Did you know we have a Minister for Women (and Equality)? Course you did, you clever people. But isn’t it great? We’re a thing, like the Environment, or the Treasury orTransport, ummm, Health where the government has decided we deserve a representative to speak up when important decisions are made that impact upon us.
The current incumbent Maria Miller has taken this duty to speak up for us very seriously, you’ll be glad to hear. So seriously, in fact that she has decided that the limits of what we do with our own bodies should be changed, so that the abortion time limit is dropped to 20 weeks. This, apparently, is ‘real deal’ feminism, according to Nadine Dorries as it acknowledges ‘that many women are traumatised by the abortion process’. And Miller herself has said that in saying that she would support a cut, ‘I looked at from the really important stance of the impact on women and children’. An aide has said she was merely restating her personal view, but as any fule kno a Minister’s personal view can find itself on the statute books far more easily than that of a mere pleb.
So this is what a Conservative nanny-state looks like. Nanny knows best.
I have two almighty problems with this.
Firstly, the proposed cut in the time limit itself. Many women only find out about a significant foetal abnormality at the 20-week scan, (the percentage of abortions that occur between 20-24 weeks is currently 1-2% & most are as a result of an abnormality being detected), so the proposed cut would mean they would have their choice to continue or not with the pregnancy simply removed. Some women can access a scan at 13 weeks, but as Miller has not referred to making this more widely available, I’m assuming there’s no plan to extend this. So, it’s a removal of choice without a compensating support being put in place.
In addition to which there’s the question of how Miller (and Dorries) want to support women who have suffered a traumatic abortion or have bravely decided to continue with a pregnancy despite a foetal abnormality. Better access to counselling? Improved support for the families of disabled children? Answer comes there none.
Which brings me to my second problem: Political feminism is (for me, at any rate) about trusting women to make a good decision in the context of their lives, and supporting their choices through policy. And that is where the government of which Maria Miller is a member seriously falls down.
I’m not going to rehash all the ways in which this government has undermined women, but here’s a few: Cuts to support to disabled families, and an increase in ‘scrounger’ rhetoric aimed squarely at the disabled. The removal of Child Benefit from those households with one earner over 50K. Forcing women to return to work (especially lone parents), as soon as their child hits five/starts school, ignoring the fact that raising a child iswork, & its being unpaid does not make it less so. All topped off (& you’d think Dorries would have noticed this at least), by a Prime Minister who routinely tries to humiliate female MPs in the House of Commons, even those on his own side.
Where both Miller and Dorries lose the argument is on this point; you cannot address one woman’s trauma caused by ‘the abortion process’ by removing choice, and thereby potentially inflicting trauma on other women. It’s not a zero-sum game where my trauma = your reduced access because, and I know this may come as a shock,not all women are alike. (That’s why it’s pro-choice, btw, not pro-abortion.)
And the pity of it all is this; it’s really not that hard to do real’real deal’ feminism. You just have to listen to women, trust them and then support their choices; in other words to treat them like intellectually & morally capable adults. It both saddens and enrages me that ‘our’ Minister, on her current form, seems unwilling to do so.