A pro-choice campaigner in Spain. Photo: DANI POZO/AFP/Getty Images
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Like 95% of women, I don't regret my abortion - it was the happiest day of my life

A recent US study found that more than 95 per cent of women say they don’t regret their abortion. Perhaps, like me, they were brought by the terrifying realness of a pregnancy to a place where they knew, perhaps for the first time, what the right thing for them was.

As soon as the condom broke, I knew. In the only feat of what might be described as “feminine intuition” in my life to date, I was instantly certain of two enormous, looming, insurmountable facts: I was pregnant. And I was going to have an abortion.

In these more medically advanced days, the morning after pill would have sorted me out in a trice; but back in the dark times of rotary telephones, analogue music and recreational cave painting, the full-on medical route was all that was available to me. So this whole “having an abortion” business was no small commitment: several invasive and unpleasant medical tests and procedures (when you’re having an abortion and you’ve not had your cervix stretched by prior births, for example, they stick a twig in you to open it up for the surgeon. A twig. I shit you not. For 24 hours), some tricky conversations with doctors and parents, a few weeks’ wait… In today’s terms it’s quite the ordeal, but I sailed through the whole thing with a cheerful demeanour, buoyed by my own certainty and the unstinting support of my mother and my then-boyfriend, he of the overmighty sperm. Thinking back on those weeks now, I can scarcely remember a time in my early twenties when I was as positive, as goal-directed, as sure of myself.

Being a young woman is a pretty raw deal. On top of the usual worries – what shall I study? Who will love me? How can I earn money and be independent? – there is also the not insignificant fact that pretty much everyone seems to be on a mission to fuck with your head all the time. Young women are always and inescapably either too fat or too thin; either too prudish or too slutty; either too meek or too abrasive; either too shallow or too brainy. To be a young woman is to exist in a constant state of wrongness: whatever you do and however you do it, there will be a cacophony of voices ready and eager to tell you that you are doing the wrong thing, in the wrong way, and for the wrong reasons.

Even that would not be so bad were it not for all the people who tell us that not only the things we do, but the things we think and feel are hopelessly incorrect. Offended by sexist remarks from a fellow student? He was only joking. Intimidated by street harassment? “You must have taken it wrong”, as one young man recently told me – it was surely meant as a compliment. Humiliated by inappropriate approaches from a teacher or manager? Well I’m sorry, but you should really get over yourself and not think every man is after you all the time. Also, learn to lighten up and flirt a bit. Use your “sexual capital”. Who do you think you are, with your preferences and individual dignity and expectations that people will actually respect you? A man? Dyke.

It’s no surprise that young women have no idea what the hell they want half the time. If anything, I’m blown away when any of them manage to block out the maelstrom of undermining hectoring long enough to finish a degree (I didn’t) or hold down a job (ditto). So when we, these confused repositories for all the worlds soul-sapping Catch-22s, actually know, really and honestly know that we want to do a certain thing and why we want to do it, more than anything else, it’s a relief. A respite from the crazy-making internal and external voices that combine, in aggregate, to give us the simple understanding that only do we not know what is best for us, we should renounce any such pretentions for the unconscionable arrogance they are.

But by some magic, some inexplicable core of resilience that we have secreted away from the corrosive poison of a dehumanising world, when those of us who are lucky to have that choice use that freedom by choosing what to do with our reproductive bodies, nearly all of us choose well. A recent wide-ranging, longitudinal study in the US has revealed that more than 95 per cent of women say they don’t regret their abortion; perhaps, like me, they are brought by the terrifying realness of a pregnancy to a calm, eye-of-the-storm place in which, maybe for the first time ever, they really, really know what the right thing for them is. And that is a happy, happy feeling. I should know – I’ve felt it.

Marina Strinkovsky is a feminist writer and campaigner who blogs at It's Not a Zero Sum Game. Her main interests revolve around male violence against women, reproductive justice, sexual exploitation, rape and harassment. Marina has written for the F-Word and Indy Voices among others. She lives in Swindon with her one surviving cactus and, remarkably, no cats

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.