Family Planning lecture at LSE- some quick thoughts

Today’s family planning panel at the LSE provided real food for thought, particularly around human rights and women’s welfare worldwide. It is a fundamental human right of every woman to be able to choose when they want to be pregnant, and a lecture hall full of pro-choice health professionals was nothing less than refreshing.

The event’s twitter hashtag was #nocontroversy, but it’s safe to say the event wasn’t complete without some anti-choicers slipping through the net and shouting from the floor. I’ve jotted down a few thoughts on the event (which was largely positive).

An explicitly gendered perspective is absolutely crucial- and it’s something I felt was lacking from the panel. This means crediting the women’s organisations who have championed this cause for years. This means saying the word ‘feminism’ explicitly when talking about the intricacies of the issues. When we talk about vulnerable child brides in developing countries being denied family planning advice because they’re married, we need to address the fact that this intrinsically patriarchal. When we talk about governments worldwide deprioritising and underfunding family planning efforts, this needs to be linked with the fact that women’s issues are too often side-lined in the public sphere. Family planning is a reproductive rights issue- an on-going battle for women across the world to take charge of our destinies, with our reproductive systems not governed or restricted by any state. Let’s talk about the fact that too often, those governing are men, and those restricted by legislation or culture are women. We should be honest, and we should be clear- family planning is a feminist issue.

A global summit is undoubtedly a good thing, but an emphasis family planning issues in developing countries gives the west an easy way out. 300 miles west, women in a developed country, Northern Ireland, are forced to travel abroad to access abortion services. Kids in the UK are still not receiving compulsory sex education- the key to a holistic approach to reproductive rights. And, whilst the West’s problems pale in comparison to the battles women and girls in the developing world face daily, a panel that doesn’t address these factors paints a false idea of what it’s like to be a woman in the west.

Celebrity advocates can take important causes and elevate them to high profile status, so it was great to see actress Ashley Judd taking part in the panel. That being said, when member of the Society for Unborn Children (SPUC) provided the floor with an anti-choice rant, it was disappointing to see Judd’s retort centre solely on explaining how important it is that contraceptives prevent abortions. If we are to defend women’s reproductive rights in all forms, we can’t pander to anti-choice rhetoric in any way, shape or form. Judd’s contraception yardstick was used to placate- even reassure- the suited man from SPUC. But those who are anti-choice make their arguments very clear- they oppose all methods of contraception that prevent conception, as well as opposing a woman’s right to access abortion services. Placating their demands with halfway house agreements delegitimises access to abortion in the very same breath as it defends contraception.   We must be clear about out values from the start- there is absolutely nothing wrong with safe and legal access to abortion.

Opposition to a woman’s right to choose manifests itself in a few tired forms, but the thread linking each is the assumption of some kind of anti-humanity agenda. Defending and promoting reproductive rights has nothing to do with a western conspiracy to reduce population growth in developing countries (as one imaginative audience member suggested), and everything to do with women taking control over our reproductive systems.

You can read more about the London summit here.

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