Today’s guest post comes from Philippa Willitts, a British freelance writer who also blogs for The F-Word, Where’s the Benefit?, and her own personal blog. She can be found procrastinating on twitter both personally (@incurablehippie) and professionally (@philippawrites), and she enjoys good food, good friends, and nature.
I grew up Roman Catholic. Nearly all my friends were Catholic, I went to Catholic state schools, and I went to Mass weekly. I took my faith very seriously, and although I was critical of some of the Church’s mandates, such as the ban on contraception, I fell for the anti-choice rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.
The thing is that when you are a rather sensitive teenager, and somebody tells you that people are killing babies, there is no way to understand that other than with horror. Killing babies? This must be stopped!
The thing is, I had no access to an alternative viewpoint. The internet was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, and anyway, what possible arguments could there be FOR killing babies?
One particular Religious Studies teacher laid it on particularly thickly. With what I now know to be misinformation, I was genuinely distressed at her descriptions of the pain these “babies” feel, and the details that are now so familiar from anti-choice placards and websites.
We watched a particularly distasteful film in her class, called The Silent Scream. Footage of abortions with an emotive commentary, complete with foetuses in bin bags and ultrasound scans during a termination procedure. I walked out – I wish I could say that it was because I disapproved of these tactics, but it was in fact because I was so distraught at what I had seen.
However, I did also disapprove of those tactics. Even as a pro-lifer, it felt wrong. If people were to be anti-abortion, surely it should be because abortion is wrong, not because it’s gory. If you are against abortion because it’s gory then you should surely be against heart surgery, appendix removals, and tooth extractions, too.
But I believed all the arguments (it always came back to “killing babies”), and I joined SPUC, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. The aforementioned teacher continued her process of indoctrination, and even laid it on about abortion in cases of it threatening the life of the mother (“she has had her chance at life, now it’s the baby’s turn”) and after rape (“she has already been traumatised once, if she has an abortion it will traumatise her all over again,” and “don’t punish the baby for the sins of its father”).
You see, I had been convinced that abortion was really bad for women, too. After abortions women got infections, and breast cancer, and not only that, they were traumatised for the rest of their life. They always regretted their actions, and if we could stop people having abortions it wouldn’t just save a baby, it would save the women from herself, too.
I feel thoroughly ashamed when I recall this, and writing it out is profoundly uncomfortable. However, beginning my life as a pro-lifer means that now, as a passionate pro-choicer, I understand the arguments that pro-lifers really believe. I understand how, and why, they think the way they do, and I understand what they have been told, and in what way, to get them to feel so strongly. I also understand why slogans like, “Against abortion? Don’t have one!” will never, ever work.
When I started to question the indoctrination, the whole thing fell really quite quickly.
I had just moved away from home to go to university. A friend of a friend got pregnant; she, too, had just started uni, and she had just split up with her childhood sweetheart. She knew she had to have a termination, and I supported her in that choice. She didn’t know I didn’t agree with abortion, and it never even crossed my mind to try and dissuade her. I was, however, really worried about her. From all those years of leaflets and booklets and speeches, I was concerned about the months and years of trauma which would lay ahead for her, and how she would cope with that. A few days later I saw our mutual friend and asked how she was. “Oh, she’s fine thanks.”
“Are you sure? She’s not too upset?”
“No, she’s relieved, more than anything.”
I could see the cracks forming in my long-held beliefs before my eyes. This woman was relieved. It didn’t fit what I’d been taught. And if they had lied to me about that, what else had they lied to me about?
Once I started questioning one aspect of the propaganda, the rest of it fell quickly. I started talking to people who were pro-choice, and realised that even what I had been told about pro-choice people was misleading and wrong.
I don’t tell this story with any kind of self-satisfaction at my marvellous conversion. I tell it because it provides an insight into how the indoctrination of children to be anti-abortion occurs. As a feminist activist, I use what I have learned to inform my campaigning, and to understand how best to argue with anti-choicers.