Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Backlash against Both Lives Matter Campaign

Both Lives Matter is the name of the latest participant in the ongoing battle for reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. They claim to protect the life, health and dignity of women and children. It also represents the latest attempt by a regressive, oppressive group to cynically co-opt the anti-racist Black Lives Matter movement’s neat turn of phrase to protect and promote the status quo.

As highlighted by Elizabeth Nelson, an activist with the Belfast Feminist Network, in an article for The Guardian, this misappropriation and misuse of the Black Lives Matter movement is made even more sickening when looking at its founders- three women of colour- and one of the central tenets of the movement: reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice is defined by Loretta Ross of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective as ‘the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights’[1].

It takes a holistic approach to enabling women and girls to make choices free from any coercion about their reproductive capacities. Where there is reproductive justice there is ‘reproductive autonomy’[2]., namely the freedom to choose whether or not to become or remain pregnant. It is utterly grotesque that the anti-choice minority in the United Kingdom would go so low as to reduce this sweeping anti-racist movement to an ‘amusing’ play on words.

That they were then rewarded for such a crass and tasteless move is completely outrageous. The 2017 Public Affairs Awards which celebrates excellence in the public affairs industry (according to their own material) shortlisted the group for Best Campaign in Northern Ireland. As the only shortlisted campaign, they were somewhat of a shoe-in for the big win. In response, BPAS pulled out of the running for the Voluntary Campaign of the Year, saying in an open letter to the organisers that ‘under the circumstances [BPAS] no longer wants recognition from an organisation which is also happy to celebrate the systematic suppression of the rights of women and girls to basic healthcare’[3]. The response was a tepid denial of any wrongdoing or responsibility.

It is precisely this attitude that allows the gross and gaping difference in access to abortion services between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to persist. We are comfortable with controlling women’s bodies if it means we don’t have to engage with the physical realities of those bodies. Not only do we passively accept that women shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, but at the end of an exhausting and turbulent year we chose to reward those who actively try to deny that right to women

[1] Loretta Ross, What is Reproductive Justice? In ‘Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change’ [https://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/courses/fileDL.php?fID=4051]

[2] Marlene Fried and Susan Yanow, Abortion Rights and Reproductive Justice in https://www.law.berkeley.edu/php-programs/courses/fileDL.php?fID=4051]

[3] https://www.publicaffairsnews.com/articles/news/awards-row-escalates-top-charity-stages-last-minute-boycott

In 2018 we must shout louder, fight harder, be bolder if we are to push back against the anti-choice minority. It is well overdue that women in Northern Ireland be able to access free abortions on the NHS as close to home as possible. We know that unsafe and illegal abortion hurts and kills women. Women from Northern Ireland are having to travel alone, in secret and at personal cost to access a service that forms part of basic healthcare.

Saying ‘both lives matter’ as a justification for anti-choice agenda is not just trite, it is downright wrong. It would have been far more accurate and possibly even award-winning to just come out with the real truth. If you’re a woman your life doesn’t matter. But then that would make it harder to stake an empty claim to the moral high ground, wouldn’t it?