Ruth Jones gives her take on the surprising appearance of the Pro Life Society at this year’s Freshers’ Fair.
I spotted the Pro Life Feminist Society’s stall pretty quickly upon entrance to the Freshers’ Fair. They were in the blue tent, placed next to the free speech society. The single guy manning the stall when I arrived was already locked in a heated discussion with another woman. I was instantly appalled and most of the people around me seemed to feel the same. But after walking away from the stall I could think of nothing else, in fact I had to loop back to the stall again so I could chat to the guy.
I have never agreed with being pro-life, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect their point of view. I understand that for them it comes from a place of compassion for an unborn baby. I also appreciate that there is a strong pro-life presence on campus, evidenced by the society’s long list of sign ups at the fair—in fact in the brief time I spent visiting the stall, another two students signed up. But this is not a cause for celebration.
I do not believe in their place at a university lacking visible support for women seeking abortions, and don’t believe it is possible to truly reconcile their pro-life perspective with being a feminist. I appreciate that their stance as feminists is an attempt to rectify one of the worst failings of the pro life community: that they have tended to present themselves as more concerned with the foetus than the woman carrying it. Indeed, the society has done some amazing work resolving the deficits in university policy concerning pregnant women students, for example their success in passing a motion within the SU which has ensured greater support for pregnant women. However, I believe there is a very low ceiling concerning the degree to which supporting pregnant women and having a pro life motive can truly be reconciled.
The reality of their stance is far from the caring one they purport to have. Just a quick look at their Facebook page reveals an assortment of anti-choice sentiment. Their series, ‘Reasons to be a prolife feminist’ particularly horrified me. Unsurprisingly, all their ‘feminist advice’ felt misguided and misleading. My favourite of their reasons was their second: apparently only those who are pro-life can fight—or even object to—sex selective abortion, or ‘gendercide’. They write:
“The pro-choice philosophy of ‘My body, my choice’ struggles to even recognise gendercide is wrong, let alone come up with any way of preventing it […] Far from condemning this form of sexism, pro-choice feminism accepts it”
Their delightful post ends with the words, “Be a real feminist. Be #prolife”.
Fair to say I was #notpleased reading this. I’m pretty bloody certain that I’m a real feminist, who is pro-choice and objects to gendercide. Sex selective abortion, which is most prevalent in countries such as India and China is an incredibly complex issue. To be so reductive and shaming is indicative of their ignorance. The reasons behind gendercide are varied and nuanced from culture to culture, however, the issue is generally rooted in the economic deprivation of women. This is a result of patriarchal attitudes which prevent women achieving the earning power of men. Giving birth to a girl, within many cultures, simply means a future dowry payment and less economic security for their parents in old age, who often rely on their children for financial support. This vicious cycle would never be solved by extending the pro-life philosophy into these country’s laws. Indeed, a patriarchal and sexist attitude towards women could never be fixed by a pro-life stance which would seek the removal of the female right to bodily autonomy. How can women be perceived as equal in economic, political and personal spheres when they are not extended the most basic rights?
When pro-life attitudes are instituted into a country’s laws, all that ever occurs is the vicious persecution of women. Just looking at examples of countries demonstrates this persecution and unequal treatment. In countries such as El Salvador, cases regularly occur such as that of Evelyn Beatríz Hernández Cruz. She served 33 months in prison and was initially sentenced to 30 years for aggravated homicide after she suffered a stillbirth. She had been raped in college, but had no idea that she had been impregnated. Her arrest and suffering were completely unjust and inherently symptomatic of an anti-choice political system.
According to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the time they are 45. So why the hell, in our disproportionately women student population, is abortion so little talked about? I can’t believe that here at Bristol Uni the only really visible and vocal pregnancy-focused group is a pro-life society. Last year Epigram published the story of one woman student’s journey to getting an abortion while studying here to help others in the same situation. Its allusions to the lack of support that Bristol offered is devastating. It’s so shameful that it remains here such a taboo and badly dealt with issue that information which should be readily accessible is also only publicised because of the confidence of one anonymous woman student. I hate the thought that all the freshers walking around that fair will have seen that stall and been presented with the only abortion stance Bristol Uni has to offer: pro-life.
Artwork by Iona Angus.