Over two years ago, I wrote a blogpost outlining why I thought those who were opposed to same-sex marriage were also opposed to safe legal abortion. (Human Rights: Abortion and gay marriage).
In 2004, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) won the general election and had as a manifesto commitment, lifting the ban on same-sex marriage in Spain. In 2005, Spain became the third country in the world in which same-sex couples can marry. In 2011, the right-wing Partido Popular (PP) won a majority, and had in their manifesto commitments to roll back access to safe legal abortion, and to have the Constitutional Court consider re-imposing a ban on same-sex marriage.
Courts and judges, upholders of law and order, have in general proved to be supporters of keeping marriage legal, because unmaking lawful marriages is disorderly, and to the judicial mind, disorderliness in marriage law is anathema. In 2012, so it proved in Spain: rather than fall into the unutterable confusion of declaring that seven years of marriages would no longer be recognised, the 2005 law was upheld.
But this year, foiled of the option to ban same-sex marriage, the “People’s Party” government passed a law making abortion illegal in all circumstances except if the woman’s life was in danger. (This follows an increasing ramp-up of legislation in the US, justly called the War on Women.)
This will ensure that in Spain, a woman who can afford to get on a cheap flight to London and pay for an abortion in the UK, will do so: a woman who cannot afford that will find means of having an illegal abortion in Spain. What it will not mean is any fewer abortions for Spanish women: the need for abortion does not diminish merely because the government has made it illegal to have an abortion safely with proper medical care. This is the most vicious reversal on abortion access by any European government since 1966. Did they do it – greatly against public opinion in Spain – because they felt they had to do something to prove their anti-credentials? Can’t stop same-sex marriage once it’s been going for long enough – but abortion can always be made more illegal and less safe.
Like many other women across Europe, I took part in a protest outside the Spanish consulate in Edinburgh on 1st February:
The 1st of February, trains depart from all over Spain (and one from France), carrying prochoice campaigners to Madrid, where they will hand Spanish MPs the text ‘Because it’s my choice’. The right of Spanish women to access safe and legal abortion is currently under threat with the proposal to reform the law in a highly restrictive fashion by Spain’s ruling party, the Partido Popular.
The text ‘Because it’s my choice’ states ‘Because […] I am free, and I live in a democracy, I demand the continuity of the current Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and pregnancy termination to promote the moral autonomy, to preserve the freedom of conscience, and to guarantee the plurality and diversity of all women.’
We stand in solidarity with Spanish women and their right to access safe and legal abortion and we wish to show our support from the UK.
It’s been argued that LGBT equality – especially same-sex marriage – is easier to campaign for than abortion. Same-sex marriage means couples lining up to wed: means thousands of heart-warming stories in every locale of two people who love each other standing up together, sometimes after a lifetime together: same-sex marriage is the most public of equal rights. But abortion is a right that many women prefer to exercise in private.
Zoe Williams wrote in the Guardian seven and a half years ago that the only people who can break the taboo on abortion are those who have had abortions, and proposed “an open letter to a newspaper, along the lines of ‘We, the undersigned, have had abortions, and are not embarrassed about it …’:
I would love nothing more than to put such a letter together: I would be particularly interested in getting MPs as signatories, for three reasons: first, they represent the summit of respectability, and I think one of the taboo’s incremental effects is that people associate terminations with fecklessness – and once characterised as something required only by the irresponsible, abortion will not be taken seriously as a right. Second, many women MPs who cut their political teeth in the women’s movement, and got an incredible amount of engine-power from it, have now distanced themselves because, as with a CND past, it would make them sound unfashionably ideological. Third, getting MPs down on paper as having had abortions is a tricky business; there is no political currency in it these days – you alienate voters without winning any. Is there a female MP prepared to sign as a point of principle? There sure as hell are some who’ve had abortions.
As far as I know, no such letter was written. Last year, ten MPs who may or may not have had abortions did sign a letter to investigate GPs for the Ukippery of “may have been authorising sex-selective abortions”.
I don’t know if Margaret Thatcher ever had an abortion. I doubt if she would ever have admitted to it if she was one of the many who had the best illegal abortion money could buy during the pre-1967 era. But it is the one thing in her favour: throughout her time as Prime Minister, as pro-life bills were proposed in the Commons, she declared a free vote and then led the way into the No lobby, voting consistently pro-choice. But she was an enthusiastic supporter of Section 28, and in no way a supporter of human rights for LGBT people.
Because while gay marriage may be public and celebratory, and abortion private and full of unnecessary shame, the recent survey by the Catholic Church proved that the need for safe legal abortion is more widely recognised than same-sex marriage: because no woman of any experience and no man of any humanity would think that the stringent Catholic doctrinal position, that makes abortion always wrong even to save the pregnant woman’s life, was ever morally or ethically right.
The poll carried out by Univison of Catholics in 12 countries across the world, only two-thirds believed same-sex marriage was wrong. Support for same-sex marriage is far stronger and more widespread in younger generations than older, and more and more Catholics are living in – or witnessing – countries where the ban on same-sex marriage has been lifted, and the sky has not fallen in. In thirty years time, I would be prepared to bet that whatever the doctrine of the Catholic Church, two-thirds of Catholics worldwide will approve of same-sex marriage.
As for contraception, it is one of the worst-kept secrets in the world that although the Catholic Church’s doctrinal position is that using contraception is a mortal sin, virtually all sexually-active Catholics use it anyway, and we know from this poll that 78% of Catholics worldwide don’t see anything wrong with that:
Respondents in the two African countries polled – Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – gave answers that were consistently closer to church teachings. Support for contraception there, while still significant at more than 40%, was less than half that recorded in some European and most Latin American nations, where it topped 90%.
Abortion is one of the nine “sins” that the Catholic Church doctrine says merit immediate, automatic excommunication – the others are apostasy, heresy, schism, desecrating a consecrated host, sacramentally absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin, consecrating a bishop without authorisation, directly violating the seal of confession – and physically attacking the Pope.
Three of the sins listed can only be committed by ordained priests. Apostasy, heresy, and schism, are matters of doctrine on which the Catholic Church has a right to give doctrinal answers and rule who can and cannot be a communicant member of the church. Desecrating a consecrated host is, if done deliberately, also a spiritual matter on which the Church has a right to give a spiritual penalty. And we can all agree that it would be wrong to physically attack an elderly gentleman who is going about his ordinary business, even if that ordinary business involves shielding those who protect child abusers and declaring human rights to be a bit shocking.
But sixty-five percent of Catholics said that abortion should be legal in some cases – a far larger proportion than support same-sex marriage.
Therefore, while anyone who voluntarily aids in procuring abortion, in any way whatever, does morally wrong, only those incur the excommunication who themselves actually and efficaciously procure the abortion. And the abortion here meant is that which is strictly so called, namely, that performed before the child is viable. – Catholic Encyclopedia
The Catholic Church is far from unique in this: other churches too have doctrines officially promoted that their congregations and even their priests do not actually believe. Same-sex marriage and abortion may remain the chief among these “sins” as easy to condemn because in many religious congregations it is tacitly assumed that no one there commits them. Even though in any mixed congregation, a certain proportion of the women (1 in 4 in the US) will have had an abortion. And some at least of the men will know their sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, have had an abortion and are OK with that.
Because for all but the most inhuman of prolifers, there are always situations where the need for abortion is paramount.
Surrounded by our family, I found myself tortured by our decision, asking over and over, are we doing the right thing? That was the hardest part. Even though I finally understood that pregnancy wasn’t a Gerber commercial, that bringing forth life was intimately wrapped up in death — what with miscarriage and stillbirth — this was actually a choice. Everyone said, of course it’s the right thing to do — even my Catholic father and my Republican father-in-law, neither of whom was ever “pro-choice.” Because suddenly, for them, it wasn’t about religious doctrine or political platforms. It was personal — their son, their daughter, their grandchild. It was flesh and blood, as opposed to abstract ideology, and that changed everything.
Illustrating same-sex marriage as a public sin, abortion as a private necessity, Catholic schools have fired teachers for getting legally married when the ban on same-sex marriage is lifted, and they have also fired teachers for not having an abortion before the pregnancy started to show.
For how long can any church continue when their congregations do not even pretend to believe what the church teaches?
There is no reason for opposing same-sex marriage that is not ultimately homophobic. That is why opponents of lifting the ban on same-sex marriage had to tell so many lies. There is no reason for opposing access to safe legal abortion that is not ultimately misogynistic: that is why opponents of safe legal abortion have to tell so many lies. There is no reason for the Catholic Church to list abortion as one of the nine automatic-excommunication “sins” when they do not include even child rape or murder in that list: there is no real reason for the Catholic Church to oppose contraception at all, except tradition.
How long can tradition last when no one really believes it – and no one really follows it?