Ealing Council has just announced a landmark ban on pro-Life protestors standing outside its Marie Stopes abortion clinic. But who exactly are the young British women who gather outside these clinics to tell other women what to do with their bodies?
Pro-Life protestors have just been banned by Ealing Council from standing outside its Marie Stopes abortion clinic in west London. The ruling, described as ‘ground-breaking’, is the first of its kind made by a council and prevents pro-Lifers attempting to dissuade, protest and ‘harass’ women going in for treatment.
Pro-lifers would like to see abortion criminalised in the UK, as it currently is in Northern Ireland, where having an abortion is a criminal offence that carries a life sentence in prison. Pro-lifers applaud Donald Trump’s funding cuts to abortion providers in the US. But as we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act – and in a year when 4.8 million people attended 673 Women’s Marches worldwide to support women’s rights, including the right to abortion – who are the millennial women who want to ban abortion here in the UK?
28-year-old Rhoslyn Thomas from Dinas Powys, near Cardiff, lives at home with her parents. At weekends, she likes to go for a run, trawl TK Maxx and ASOS for fashion finds, and meet friends for dinner and a gossip in buzzy restaurants. She’s also an active anti-abortion campaigner who has gone to schools and universities to speak to young people about why she thinks abortion is wrong.
Hi Rhoslyn – so what are you telling young people in schools about abortion?
‘We would go in to schools and our talk would be tailored for each specific age group. As for how they responded, I personally found a huge difference between before they became sexually active and after they became sexually active, or the age that would typically happen. Before I found them open to the message and afterwards it was more an attitude of “No, this is not what I need”. Afterwards, it was harder to get through to them to have a civil discussion.’
Why do you think that is?
‘Because young women have been taught today that they need abortions to be free. They’re told that being liberated is being able to have sex with whoever you want and obviously a consequence of that – even if you use multiple contraceptives – is that there’s a risk you’ll get pregnant. So to guard against that risk they need abortion as a safety net and when I come in and say abortion is the killing of a human being, well that’s the inconvenient fact they don’t want to acknowledge.’
Do you think women should not be allowed to have sex with whoever they want?
‘I think that nowadays we have made sex the basis of our identity but that is such a shallow understanding of who we are as human beings. You can go out and have sex with whoever you want but does that mean you’re free or that you’re a slave to your sexual desires? Or is being free being able to live a good life? I would say to that woman that she’s missing out on so much by doing that.’
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Or arguably she could say that you’re missing out…
‘She could. But I would say how deep a relationship can you strike up with somebody when it’s all about your body and they have understood so little about you as a person when all they’re interested in is your body.’
Of course some women are not always looking for a deep relationship
‘But in the long term it won’t be good for their mental and physical health. We all want things that aren’t going to be good for us. I can’t stop them, I can only try to show them the value of a relationship.’
Do you support women’s equality?
‘I believe that men and women are equal but I don’t believe they are the same. The idea that women and men are emotionally the same is crazy! Anyone who has been in a relationship will realise that. We have completely different strengths and weaknesses. Personally I think women are much more sensitive, they are great listeners and physically we are not as strong as men but our bodies are amazingly beautiful. Men are… I mean women and men are both good leaders but in different ways. I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain.’
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
‘No, I definitely wouldn’t. I reject everything that modern feminism stands for today. I think they are creating a conversation that is not helpful. A lot of feminism attacks men and I especially feel that in the abortion debate. They say, “Oh you haven’t got a uterus, you don’t have a right”, but without men we wouldn’t have babies, we wouldn’t be able to conceive. Radical feminism is suddenly everywhere – every man and his dog has decided he’s a feminist – but they are suggesting we have to reject traditional roles like motherhood and femininity.’
Are they, though? I know lots of maternal, feminine feminists.
‘When you look at websites such as Jezebel which I think is one of the most hateful, disgusting websites on the Internet. To see some of the things written on that website is just… I try not to look at it. I remember seeing they had done an article entitled What Is The Best Age To Have An Abortion? It makes me feel really sad for whoever wrote that and for people who think abortion is a good thing. When somebody says abortion is a good thing, you’re going to go through it and here is the best time do it – what a flippant way to talk about something so life-changing.’
But 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion in their lifetime, and 95 per cent of them don’t regret it
‘People think pro-lifers hate people who’ve had abortions but I really just want to help them find feeling. We all make huge mistakes in our lives but that doesn’t mean that we can’t forgive ourselves and, if we believe in god, that he won’t forgive us. I’m a Catholic but it’s not about religion – it is a biological fact that the unborn child is a human being and abortion kills that child.’
What if women don’t have the emotional or financial means to support a baby?
‘In a society that is so wealthy – and I feel so privileged in the western world that we have so much more than the majority – I don’t think a woman can feel she has to abort her baby because she doesn’t have the means.’
But some women genuinely have nothing. Or the pregnancy is the result of rape and they don’t want to have the baby
‘Those women deserve our help. I am willing to do anything to help them.’
Even help them have an abortion?
‘Let me put it this way. If I was driving down a road and came across a woman who was about to throw her baby off the bridge and I offered to do anything to help her through it. And if she then asked me to help her climb up to throw her baby off the bridge, I would say I couldn’t do that. I know the difference between wrong and right. Even if a woman believes abortion is the best thing for her, it doesn’t make it right.’
In your opinion.
Alithea Williams, 27, from Herefordshire enjoys going for cocktails with friends and watching musicals such as An American In Paris. She spends weekends having city breaks to visit friends and spending time with her godson. She is also an anti-abortion protestor and spends much of her week campaigning to abolish abortion.
Hi Alithea – where did your anti-abortion stance come from?
‘I was brought up with it – my parents are very pro-life. I would argue about abortion in school and generally be the only person in my class to argue against it, even in my Catholic school. By university I had set up a pro-life group to counter the dominant pro-abortion message: to defend life from conception until natural death. It feels quite counter cultural in many ways. But everyone likes being a rebel!’
Quite. Have you encountered much opposition amongst your friends and peers?
‘We had a freshers fair at University once and a member of staff came up to us on our pro-lifers stand and said “Come on girls, you’re intelligent women, why are you promoting this repressed nonsense?” I find that annoying. I am a woman who believes that abortion is wrong. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right. I’m a Catholic but I cared about the pro-life movement before my faith and got more passionately involved later on.’
What are your feelings on women who have had abortions?
‘You see a lot of women now talking openly about their abortions, such as on Shout Your Abortion. They’re not ashamed of their decision and they want to share it. I wouldn’t say I’m sceptical as such, but if people don’t have negative feelings then they don’t feel the need to talk about it. I think perhaps they aren’t aware of the repercussion that can occur later on.’
What do you think? Get involved in the debate on Facebook and Twitter @marieclaireuk