Freedom of Choice

Quite a heavy subject today, but not one that I could avoid commenting on…..you’ve been warned.

Many years ago, when I was at college and standing for election for the position of Social Secretary, I had to take part in a hustings.

Hustings, for those unfamiliar with the term, is kind of like a press conference, where the candidates face questions from the floor, so that voters have the opportunity to grill them on any topic that tickled their fancy. Think Question Time but with less questions about Brexit.

I’d anticipated, therefore, questions of an order such as “What sort of bands to you want to book?”, “What do you plan to do to increase inclusivity at the Student Union’s social events?” and, since I was in Wales, “What concessions can you offer the Rugby team?”

I dunno, what do you want? A designated area where you can shave each others eyebrows off and drink your own piss?

The questions were not of a “Who’s your favourite band?” nature.

I remember at the time thinking it was a bit of a waste of time, since the role I was standing for wasn’t exactly one where my political position had any relevance. That said, it did give voters the chance to see who the candidates were, and afterwards at least one person came up to me and told me they didn’t realise it was me that was standing, they had assumed it was a different Jez, who they went on to describe as being “a bit of a twat”.

One of the questions we were asked has always haunted me, or rather my answer to it has, not because I regret the words I spoke, but because I always felt that I sounded like a posh toff when delivering them.

The question in question had been about abortion and, if I recall correctly, what we thought men’s role in the decision to terminate should be.

My answer had been that it very much depended on the relationship between the people involved in making the decision (I mumbled something about hoping there would be a dialogue between mother and father, assuming the father was still on the scene which, in cases involving, say, rape, seemed unlikely), but that ultimately it was the woman’s decision to make, as it was her body in which the foetus would grow and it would be her who gave birth and who, most likely, would have to raise the child.

Looking back, whilst the manner in which I projected myself in answering that may have given me unwarranted cause for concern, the actual answer I gave, as a twenty-year old with no real experience or knowledge of such matters, remains, I think, fundamentally correct.

I’ve often wondered why we were asked this question at the hustings, and it only occurred to me over the weekend that the chap who was running against me was Irish, and now I can’t help but wonder if it was asked by a supporter of mine in an effort to trip him up.

No matter; you’ll probably be aware that last week there was a vote in Ireland to see if there was a consensus to change their somewhat archaic laws on abortion.

The question – and forgive me for applauding the specific nature of a question, which as far as I can see leaves no room for further dispute about what had been asked – was this:

Do you approve of the proposal to amend the constitution? The amended text would read: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”

Prior to this vote, the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution had effectively prohibited abortion in all bar exceptional circumstances.

If you followed the build up to the vote on Twitter (or elsewhere) you can’t have been anything but moved by some of the stories that came out – brave women refusing to be cowed into shame for what had happened to them, the choices they made or were unable to make, and the consequences of those choices – and which helped lead the vote to the outcome which was announced yesterday. A landslide victory for the “Yes” vote.

You’ve no idea how wonderful it is to finally have a vote go the way you want it to.

The “No” vote relied on some frankly, archaic views, chief amongst them being that by making abortions more easily available, women would use them glibly, as a form of contraception.

This is a view which I find utterly horrifying, patronising and misogynistic. I’ve known two women who have had terminations, and I’ve witnessed first hand the psychological trauma they went through, both before and after the procedure itself was done. I know that it was not a decision that either person took lightly. I know that it’s a decision that they continue to carry with them to this day. The idea that they made the decision to terminate because they decided not to use birth control at the conception is just plain offensive. Anyone who thinks they, or anyone woman, took the decision lightly, is a fucking idiot.

But I also know that it was a decision that was for them and them alone to make. It’s not a decision that I would ever wish to be in a position to have to make. Us men have it easy, thankfully.

It’s a decision which to this day I applaud, love and admire them for having the courage to make, in the same was as I applaud, love and admire those who had the courage to speak of their experiences in the build up to last week’s vote.

What the “No” voters failed to grasp is that for those people who remain of the opinion that terminations are morally wrong, they don’t have to have one. But for the majority of women who don’t think this, they will now have the power to control what happens to their own bodies. At last.

Ireland well done, you’ve caught up with the 20 year old me.

At the risk of trivialising this momentous occasion, here’s a song which seems appropriate:

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Devo – Freedom of Choice

More soon.

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