi O Bradaigh

Death and the Pool
Anthony McIntyre

John Kerry: The Wrong Choice on November 2nd
Patrick Hurley

The Emerging Case for a Single State in Palestine
Todd May

The Clash Thesis: A Failing Ideology?
M. Shahid Alam



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