On the 24th of June, the world watched in horror as the US supreme court overturned Roe vs Wade. In a vote of 5-4, America’s constitutional right to abortion was cancelled.
Simultaneously, over 4,000 miles away in a small Northern English city, a 21-year-old was sitting with her knees scrunched up to her face crying. She had just found out she was pregnant. An unwanted pregnancy. A result of one split condom and two failed morning-after pills.
As people flooded Instagram with supportive posts towards American women and journalists got angry on Twitter, all I could think about was how lucky I was. Lucky for the cheap two-for-one pregnancy tests at Boots and that I had a legal right to choosing abortion. I knew that as soon as I calmed down and wiped the tears from my face, I could access telemedicine and the little seed inside of me would wither away.
Abortions are at a record high in England and Wales. 214,256 terminations were carried out in 2021, the most since records began after terminations became “legal” following the 1967 Abortion act. These statistics suggest that access to abortion has never been easier. Before needing an abortion I assumed accessing the pills would be as easy as popping to the local corner shop for milk. I was mistaken. After a quick google search of “I’m pregnant - how not to be?”, I found some numbers to call. After two establishments offering abortion services told me they could not help me, I finally got through to someone who could. A day later I hopped on a train to travel 30 miles to pick up some pills from the seventh floor of an office building.
Britain has outwardly condemned America. We are horrified, but complacent that it would not happen here. But it is naïve to suggest that in the UK abortion is a welcomed topic. Feeling too ashamed to tell my friends what was going on when they asked why I was upset, I lied and said I was sad to be graduating from university. I did not even tell my family, but I did come clean to my mum when she found my abortion pills in my car. Pills I never needed to take as in the end my body naturally aborted my potential baby. It was one of the most difficult conversations of my life. I still don’t know if my dad knows.
In the UK 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Yet why did I feel so alone? Why did I feel so uncomfortable talking about it with anyone? Shame and stigma surround abortion. Roe vs Wade being overturned has exacerbated this. It is a reminder that a large proportion of people think that what you did was wrong, and cruel. But all along you just wanted to be kind; kind to yourself and that little seed that had started to grow inside of you.
As always when America sneezes, it seems we catch the cold. Unfortunately, Roe vs Wade is not an exception. Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary has publicly spoken about her desire for the upper limit for legal abortions to be cut from 24 to 20 weeks. Yet most women have their crucial scan that picks up abnormalities at 20 weeks. Recently, the UK government removed references to abortion from its gender equality statement on the basis that it made the statement more “inclusive of all perspectives and views”. Anti-abortion politics are gaining momentum in the UK.
It is mind-boggling that abortion is still technically criminalised in England and Wales. To date, a woman still needs the signatures of two doctors to have a termination. Two signatures to lift a huge burden and help a woman regain control of her life.
Finding out I was pregnant the day that Roe vs Wade was overturned produced a complex mix of feelings. I was angry, relieved but also guilty. Guilty that I had a choice, not over my decision. The fear I had of being looked down upon for doing something that was legal and completely reasonable is what I find the most distressing. Whether or not to have an abortion is a personal choice, a personal choice I do not regret. What I do regret is that I did not talk about my experience earlier.
Fine. Abortion doesn’t have to be as easy as getting milk from the corner shop, but it needs to be destigmatised. We cannot control what is happening in America, what we can control is how we approach abortion in Britain. If we talk about abortion as much as we talk about the weather, dogs, and gardens, eventually, public policy may destigmatise abortion too.
Written by Oliva