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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle