Liverpool women and allies send a message to anti-choicers: SPUC you!

Posted on 29 April 2012 by

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On Saturday 28th April, the pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children held a series of kerbside “vigils” throughout the country, in order to wave placards showing bizarrely out of context pictures of foetuses and false claims about abortion harming women and killing children.

Happily, they faced strong opposition from feminist groups and allies in Bath, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Chester, Edinburgh, LincolnNewcastle, Sheffield, Stevenage and Liverpool. [0]

SPUC’s stance is not only anti-abortion but anti-morning after pill and, though they’re not too clear on what it has to do with protecting “unborn children”, anti-gay marriage.  Still, if they were bothered about making rational sense, or even if their true aim was to reduce abortions, they’d be campaigning for universal free childcare, financial and community support for families, free contraception for all and better sex education, rather than trying to remove reproductive choices and using guilt and false information to coerce women into going through with unwanted pregnancies.

When members of AWOL and Merseyside Women’s Movement arrived with our allies from the Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation, Liverpool Antifascists and others, SPUC were just setting up, and we easily covered their banners and placards with our own.  They spread out, but we outnumbered them, and what followed over the next two hours was a surreal and sedate dance, in which we shadowed the SPUC demonstrators, obscuring and countering their messages.  Had this been videoed and sped up, an accompaniment of the Benny Hill theme tune might have been appropriate.  As it was, the soundtrack was a selection of time-honoured chants, the old favourite of “Keep your rosaries of our ovaries” coming in just behind “Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate”.

SPUC’s public statements had proposed a silent vigil, but they were happy to break their silence in order to call us names[1].  It’s at times like these that the mask slips.  The idea that these calls for restrictions on women’s bodies and lives are to do with saving children is a little difficult to maintain when sexual insults are thrown at women who have brought their children to the demo.  It couldn’t be clearer that this is about control, and these bigots couldn’t care less about women’s and children’s welfare.  These mild-mannered, god-fearing concern trolls want to use pregnancy as a punishment for women and girls who live outside of the control of their institutions.

Some attempted to engage in debate, though the best they could come up with was some unclear and dubious references to the one-child policy in China, followed by “Is that what you want?”, to which, of course, the answer was, “Did you read the placard?”  The ability to interpret the word “choice” as “forced abortion and government-legislated restrictions on childbearing” takes a special kind of faith.  The quote of the day, however, has to go to the man who tried to assure me that the morning-after pill was unnecessary as any doctor would confirm that the rhythm method was the best and most reliable form of contraception.  I was fortunately able to immediately consult a doctor who happened to be with us, and who was able to confirm to him that he was talking utter crap.

Easy as it is to demolish and ridicule arguments based on dogma and misinformation, we must remember that groups like the SPUC are more dangerous than they appear.  It is lobbies much like these who are responsible for the total ban on abortion and inaccessibility of the morning after pill in Ireland, and increasingly draconian abortion laws in the US.  These laws cause untold suffering to millions of women, as well as their families and their existing children, by requiring them to either make difficult and expensive journeys to access the services they need or be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.  There are already politicians within the UK Parliament that would put the job of advising women on reproductive options in the hands of people like SPUC rather than impartial medical professionals.  Make no mistake, if these people gain even a little of the influence they’re seeking, they will be dangerous.

There was one thing a SPUC demonstrator said that I had to take entirely seriously.  It was not an attempt to counter or insult us, or persuade us of their message, but a simple statement from one of the many smartly-dressed older women who held our her placard like a shield, vibrating with smugness.  She said to me, “You must consider us a real threat, to be doing this.”  And what did she think I would answer?  That no, their vigil is pathetic and irrelevant, and I just came here to laugh at them?  Or did she think considering them a threat made me the pathetic one?  They were just a bunch of harmless good Christian folks, after all, hardly any of them younger than 65 and one of them an elderly nun who didn’t seem to have much of an idea who anybody was or what was going on.

“Of course I consider you a threat,” I answered.  “You’re trying to take away services that save women’s lives, that give us control over our lives.  We wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a threat.  We’re here to counter that threat.”

Well, she didn’t have a moment of sudden clarity and throw down her rosaries to join us, but she did seem lost for words for a few seconds, before retreating to the default response of, “I’ll pray for you”, which I believe, when offered genuinely, isn’t supposed to sound like an accusation.  “You do that,” I replied, holding an ‘Abortion saves women’s lives’ placard over her ‘Abortion hurts women and kills children’ one, and joined the chanting.

We hid their messages for two hours, until they returned to their cars and went home, no doubt to spend the rest of their day refusing to judge, turning the other cheek and carrying out their threats of prayer.  We went to the pub.  While SPUC concern themselves about our immortal souls, we’ll continue to defend our right to decide what to do with our mortal flesh in the here and now.  We need to be sharing stories and making links across the country to keep track of these bigots, as much as we do the EDL or BNP.  It seems this is an annual event, and there was a similar vigil in Crosby that, due to late notice, we weren’t able to counter.  Next year, let’s get organised, and drown them out everywhere they stand.

[0] These are the events I’m aware of – if I’ve missed yours out, let me know!

[1] These were mostly uninteresting and involved killing children, but a mother who was present with her 7 month-old baby was particularly pleased to be dubbed a “Scarlet Woman”.

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