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Category Archives: reproductive freedoms

In other Fuck The Pope news…

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Vatican releases official statement saying that women’s wee is unholy.
The president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, said the pill “has for some years had devastating effects on the environment by releasing tonnes of hormones into nature” through female urine.

“We have sufficient evidence to state that a non-negligible cause of male infertility in the West is the environmental pollution caused by the pill,” he said, without elaborating further.

Another day, another scare story designed to misinform the public about the dangers of oral contraception when the real problem here is that the forces of conservatism just don’t dig female reproductive self-determination.

Let’s set this straight: in every sip of tap water you imbibe very tiny traces of mood stabilisers, heart medication, hormones that are added to fast-food and packaged meat in significantly higher doses than the hormones left over from the contraceptive pill in waste, factory run-off, tranquilisers, fluorine, and hundreds of other chemicals – almost all of them in doses too small to make any medical difference. Oestrogens are present in drinking water from a host of sources, most notably from the by-products of plastics production, and studies have shown that most oestrogens in drinking water are natural – not the synthetic oestrogens present in oral contraception. Oestrogens and xeno-oestrogens in water are a by-product of: petro-chemicals such as car emissions, vaseline based skin creams, many common detergents, wax floor polish and paints; synthetic hormones and oestrogenic compounds found in meat, pesticides such as DDT,DDE which are still used all over the developing world, dieldrin, toxaphene, mirex, heptachlor and kepone as well as hundreds of other herbicides and pesticides, all of which have an ability to mimic natural oestrogen, polycarbonated plastics found in baby bottles and water jugs, cling wrap and polystyrene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used in the manufacture of electronic devices, and – minimally – from hormonal contraception in human waste.

Apparently, though, it’s only the oestrogen from contraceptive pills which is evil, at least as far as the Pope is concerned. Even though the dilution still isn’t enough to be an effective dose unless you were to drink, just for instance, the Thames.

Furthermore, contemporary causes of male infertility are infinite: traffic pollution, laptops, mobile phones, tight trousers and hot tubs, nappies, smoking, overeating, seafood, fast food and driving. In fact, being overweight actually increases levels of oestrogen in the bloodstream anyway, especially if you eat a lot of non-organic meat- meaning that if you’ve got moobs and want to shift them, back away from the cheesburger and stop pointing the finger at us self-sterilising ladies.

I don’t see the Pope asking us to stop eating so much junk in order to protect some sacred ideation of male potency. I don’t see that increasingly unfunny former Hitler Youth dresswearing cunt and his friends asking us all to wear looser trousers and stop smoking. Why would they, when they’ve already decided that by daring to decide for ourselves whether we want to have kids, we’ve symbolically castrated men?

Fuck you, Ratzinger, you terrible little cunt. The contraceptive pill is one of the most important inventions of the last three centuries, and doesn’t damage the environment so much as the status quo. I’m not a Christian, but if I were I’d get down on my knees every night to thank your God for the long-awaited miracle of contraception. We have the right to determine when and if we conceive as far as is technologically plausible, and if that makes you want to clutch your balls, then go right ahead – just don’t claim that there’s any scientific basis for it.

In order to make this point more fully, and because I have not been able to find a picture of the contraceptive pill anywhere that does not feature an artfully blurred, anonymous feminine hand tentatively reaching for a blister pack, here I am nomming my tasty tasty oral contraceptives. Om nom nom (Graphics by the ever-lovely Twitch, who is also a fan of the No Babies For Us plan).

And in case you were wondering….

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Here is my hat, here is my face, and here is today’s slogan:

Screw you, Redwatch.

Stand up for women in Northern Ireland!

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For months, Northern Irish MPS have been holding the government to ransom over abortion rights, using the bodies of their female constituents as bargaining chips over the 42 days legislation and claiming that if moves are made to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland, the peace process will be threatened. ‘It’s time to call their bluff,’ said Diane Abbott MP at a rally in Parliament last night.

Diane Abbott has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, due for its third reading on the 22nd of October, calling for an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. This is precisely the same amendment that Emily Thornberry MP was forced to withdraw back in May, when Gordon Brown assured her that the move would be seen as a slap in the face by the nine DUP members who swung the 42 days vote in the Prime Minister’s favour. Today at noon, forty women from Northern Ireland will hand into Number Ten a letter signed by the leaders of civil society in NI supporting abortion rights for women in the region.

The women want to meet as many MPs as possible whilst they are in London, in order to counter some of the anti-abortion propaganda which is doing the rounds in Westminster. MPs are, for instance, being told by the government that they should not adopt an ‘imperialist’ or ‘colonialist’ attitude to NI and impose something on the region.

‘But there is no question of Westminster ‘imposing’ abortion on NI; it is already a reality of life here,’ said Alliance for Choice spokesperson Goretti Horgan. ‘Each year thousands of Northern Irish women travel to Britain and Europe and pay for private abortions. For women living on low incomes, getting the money together on time is impossible. An unwanted pregnancy can leave some women in a desperate situation – which is why we now find some women turning to the internet to buy the abortion pill.’ Women who have taken black-market abortion pills often present at hospitals in Northern Ireland with terrible bleeding – and if the reason for their symptoms is discovered, some could face a life sentence once they recover, last night’s audience was told.

‘The poverty of some women in NI also impacts on the numbers of late abortions in Britain,’ said Ms Horgan. ‘The time it takes some women to find enough money to have an abortion means that women from here are three times more likely than British women to have abortions after 20 weeks. However, thousands of others are forced to continue pregnancies they find intolerable. This includes women pregnant as a result of rape and sexual abuse’, says the Alliance for Choice spokesperson.

‘If you’re afraid of falling into some colonialist mindset by overriding Stormont, please, forget it – we need our human rights,’ said Dr Audrey Simpson of the Northern Irish Family Planning Association, reminding those present that when the Bill was last on the table in May, Northern Irish MPs had ‘no qualms’ in voting to cut the time limit from 24 to 12 weeks for English, Welsh and Scottish women.

Whilst a majority of Stormont MPs are vehemently anti-choice, they do not represent the needs and opinions of their constituents on this matter. Northern Irish MPs are elected along sectarian lines, with a simple choice between orange and green candidates. Since 1967 over 80,000 women have travelled to England to have abortions, but there’s one big reason why more pro-choice women, doctors and lawyers aren’t speaking out, according to Annie Campbell of the Alliance for Choice: ‘they are afraid’.

Ms Campbell explained how women suspected of seeking abortions in Northern Ireland have been the victims of appalling abuse, adding that anyone vocally supporting the pro-choice cause in Northern Ireland can expect significant harrassment. ‘This is a global war and, as usual, women’s bodies are on the frontline,’ she said. She urged all the women and men present at the meeting to lobby their MPs, asking them to speak out for Northern Irish women ‘because at the moment, we can’t speak for ourselves. There’s no use in us lobbying our MPs for the right to legal abortion – for all we know we’ll just be put on a hit-list,’ she said.

Dr Evan Harris MP, who has been instrumental in furthering the pro-choice cause in parliament, repeated the call for pro-choice citizens to lobby their MPs and urge them to vote for the positive amendments on the bill, reminding those present that ‘this is a once in a generation opportunity to modernise the law’.

It’s also the last chance Northern Irish women will have to fight for their rights to legal abortion for a very long time: soon, criminal law will be devolved to Stormont, after which ‘we won’t see positive change for generations,’ said Annie Campbell.

If you agree that it is unacceptable that a group of women in the UK are still treated as second-class citizens and denied reproductive self-determination, here’s how you can get involved –


WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1)Write to your MP, asking him or her to vote in support of the amendment extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. ‘We get so much hate-mail from pro-life groups that every supportive letter we receive makes a genuine difference’, said Katy Clark MP last night.

2) Sign the online FPA petition in support of extending rights to Northern Ireland, here.

3)Come along to the protest organised by Abortion Rights UK ahead of the crucial vote – details will be posted here as soon as they appear and will also be available at Abortion Rights.

4)Add your voice to the Pro-Choice Majority website, containing testimonials of delays and obstruction to the process of medical abortion by representatives of the 80% of the UK who support a woman’s right to choose.

Palin and the gender agenda.

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I rarely talk about American politics on this blog, and even less so since the hype has ramped up over the November election. Part of this has been becauseI believe that voyeuristic obsession over a political event with which British voters are relatively uninvolved exacerbates British political apathy. Whilst the US shivers with hopeful energy, we’re back-pedalling aimlessly towards what might be a new decade of conservatism, inequality and misery. Despite all this, however, we cannot avoid being moved by what’s happening in the States. The mood is infectious. Hope. The audacity of it! Hope, and its enemies. One of those is Sarah Palin, newly announced as John McCain’s running-mate. And once again, the battleground for this election has been pitched on the much-trampled turf of women’s bodies everywhere.

Let me make one thing absolutely and abundantly and categorically clear. There is no such thing as a ‘pro-life’ feminist. You cannot be a feminist and oppose a woman’s right to choose. Let me repeat that for the brainwashed and hard of hearing:

You cannot be a feminist and oppose a woman’s right to choose.

You can be a feminist and be uncomfortable with the notion of abortion. You can be a feminist and communicate that discomfort to third parties. You can be a feminist and choose never to have an abortion yourself. You can be a feminist and support greater rights and opportunities for young mothers everywhere so that fewer women will have to choose between pregnancy and their career. You can do all of these things and be a feminist. What you cannot do is stand in the way of any other woman’s moral and political right to reproductive self-determination.

There is a world of difference between being against abortion on a personal basis and supporting, or leading, movements to make the practice illegal. There are no good arguments for making abortion illegal, a policy which, where it has been tested in other nations, has been shown to lead directly to hundreds of thousands of adult women dying in horrific pain along with their unborn children following illegal backstreet terminations. Distasteful as you may or may not find it, women will always seek to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The very least we can do in civilised societies is make it safer for them to do so, along with facilitating access to contraception in order to reduce the number of terminations that need to take place – something which, by the way, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is also against.

Mrs Palin is anti-contraception, anti-gay rights, identifies as a ‘feminist for life’, wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and is an important advocate for the American pro-gun contingent. Mrs Palin is, in fact, about as right-wing as you can get, and has been chosen as a running mate by a presidential candidate who had met her only once as a sop to the American far-right and, potentially, to all those who might have voted for Hilary because she has tits and a cunt. A more cut-and-paste insult to American feminists, and, indeed, to political women worldwide couldn’t have featured in the wet dreams of the god-guns-and-tame-pussy lobby.

Thankfully, it’s not working. Feminists across the world have condemned Palin’s appointment, and none more vocally than British feminists, because we know – having lived through the Thatcher years and been dogged more recently by the apparitions of Widdecombe and Dorries – that a vote for a woman is not always a vote for women. We want women in power because we want politicians who care about women’s issues. As Anne Perkins comments in the Guardian today, women on the far right have traditionally been more politically successful because it is right-wing women who omit gender issues from their policymaking. Thatcher ‘did not do women’s rights’. We all remember the eighties, even if for some of us most of what we remember is The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and some terrible lines in babywear.

It is unacceptable enough to support the ‘pro-life’ faction in its quest to criminalise women’s reproductive choices if you are an ordinary member of the voting public. It is less acceptable if you area woman, and know what it is to fear unwanted pregnancy. It is doubly unacceptable if you are a rich woman who does not know what it is to have to raise a child alone and in poverty., and it is triply unacceptable if you are in political power. Mrs Palin is all these things, and merits no less than the condemnation of real feminists everywhere. A case for post-natal abortion if ever there was one.

There are those on the far right who would see women returned to the status of frantic, downtrodden baby-making machines in a constant state of anxious pre-pregnancy, with no control over when and how they get pregnant or when and how and if they give birth. There are those on the far right who seek to roll back the tide of conservatism to further colonise women’s bodies, and the lobby, although small, is so vocal that there are those on the left who find themselves tempted to pander to them. Especially men on the left, who will never experience unwanted pregnancy.

No candidate in the upcoming US elections supports the further legalisation of abortion. Obama has stated that he will restrict late-term abortions with some exceptions. Once again, the battle lines are drawn and the fight is over women’s flesh, not just in theory but laid down in our millions under the feet of men wrestling for power. Our precious and hard-won reproductive self-determination is just another pawn in their arsenal. And that’s the greatest insult of all.

Wives and fathers, please stand up.

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Disclaimer: nowhere in this post do I claim that fathers are irrelevant. What I’m standing up (well, sitting on a pile of blankets with my laptop) to say is that there are some pretty damn outdated notions of what fatherhood means out there. Male parents? Bring it on.

You bloody traitor, Kathleen Parker. You weak-willed, belly-showing traitor. Maybe you’ve the luxury of a man to help take care of your two sons, but, please, know for sure that that’s what it is – a luxury. Women have been raising children alone for centuries untold, and, since feminist liberation, we have been enabled to provide for ourselves and our children on a more basic level. If that alienates men from their traditional roles of breadwinner and head of the table then too bad. I was raised by a single mother who was also a part-time lawyer; it did me no harm whatsoever, and I fully intend to be one myself one day.
Michael Gove and his ilk can rant about absent fathers until they’re blue in the balls, but if what we really want is for men to return, of their own accord, to the home, then we’d better do something about how domestic work and childcare are seen in this country. House-work and the raising of children are not seen as noble occupations, worthy of respect; if they were, I’d venture that fewer women would be so desperate to throw themselves into the non-domestic world of work, still so fundamentally a man’s world. Since the opening up of legal gender emancipation in the 1960s-70s, women won the right to enter into work organized for men, on men’s terms. Nobody told men that they now had the right to stay at home with the children: the idea would be laughable. That’s women’s work. And, partly because it’s women’s work, child-rearing is still one of the least respected professions on the planet. No wonder the men aren’t lining up to take their turn with the late nights, dirty nappies and parents’ evenings.
So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers – or is it, in fact, fathers who need children? Traditionally, the role of the head of the household was to provide for his wife and kids on a material basis. Now that that financial role is being adequately filled by many women all on their own, if men want to be more involved in the lives of their children, there will have to be a genuine sharing of domestic roles on a more sustained level, along with policies to back that up from the highest levels of government. The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children effectively, if, indeed, we ever did. What women could do with, fundamentally, are wives –other people, male or female, to share the load of domestic work and money-earning in a spirit of genuine support and partnership. When more men can stomach seeing themselves in the role of ‘wife and father’, then we’ll have a basis for negotiation. Parker goes on to claim that contemporary reproductive freedoms have emasculated men:

‘Legally, women hold the cards. If a woman gets pregnant, she can abort – even without her husband’s consent. If she chooses to have the child, she gets a baby and the man gets an invoice. Unarguably, a man should support his offspring, but by that same logic shouldn’t he have a say in whether his child is born or aborted?
Granted, many men are all too grateful for women to handle the collateral damage of poorly planned romantic interludes, but that doesn’t negate the fact that many men are hurt by the presumption that their vote is irrelevant in childbearing decisions.’

Why is it unarguable that a man should support his offspring? With state help, most women are perfectly capable of doing so on their own, in a pinch. I’m fervently pro-choice, pro-choice to the wire, and part of that passionate belief that women deserve no less than absolute control over their reproductive capacity entails a certainty that with full reproductive control should come full reproductive responsibility. When a women has made a choice to carry a child to term, unless she has chosen to put it up for adoption, she then has full financial as well as emotional responsibility over that child until it can support itself (and often long afterwards – thanks mum!). I know I’m not the only feminist and progressive who finds she can’t support mandatory child support payments from genetic fathers. The trouble with this position is that it’s an outright statement of what men have feared for decades – that their sacred role as breadwinner is no longer relevant, and that in order to have a say over the upbringing of their genetic offspring, the terms of fatherhood will need to be re-negotiated on a deep and radical level.
I love my partner deeply and would be thrilled to bear a child who carried half of his genetic material. If we are still together at the time my child is born I will be only too happy for him to help me raise it, for him to share legal guardianship and for my child to call him ‘dad’. And this is not because it’s his moral or genetic right, but because I’m lucky enough to have met an emotionally and domestically literate man who I think would make a wonderful parent. But I want him around because he’s a fantastic person, not because my kids need a male parent. And if he doesn’t want to be involved, I’ll manage. Before they are their own, my kids will be just that – mine – and my money will pay for the nappies and school shoes.

So sorry about your balls, guys, but before they are their own these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies. We would be only too delighted for you to help us – genuinely help us – with the work of raising the next generation, but fatherhood is a privilege, not a right. If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we’ll talk.

Lesbian mums and the end of patriarchy

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Medical technology is an awesome thing. It can save lives, cure terrible diseases, rebuild bodies. It can prolong and improve the lives of the chronically ill and disabled beyond the wildest dreams of sufferers even fifty years ago. It can reattach limbs, restore sight, cure depression, return the manic to health and sanity. But can it be used to give women control over whether and when they have children? Only if male doctors and MPs say so.

Whoever your parents are, they’re going to fuck you up to some extent. I make no apologies for assuming that gay women and single women are just as likely to make good parents as anyone else, if not more so, as children conceived via the arduous process of IVF are slightly more likely to be wanted and treasured infants. For the purposes of this post we shall assume that one’s sexual orientation has no bearing on one’s likelihood of raising an unfucked-up child, nor on one’s right to attempt to do so. With that one out the way, let’s tuck in to a tasty breakfast of radical feminism with a gin chaser.

Throughout the wholesale technological reworking of the cultural landscape in the 20th and 21st centuries, laws remained in place to prevent new medical technologies and increased understanding liberating women’s reproductive choices. Even now, a woman must gain the permission of two doctors and undergo stringent ‘checks’ before she can access safe medical abortion. Until recently, women seeking IVF needed to declare a father and use a named man’s sperm despite the existence of plausible alternatives. But this week, in an impressive feat of anti-Luddism, MPs voted to allow single female parents and lesbian couples the right to reproductive self-determination: the right to have children, if they choose, without mandatory male interference.

‘Fathers are no longer needed!’ screamed the headlines as the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill passed through the commons on Tuesday. Well, we could have told you that. Millions of us grew up without fathers at home, without fathers at all. Millions more of us have loving and productive relationships with our fathers, but it is categorically not the case that any father at all is better than no father. The work of pregnancy, labour and the majority of childrearing still falls upon women, and it is inhumane to insist that that work be anything other than a sphere of self-determination. Men do not go through the physical trauma of conception, pregnancy and labour; men can have no right, as such, to insist upon any control over the process. It might be hard for individual men to swallow, but until medical technology enables them to conceive, incubate and bear children themselves, fatherhood will remain a privilege to be earned, rather than a right to be insisted on.

Reproductive rights campaigning goes far deeper than individual instances of choice. It’s a powerful cultural fascination, an issue that is woven into the very fabric of the stories that make us modern. From the rape of the Sabine women to Europa, ancient myth and precedent is obsessed by violent male control of feminine reproductive potential. From Brave New World to 1984 to the Culture, fables and fictions of the future are replete with paranoid speculation over the reorganisation of reproductive control.

The power to continue – or not to continue – the human race is quite simply the biggest social loaded gun on the planet. Since the dawn of patriarchy, male control over reproductive rights has been essential to the furtherance of patriarchal power, just as the ancient matriarchies ended when men’s involvement in human reproduction was realised.

This is why the rights of women to have children without ‘declaring the father’, to terminate pregnancy and to raise children alone, are such emotive and important legal sticking points. Women’s right to decide whether and when and how they have children is the ultimate threat to the rule of men, the ultimate insult to the divine supremacy of the father, and this week’s Commons vote is a milestone in the erosion of political patriarchy whose significance we will be debating for years to come.

Conservative MPs such as Ian Duncan Smith have made “impassioned pleas that the Government plan would “drive another nail into the coffin of the traditional family”” (DailyHate, 21.05.08). The assumption of the Tories is that the vacuous notion of the ‘traditional family’ ever had any relevance. The organisation of human love has little to do with how children are raised and everything to do with the maintenance of the bourgeois state – and excuse me for coughing communism onto this keyboard, I’ve got this little marxist tickle that just won’t quit.

The Embryology Bill marks a turning point in the history of patriarchy, and all of us -men and women and transpeople, feminists and libertarians and trade unionists – can congratulate ourselves on beating back the tide of fundamentalist reactionism at extremely short notice. But, since this is a fight we’re going to be called to again and again, we will have to spend the meantime coming to terms with the radical systemic social change that must be the end-point of our ideology. The rights of women to biological self-determination, the rights of mothers to bear or not to bear children without mandatory male interference, must remain fixed points on the agenda of the British left. Men have a right to stand alongside women, a right to care for their children, a right to take up the responsibilities of fatherhood once that privilege has been granted them. Fathers have their place. But that place is no longer at the head of the table.

YES!

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FUCKING YES.

We did it.

Tomorrow, we can start the fight again. Tomorrow, we can pick up our tools and gather our resources and go back to battling patriarchy and injustice in whatever small ways we can. But today? Let’s just sit back and have some well-deserved drinks and look at what we’ve acheived together, forty years after we made the first steps towards reproductive justice in this country.