In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull endorsing the ‘correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising’ of witches, who stood accused – among other crimes – of devising and applying methods of contraception that ‘hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving’, and creating abortifacients which ‘ruin and cause to perish the offspring of women’. The population of Europe still hadn’t recovered from the ravages of the Black Death and other disasters; it was critical that women be punished for these nascent forms of birth control.
Two years ago, I wrote a piece for this blog about my decision to have an abortion. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made, and the most difficult piece I’ve ever written. Abortion is a common procedure. An estimated one in three British women and one in four American women will have an abortion by the time they’re 45, yet most women who have terminated a pregnancy keep their decision secret, driven often by a sense of guilt and shame. I would not have shared the story of my own abortion but for the threat posed to abortion rights by the Trump administration’s nomination and ultimate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. As I type, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are making their opening statements in the confirmation hearings of Trump’s third appointee to the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.
On 20 January, during the anti-abortion ‘March for Life’ in Paris, Thomas Salgado and other activists from Act Up arrived at a Metro station in the 16th arrondissement to take part in a counter-demonstration. Within seconds, they had been surrounded by CRS officers, who ordered them against the wall for an ID check. Salgado asked why they were being searched. To prevent a threat to public order, he was told. ‘No rights for you; only duties.’
Last month, President Trump announced his nominee to succeed the retiring Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. Brett Kavanaugh is currently a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. He has not been an outspoken opponent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s choice to have an abortion. But he is almost certain to support a dramatic narrowing of Roe’s application, allowing states to impose significant restrictions on a woman’s ability to access abortion.
Father Brian McKevitt delivered the homily at Knock Basilica in County Mayo on Sunday. The service was billed as an All Ireland Act of Reparation, a communal act of repentance on behalf of those of us who voted Yes in the referendum on 25 May. Ireland, Fr McKevitt said, has become a ‘pro-choice’ society, where people have decided that either God does not exist or is irrelevant, and are making their own decisions about what is right or wrong. ‘I will go to Mass on Sunday, if I choose,’ he said. ‘I will stay with my spouse, if I choose. I will look after my children, if I choose. I will marry a person of the same sex, if I choose. I will even end the life of an unborn child, if I choose.’
On Sunday, 10 June, around midday, women gathered at the Titanic slipways in Belfast, a ‘regenerated’ area of former docks, to take part in the Processions, a march to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, which was taking place in several cities across the UK. At the front of the procession, women walked quietly. At the back, there were banners, some men and loud chanting. Two weeks after the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, women were demanding abortion rights in Northern Ireland. In the morning I had travelled from Dublin to Belfast on a bus full of women who had canvassed before the referendum.
Last year, an organisation called Protest Planned Parenthood, or #ProtestPP, put out a call to people opposed to abortion to demonstrate outside Planned Parenthood clinics across the US. The message went out through pro-life networks, conservative social media, churches and local Republican Party organisations; by 11 February, the scheduled day of the protests, more than 120 anti-abortion demonstrations had been organised in 45 states – no clinic left behind. Pro-choice Americans vowed to turn out too. On Saturday, many thousands of people went out to do in person what they typically only do online: argue with strangers about politics.
The Polish government says there were 24,000 protesters on Warsaw’s streets last Monday; the protest organisers say there were 116,000. Whatever the number, the ‘Black Monday’ demonstrations in support of abortion rights were an uncommon display. The protesters, most of them women, were on strike from work, school, housework and their children to oppose a law that would have banned all abortions in Poland, and imposed jail sentences of up to five years for both doctors and patients. The protesters wore black and held signs showing diagrams of uteruses. Schools, universities and government offices were forced to close in at least sixty cities, and sympathetic employers gave their workers the day off to participate. In the capital, where it was raining, they bumped umbrellas and chanted: ‘We want doctors, not missionaries.’
In Texas, ‘ambulatory surgical centers’ – outpatient clinics for medical procedures that don’t require an overnight stay – aren't allowed to have ceiling fans. State law requires them to have elaborate ventilation systems, the capacity to house and transmit medical gases, water coolers in all waiting areas and adequate off-street parking. There needs to be an intercom system that can function in the event of a power cut, and devices for handling ‘flammable germicide’. If the facility has more than one floor, it must have a lift, and the lift needs to be large enough to accommodate a gurney. The hallways have to be wide enough to accommodate at least one gurney, if not two, and laid out in such a way as to allow for one-way traffic of people and gurneys throughout the centre.
In July 2013, Texas passed a law known as House Bill 2, which required all abortion clinics to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center, and all doctors who carry out abortions to have 'active admitting privileges' at a hospital within 30 miles.