By A. C. Phipps
My favourite signs on marches are always the ones which read “I CAN’T BELIEVE I STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”.
This sentiment seemed particularly apt on 24th June 2017, when I marched with hundreds of women to Downing Street, dressed in red, to protest the impending deal between the Tories and the DUP, which has now been secured to the tune of £1bn.
Needless to say, I wasn’t best pleased to have my body used as a bartering chip for political gain.
While we indulged in zeitgeisty witticisms (“MY OVARIES ARE NOT A FIELD OF WHEAT”) and stopped traffic in its tracks along Whitehall (one policeman told me “YOU’RE CAUSING ABSOLUTE CHAOS”, and I told him “THAT’S THE POINT!”), it was underscored with a palpable fear that the most powerful woman in the country was giving her approval to a party which are openly anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ rights.
I speak from a position of safety and privilege when I note from afar that austerity disproportionately affects women (it really does: see here), and when I recoil in horror at the fact that the government have found £1bn for political gain, while unashamedly slashing funds to domestic abuse services (outlined here).
But I speak from a position of personal and genuine vulnerability as a woman who wants to own her body, have control over her reproductive rights, and see free, safe and legal abortion become a universal human right. Pregnancy when wanted is a beautiful thing. But I also know that many women have felt the moment of fear as they watch the blue lines on a pregnancy test map out their future. The feeling that your body may go from personal to public ownership. For me, I always know that in the background there is the safety net of free and safe abortions in England. For other women around the world, they have no such reassurance. And as Margaret Atwood has recently said, forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy is a form of slavery (in this interview).
Our bodies should be sites of pleasure, tenderness, empowerment, lust, love and joy – all of the above, some of the above, or whatever else a woman wants hers to be. What they should not be is regulated, debated on by men, or used as sites of oppressive political discourse.
With the DUP refusing to shift their views on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite this deal, we will continue taking to the streets until our Prime Minister realises that her powers go beyond wearing a “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirt. She must speak out in favour of both protecting and extending abortion rights, not just within the context of our new political dealings in the UK, but also with Trump and other world leaders. In doing so, she will acknowledge that all genders prosper in a society which is open to giving women choice over how they live their lives.
Stella Creasy’s victory in securing women from Northern Ireland access to abortions on the NHS in England is a stunning victory – but it is only one step in the right direction. The thing about rights is they can always be taken away, and where they are present, they are lacking elsewhere. That’s why, as frustrating as it is to “STILL HAVE TO PROTEST THIS SHIT”, I will continue with the mantra “MY BODY MY CHOICE”. Because my body is every woman’s body.