A woman’s right to choose on abortion is a fundamental one, yet many people regard the battle for legal abortion in Britain as akin to the moon landings – something we ticked off in the sixties and don’t need to revisit.
The reality is that our abortion law, little changed since the days of Mary Quant and Beatlemania, was never truly fit for purpose. Most glaringly abortion is still essentially illegal in Northern Ireland and today an average of forty women a week travel to other parts of the UK to terminate pregnancies.
The price war on flights from Belfast has made these women’s lives easier, but in London or Liverpool, ‘National’ Health Service facilities charge them £600 to £2,000 for abortions that would be free to other British women. The law change would need to come from Stormont but the costs for Northern Irish women on the mainland is a regulatory one. The Department of Health simply refuses to budge. When women in crisis pregnancy are more grateful to Michael O’Leary than they are to Jeremy Hunt, it’s time to get a new Health Secretary.
Abortion before twelve weeks is usually achieved with two sets of tablets taken 48 hours apart. Current regulations, not laws, mean the second set of tablets must be administered on a separate visit to a medical clinic, rather than simply handed out with the first set and instructions. Two to four hours after taking this second set of tablets a normal miscarriage occurs and, thanks to this genius piece of regulation, rather than at home where they feel safe and comfortable women are likely to miscarry in clinic toilets, public transport or the motorway hard shoulder.
Abortion also remains the only medical procedure which requires two doctor’s signatures. You can have a brain transplant with one. Some of these anti-choice politicians should consider it.
However, instead of working to solve these glaring problems politicians are distracted by a new breed of evangelical, in every sense, anti-choice campaigners armed with tactics copied from their US counterparts.
The fundamentalist part of the anti-choice movement now stands outside Marie Stopes and BPAS clinics conspicuously praying or holding up graphic images of abortions which, like all medical procedures, look gross. Those of us who support a woman’s right to choose abortion rarely stand outside maternity wards with pictures of placentas.
The ‘moderate’ end of the anti-choice movement prefers to derail the agenda in subtler ways, exaggerating and bewailing the notion of terminations based on the gender or disability of the foetus. This misleads because it shifts the focus to the foetus. The woman herself has evaporated.
However much humanity and however many rights we afford an unborn foetus, the right to use another person’s body to sustain one’s own life is not on any international declarations. If it was organ donation would be compulsory and vampire films would get very dull as the ubiquitous virgins rolled over and muttered ‘well I suppose you do look thirsty…’.
Pro-choice campaigners can become complicit in this derailment when they invoke rape and incest cases to highlight the importance of abortion rights. Yes, those cases have a particular poignancy but the same logic is used to suggest HIV treatment be made available at first to those who contracted the disease through blood transfusion rather than intercourse. Consenting to sex should not diminish basic human rights.
Whatever religious extremists would like to tell us, in our society it is not illegal for women and men, gay or straight, to have consensual, recreational sex. What is wrong is to punish women who participate by forcing them to carry and raise an unwanted child, not least because the burden of suffering inevitably falls on that child.
The battle for a woman’s right to choose is far from won in the UK. We must continue to fight it: from discriminatory laws and clumsy regulations to street harassment and the sickening notion, thoughtlessly accepted in much public discourse, that pregnancy and parenthood can function as a penalty for sexually active women.
Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and political activist www.katesmurthwaite.co.uk
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant