I won't forget the man I saw outside the family planning clinic, rosary in hand

I find it hard to hate pro-life protestors - but I'm not in County Down, where a 21-year-old is being prosecuted for “attempting to procure a miscarriage”.

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I was eight months pregnant when I saw him standing outside a family planning clinic in central London – the man with the rosary. He was perhaps five feet from the doorway, fingering his rosary and muttering something I could not hear. He saw my pregnant belly and smiled.

It was such a strange, complicated smile, I struggle to analyse it. Was it covetous? I think he was blessing my child, but I was less important – he was smiling at the child. I think about him often. Who was he? I wonder about his relationship with his own mother. Had he lost a child?

It was 2013; protesting, or lurking, outside abortion clinics was semi-fashionable. There was 40 Days for Life in Bedford Square and Abort67, whom I avoided because I wanted to maim them, with their photographs of aborted babies which they blew up and waved about; but I checked up on 40 Days For Life. I policed them secretly, because pregnancy made me more, not less, protective of abortion; you are never more conscious that childbirth is life-threatening than when you are heavily pregnant. After I passed them I would go into the clinic, just to see what they would do. Each time, they handed me a leaflet, silently, which I took silently. I could live with that.

Motherhood has made me kinder, or at least more analytical; I cannot hate 40 Days For Life. Their fascination with other people’s pregnancies seems, now, more an expression of agony than anything else; you attach to a trauma that has nothing to do with you, because you cannot face your own. But they are not legislators, and I do not live in Texas where, to procure an abortion, it is likely you must drive several hundred miles, beg and wait, taking time off work and finding someone to care for your existing children. (None of this applies to the wealthy, obviously.)

Nor do I live in Northern Ireland, where the state is persecuting a 21-year-old woman from County Down for “attempting to procure a miscarriage” with drugs – Mifepristone and Misoprostol. She was in the dock at Belfast Magistrates’ Court this month for contravening the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is punishable by “penal servitude for life”; she will soon stand trial at Belfast Crown Court. When I read this in the Irish Times I thought: why didn’t she come to England? Was she broke? Didn’t she know? And then – why should she have to?

I am so angry I do not know what to type, so I write what I always do: childbirth is life-threatening. I address this to the British state, which panders to prejudices in Northern Ireland, to those who call feminism a movement without a cause, and to the man with the rosary who smiled so strangely: motherhood can enslave, and even kill a woman; and there can be no democracy in a woman’s body.

This article appears in the 21 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Middle East's 30 years war