Why I, who hate the thought of abortion, will always be in favour of legal terminations (in loving memory of Florence)

Abortions and protests against them have been much in the news of late. The actions of a certain anti-abortion group have received a great deal of well-founded criticism, the unfortunate side-effect of which is that at least one member of the group has the airtime she thrives on, when she isn’t busy publically exposing survivors of childhood sexual abuse for having terminations or cosying up to nazi wannabes (I know, such a prize).

There has been also a much smaller, quieter amount of scattered support for the protest group, which is concerning.

Let’s for one moment put aside some of the personalities involved in the group, their awful, self-congratulatory efforts, their non-factual representations of what a 12 week old foetus looks like (anyone with any medical/ obstetricial training will spot the problem immediately – for those of you without this, Mr Google is your friend) and their nasty penchant for filming women who enter and exit abortion facilities.

Let’s concentrate instead on their message. Once you do, it will become clear that they are operating from a position of privilege in the first instance and in the second, they are very keen to impose their views on the rest of us, a type of histrionic, emotionally-based fascism which should never be allowed to take root and grow in a civilised society.

They would like to see the end of abortion because they believe it is the same as murdering children. I don’t think I need to go into the arguments here about at what point a foetus becomes a thinking, feeling “person” because (a) that point seems to vary depending on what side of the fence you sit, whether religion is involved and how much medical knowledge you have (and we will be here all night and all year in an attempt to obtain consensus) and (b) there is something that these people forget about when screaming about the sanctity of life – the life of the person carrying the child.

I doubt very much that any of the people standing outside clinics, waving their misleading, blood-soaked images and screaming at women, have ever lived in countries where abortion is illegal (that privilege thing is worth underlining here) and if so, and they still think that a child’s right to life is worth more than that of its mother, then their argument of all life being sacred is hoist on its own petard.

Let me tell you what happens when abortion is made illegal. It still happens.

Instead of happening in sterile surroundings, where the welfare of the mother is paramount, it happens in shacks and kitchens and sheds and backrooms, where any type of instruments and drugs are used, causing damage and internal infections which can and sadly often do, go on to kill the mother. Sometimes the mother dies soon after.

In Florence’s case, it took years and years but it still killed her.

Florence was our “maid” or domestic worker for a number of years. She was very happily married to Dennis and had been for some time. She was slim, beautifully turned out always and would arrive at work in glamourous outfits (including hat and gloves – if you think of an African Katherine Hepburn you won’t be far off) before changing into a uniform for work.

Florence was as lovely as she was beautiful – kind-hearted, warm and interested in people. When Dad lost his job and we struggled to afford her, she offered to forgo her salary for a month and not only did so (my parents paying her double the next month with Mum’s first salary), but brought us back the most magnificent pumpkin from the farm where her family lived, which fed us handsomely.

Unusually, they had no children. My mum asked her about that one day and Florence confided in Mum that she had had an abortion at 16, the result of unwanted sexual attention (her words, ie: she was raped). The abortion, carried out in a shack, with no pain relief, no medical instruments and not very much knowledge, was hideously cruel and distressing.

It left Florence with such damage that when it came to the point where she wanted and was able to afford raise a child with her husband, she couldn’t have one.

Traditional African culture is very child-centric. Children are a blessing, not just for their parents, but for the whole community. Sometimes, child-rearing is done by non-parental family members whilst the parents work, or people who look after a number of children loosely related to them (and in some case, not directly blood related but part of a bigger clan or community).

This is a great way of raising kids in many respects but it does place additional pressure on women in stable relationships to produce children. A traditional African man’s masculinity is often judged by the number of children he has.

Florence and Dennis were both far better educated than their jobs would suggest (he worked on a production line in a factory) and for the first 10 of so years of their marriage, they were able to throw off all of their respective families’ worries. Florence’s family were concerned that Dennis was in some way sexually deficient, Dennis’s family, being a little more traditional, thought perhaps they were cursed.

Dennis’s Mum in particular wanted her son to produce a child and it became an ongoing source of friction between them, until one day the truth of Florence’s infertility came out. Dennis knew but had kept it from his family.

Poor Florence was now not only a fallen woman, whose own family were now the target of several jibes about how they failed to keep her safe, but also a damaged one. Dennis’s Mum was enraged at the fact her family had welcomed someone who couldn’t carry out her familial duties. The fact that she had spent a small fortune on witchdoctors to remove non-existent curses probably did not help either.

Emotionally bruised and with no let-up in sight, Dennis eventually bowed to the immense family pressure he was put under and left Florence to take a second wife, who, already having effortlessly borne a child, was probably not going to have a problem bearing another.

He spent a miserable year or so with her, she fell pregnant as planned and unable to bear it any longer, Dennis went back to Florence. Florence and Dennis were happy to be back together, the child and the second wife were happy to be supported on the farm and life got back into a good groove for them.

We then moved and Florence continued to work for two other families in the area. A few months later, we heard from one family that Florence had started to behave really oddly. She was arriving late fairly regularly (causing a problem as both parents worked and relied on her to arrive on time as they were taking kids to school en route).

Several times they had come home and discovered the housework partially done, the ironing left. The family relied heavily on Florence to keep the house in order and whilst the odd issue could be worked around, her ongoing now frequent inability to do so affected their own stability.

When they tackled this with her, she apologised and said she had not been feeling well, for weeks. They, concerned employers, offered to pay for private treatment for her, which she declined but promised to go to the doctors.

Things came to a head one day when the wife arrived home unexpectedly and discovered Florence completely inebriated. After having endured several months of this behaviour and with Florence unwilling to seek help for her apparent alcohol problem, they did what any other employer would do and dispensed with her services.

The rest of the story we heard from the lady who worked over the road and knew Florence and Dennis.

The child was not the only thing that Dennis’s second wife had given him.

She had also passed on the HIV virus, which he in turn passed to Florence. Within a year, Dennis was dead.

Not unsurprisingly, with her life partner dead; her life in ruins, Flo started drinking, something she had never done before. That put paid to her employment at both houses.

When we moved back to our old home and heard the story from the lady over the road, my parents made several attempts to contact Florence. My family were a little more able than most employers to deal with her non-attendance and more than willing to try and provide her with an income and help her get back on her feet for however long she had left (this was before anti-retrovirals were available for treatment; without which most people who contracted HIV could count their years left on half the fingers of one hand).

I was able to get through to her on the phone only once, during which phone call all she could do was cry. She felt ashamed and responsible for her husband’s death and her own plight and there was nothing we could do to help her. She refused to come back to work for us.

Florence died several months later, a victim of the terrible scourge of AIDs in the late 1980s but first and foremost, a victim of the country’s strict anti-abortion laws.

In my friend Antoinette’s case, those laws ruined her life.

I met Antoinette at the children’s home where she lived, the product of a feckless alcoholic mother. She was 15 to my 13 and we became firm friends.

Antoinette had very simple dreams – get through her childhood, get an education, get a job and be self-sufficient; not do what her mother had done, which was to rely on a succession of unstable men for an income, who left whenever she fell pregnant, leaving her unable to care for her children, financially, physically and emotionally.

Antoinette was going to be better than that.  She struggled in a school which designated her by the colour of her skin to an inferior teaching regime, amidst a chaotic environment. Despite not finishing primary school by the time she was forced to leave the home at 16 (government rules), she taught herself the basics of maths and hoped that someone would take her on in a shop and allow her to learn the book-keeping.

Which is how she ended up working for Oktober, a dubious “herbalist” who plied his unsalubrious craft in town.

Do I need to tell you what happened next?

Antoinette fell pregnant at 17, to Oktober, who was in his 60s and married to a fairly young wife, with whom he had four children.

Antoinette was not able to procure an abortion (it would have been a late one, as it took her a while to understand what was happening to her). She was forced to have the baby and moved from her mother’s ghetto flat to employer’s slightly better house where she raised her child in the heady environment of a wife who realised that her husband had been fucking the hired help and who insisted she just put up with the situation. Not the best recipe for happiness ever.

There not being the support there is in the UK, both Oktober’s wife (I refuse to call him Mr Oktober, he was a cuntmaggot of the highest order and doesn’t deserve any title at all) and Antoinette were trapped.

Oktober’s wife passed away suddenly one day and Antoinette was forced to look after Oktober and Mrs Oktober’s four children (who had been raised to loathe her) and her own daughter. Dear reader, she married him. She had to.

Alongside beating her up, with the usual excuses that she was a useless employee and an even more useless wife, he enjoyed playing very nasty tricks on her. His outstanding one was the day he pretended I had been murdered.

A girl with a similar name had been abducted by her ex-boyfriend, raped and murdered and her body dumped and set alight in the bush in the next suburb from us. As it was an unusual crime for the time, and as the girl was a white teenager, it hit the front page of the newspapers. Antoinette could only discern part of the article and with the girls’ first name being mine and the surname not dissimilar, he pretended to read words that were not there, in an effort to make her believe that the victim was me.

You can imagine her panic and her grief. He refused to let her use the telephone to call my parents and refused to give her money from the till so she could use a public phone. Instead, he kept her in the shop all day, working and the next day too until he had had his fun and allowed her to place one call. I answered and you can imagine the confusion that followed. I could hear him bellowing with laughter in the background whilst we were sorting it out.

When she fell pregnant a second time, Oktober practised his own form of birth control and kicked the baby out of her.

She stayed with him, trapped until he died at which point, his children evicted her from the house he had left them and she ended up on the streets with her child, her dreams and life in ruins.

How many examples would you like? Would you like to hear about the malnourished 12 year old in Cape Town, abused all of her life, falling pregnant the moment she started her period

Would you like to hear how she was saved by State social services and how that same State refused her an abortion for her own good because they were a Christian state and were worried she would go to hell’  like she hadn’t been living there all of her life?

Would you like to know how much her poor, starved body was damaged as her pregnancy progressed

Would you like to hear how her mental health declined, falling further and further into psychosis as she realised she would have to give birth to her attacker’s child?

Would you like to know that the odds of whether she survived the birth were becoming increasingly slim?

Maybe instead you would like to hear about the brave lawyer who stepped in and challenged the State, managing on appeal to obtain their approval for her to have an abortion. It was a late one, at nearly 24 weeks. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty but if the state had not made abortion illegal in the first place, she would have been able to have one as soon as social services found her (at 12 weeks).

That lawyer saved that child’s sanity and probably her life and was pilloried for it. But he said, 10 years later, it was the thing he was most proud of doing, in the whole of his life.

The examples I have quoted may seem extreme to you. You may think “that would never happen here” and perhaps Florence’s example is unique to a particular time and a place. However, Antoinette’s is not and nor is the abused 12 year old’s and nor are the experiences of other women.

This is the world that Abort67 want us to live in.

You may wince when you think about someone deliberately ridding their body of a foetus, I do.

You may wish that things were different and that every baby was loved and wanted and their mothers able to care for them, I do.

You may want that women didn’t fall pregnant unexpectedly, I do.

You may (if you feel superior and do not fully appreciate your own privilege), see women who have abortions as selfish and stupid, I don’t.

You may even view abortions as “murdering babies”, my internal jury is permanently out on this one.

However, I promise you, you do not want to live in a country where abortion is illegal. You will find many, many more dead babies (often discarded after birth); you will find many, many more dead and wounded women.

Abort67 argue that women who have abortions should not be in a position to make judgements about whether or not to bring a child to term.

But here’s the thing – they want to have the same power over that woman, her body and her foetus. They want to dictate her choices. They want to limit her freedom to make the best decision for herself.

Abort67 are not moral guardians who add to the debate with reasoned argument; they are not helping educate people or, for instance, lobbying for free, lifelong contraception for women.  I don’t see them offering to counsel women or offer them solace.

Instead they seem all too ready to judge and name-call a woman who is faced with one of the the most emotionally-laden, difficult choices she may ever have to make.

They stand outside abortion clinics, making those same women feel guilty and despised.

They are ignorant, hysterical people who, whilst decrying the power a woman has, want to grab that same power for themselves, thinking it is acceptable to bully and harass women who make legal choices as to what to do with their own bodies and their own foetuses; getting off on their own sense of moral superiority.

They want to make us live in a country where Florence’s life is worth nothing, where Antoinette’s life is dictated by her abuser; where an under-nourished 12 year old may die from being forced to give birth.

That is pretty despicable, viewed from every angle I can see.

PS In concentrating on what life is like for women in a country with strict anti-abortion laws, in order to explain the hell that these idiots wish to inflict on us, I have not covered the many and myriad other reasons why a woman may choose to have a termination.

That doesn’t mean that I judge any of those reasons as more or less valid or judge anyone who has a termination, for instance, for financial reasons; it’s just that this blogpost doesn’t cover them.

PPS Dear Abort67, go fuck yourselves. Sideways. With a speculum.

About titflasher

Writer, blogger, animal activist, people activist, dream-catcher maker, mommy to 9 cats and a roving band of foxes ... Blog name comes from my father's suggestion for the title of my autobiography ... after my mother's and my awful habit of flashing whenever the security police took our photo in the dark old days of apartheid South Africa. I love nature, including creepy crawlies and people, find life fascinating and frustrating and have two terrible weaknesses - nictotine and animals in distress ... can't abide the latter situation and can't give up the former. I'm Pagan but not anti-Christian, funny but quite serious, light-hearted but can be annoying. I am warm-hearted until someone p*sses on me too much, then I get soggy and even. Feel free to link me but all the words on these pages is copyrighted, so copy it and take the credit and I will find you and slap you upside the head, hard. The blog is probably best read via category as there is loads on here already, and I just got started :-)
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