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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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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