Ten hours and forty five minutes.
That’s ten hours and forty five minutes without sitting down, without leaning on a desk, without going for a toilet break, without lunch, without taking questions.
These are the lengths that some women – that ONE woman – will go to in order to protect the rights and the safety of their sisters. And those are extraordinary lengths (take it from a teacher who would love to be able to achieve those things on a daily basis!).
For those that have missed the many articles surrounding this case, a senator in Texas, Wendy Davis, intended to speak for 13 hours. This was because the state authorities had a deadline of midnight to pass a bill that put extremely prohibitive laws on abortion. By speaking for 13 hours, Wendy Davis would have made them miss the deadline, ensuring that the predominantly right-wing house couldn't vote to enforce the new laws.
She fell a little short of this 13 hour goal, mainly because the republican opposition managed to file enough complaints against her, a few of which were upheld. But one woman (Senator Leticia Van de Putte) followed with the statement, “Did the President hear me or did the President hear me and refuse to recognise me? At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognised over her male colleagues in the room?” This, naturally, caused a reaction which ultimately led to the passing of the midnight deadline.
Whilst I’m not 100% in the “if you don’t like it, don’t get one” camp (I feel that issues such as abortion are far more complex than that), I don’t believe that blanket prohibitive laws are in the best interest of a nation or, in this case, state.
Legislation doesn’t prevent abortion. It forces women underground. If a woman is absolutely against having a baby, she will do whatever she can to get rid of the foetus, and that jeopardises her life in the process. Yes, it may “save” a few foetuses whose mothers are on the border, but at what cost to their emotional and mental wellbeing? And at what cost to the child? Are we so pro-birth that we abandon all morality when it comes to life? Can you really consider yourself pro-life if you are willing to sacrifice a child’s health and happiness? What sort of “life” is it that you are supporting?
My faith makes the topic of abortion a difficult ground to tread. I believe children are a blessing (despite my job – go figure!) and I believe that God has plans for each and every one of us. But I also think that preventative legislation and constant right-wing preaching will result in people resenting God rather than coming to Him through choice or love.
Back in 2005, I discovered that I was pregnant. I didn’t know (and I will never be 100% certain) whether that pregnancy was a result of my rape or my fiancé. The likelihood is that it was the former, considering precautions. When I discovered this, I had a huge decision to make. I was a student at the time, and in no real position to raise a child. How would I feed her (I later discovered she was a girl), how would I clothe her, and what support options did I have in terms of childcare?
That was just the practical side. How would I cope looking at that little girl every day of my life, knowing where she came from? This is regardless of who her father was – because ANY sort of physical intimacy or memory was incredibly painful. And that was if I even had a life with which to reflect on it. I was born with kidney scarring which leads to high blood pressure with potentially life-threatening consequences during pregnancy. I was advised as a teenager never to have children.
Despite my beliefs that I was pregnant for a reason, I had to think of the potential future for both myself and the girl. I went to the relevant specialist to try and make an appointment and my heart was heavy.
I didn't have an abortion in the end. I went and had to make my way through the waiting “respectful prayer group”. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. What right had this group to pass judgement on my situation and my decision? Had any of them experienced what was going through? Once I made it inside, I was told (though I think it must have been lost in translation somewhere) that there was an eleven month waiting list. After that, I didn't have the heart or the confidence to find somewhere else or through with it.
I don’t believe that abortion is as black and white as some would have us believe. Yes, some will regret the choice to abort, but what we need to ensure is the appropriate support services so that women can access the information they need. This may be available in the UK, but it was the German system that I encountered personally. It is essential that we consider both the physical and psychological well-being of all involved, at all points.
So how do I reconcile my belief in God with my belief in women’s choice? Very simply through prayer and compassion. God is love and we need to show that for our sisters. And that includes in not shaming them outside centres and surgeries. Even with the most well-intentioned prayer groups, we need to consider the emotional impact that it will have and where our actions lead. It is not a case of denying my God or of being “overly-PC” (as I have heard many faith issues described in the past weeks), but rather of understanding my calling as one of gentleness and respect, and ministry through example and kindness.
Whilst on the subject of God, faith and family planning, I just want to drop in a comment / story that both horrified and amused me this week. I heard Julie Bentley described as “not only anti-God, but an agent of Satan, as proven by her family planning work”. Far from it proving an allegiance to Satan, or even being anti-God, surely the compassion and dedication that Julie shows in her various causes and charities shows a commitment to a moral framework and the ideal of thinking outside the self, regardless of her religious beliefs!
But in the story of Wendy Davis and her colleagues, I feel it important to note that it wasn't necessarily the cause itself that grabbed my attention, nor the fact that (yet again) women had to fight against men about legislation that affects them. What really grabbed my attention was the fight, the commitment, what women can and will do for a cause they are passionate about.
I like to think that I am strong-willed and prepared to fight. But, realistically, how far am I willing to push any given issue? The reality is that I won’t push very far. My work always seems to come first, and I have to be careful not to do anything that risks me getting arrested or put in a position of shaming the school that I work for (leading to dismissal).
Would I speak for almost eleven hours to stop a bill going through? Only if I could realistically assure myself that I wouldn't be forcibly removed or arrested. Would I risk going onto a racecourse to hang a scarf like Emily Wilding Davison did? Probably not. I would be far too worried about injury to myself, to the horse and to the rider.
As time goes on, I feel that I am pushing further into territory in which I do feel uncomfortable. I’m starting to speak out using personal examples, I’m going to be speaking at an event in London this summer and I am working with the Nottingham Feminist Network on events in the city. Maybe one day, I will have the strength to show the sort of courage that these female senators in Texas showed today.
Passion transforms people. It gives them hope, strength, motivation. It fills them with emotions that can be harnessed to transform the lives of other people, to create a wave. In the face of a strong patriarchal resistance, these women didn’t let it wash over them, but inspired each other to fight and stand up for the rights of others. I only hope it inspires more women to do the same.