A few weeks ago, I got on a coach to Birmingham for a demonstration. Joined by a bunch of other student activists, we made our way to the streets to call for a more fairly funded education system. It was fun, propitious and pro-active.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be on a coach back to Birmingham: but this time the cause is much less positive, if frighteningly urgent. This time, it’s for a counter-demonstration to confront the dangerous message of the anti-choice movement that threatens mine and so many other peoples’ autonomy and reproductive freedom.
On May 16th, a coalition of anti-choice groups are meeting in the city centre for their annual demonstration. These people advocate forcing women and others who conceive to bring their pregnancies to term against their will. They advocate a change in the law to limit or to outright eradicate access to safe abortions, and to strip us of our self-rule over what germinates inside our ovaries. Without access to abortions, we are forced to continue an unwanted or severely complicated pregnancy, or seek illegal, unsafe alternatives. This has a disproportionate impact on working class people who cannot afford to travel elsewhere or pay a qualified medic.
I wish we didn’t have to come together to defend this. I wish we could stand by what is law, and overwhelming public opinion, and continue to access safe, legal care when in need. But the reality is that the access to services here is far from adequate and the curtailment of abortion rights elsewhere sends a sign that we need to be making the case immediately, as well as collectively.
Last year, 7 states in the USA passed laws limiting access to abortion. Some pregnant people in Texas face journeys of up to 1,000 miles to reach a clinic in their home state. In Northern Ireland, students have taken part in actions countering what anti-choicers call the ‘Precious Life’ protests. Courtney Robinson is President of Belfast Met College Students’ Union and has recently rallied students in support of reproductive rights: “It is vitally important for the student movement to come together to oppose these groups, which amount to nothing more than hysterical, fundamentalist rhetoric. There are women in our colleges and universities who could be facing crisis and we cannot let them be emotionally blackmailed into doing what they feel is not right for them.”
These groups do not just get together for peaceful demonstrations – they are more malicious than that. Recently they have ramped up intimidation tactics outside clinics, and even targeted freshers fairs. Last year they rallied hundreds of people to their cause. They’ve been planning this all year, but I know that the student movement can outnumber them by mobilising in just a couple of weeks. I was proud to host the Abortion Rights student conference at our university this year. Now Abortion Rights is calling for all students and supporters to join together and show our support for reproductive rights and the right to choose.
They will try to paint us as a minority. They will try to show theirs as the ‘moral’ argument, to divide those of us of faith, and to curtail our rights and dignity. But they will not succeed: not if we come together and show our opposition. So join us and let’s show that students stand up for choice.
The Abortion Rights coach will leave Malet Street in London at 9.30AM on 16 May. To register a place, book here. Facebook event page here.
Shelly Asquith, President, University of the Arts Students’ Union