In the last two weeks, abortion has been making the headlines again. Firstly in the UK, as glamour model Josie Cunnigham revealed that she was pregnant and subsequently considered an abortion. She spoke openly about this decision in a video interview for UK tabloid The Mirror, and stated that her existing commitment to appearing in Celebrity Big Brother (a long-running reality television series in the UK and several other countries, where contestants live in a house for seven weeks under constant scrutiny of an audience watching them via edited summaries) which she considered to represent a major media break that could positively affect her career.
Cunnigham previously came to public attention when she disclosed that she’d sought a breast enlargement funded by the NHS in order to become a glamour model, and has also openly spoken about seeking cosmetic dentistry using the NHS whilst pregnant, as dental care is free to pregnant women in the UK.
Reaction to her public decision, and her decision to consider an abortion to pursue opportunities to further her career have been divided. She has been the subject of vicious hatred on social media; although the endemic nature of death threats to women in the public sphere via social media makes this feel less threatening as we become jaded with the tweet-now-think-later generation. It’s difficult to ascertain if this is due to the issue of the abortion alone, or whether opinion of her character as someone who works in the sex industry is part of this. There are those who consider her actions to be purely exploitative, aimed at maximising media attention by courting a controversial subject, something that perhaps has grounds given her career is dependent on fame; although abortion is a topic that few UK politicians touch given the divided, and often violent difference of opinion on the subject.
The decision faced by Cunnigham is not one never-before faced by humankind. Professional women have to make decisions about the direction of their career, and it’s obvious that for women who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy, that these will form part of the decision. Fundamentally, is Cunningham’s decision to consider abortion in her circumstances different from the doctor on the brink of starting a research fellowship? Or a young woman about to start her nursing degree? If she was fashion model on the runway, instead of a glamour model, would this make us feel different?
The second abortion story hitting the headlines concerned Emily Letts, an abortion counsellor who found herself unexpectedly pregnant. She decided to proceed with a surgical termination, not performed with general anaesthesia, and subsequently decided to film the experience. Undergoing surgical termination under local anaesthesia, the short video focusses entirely on Letts’ face for the duration of the procedure.
Letts is not the first to document her experience of termination. In 2012, an anonymous women secretly photographed the procedure to use on a website she’d created called This Is My Abortion. She subsequently wrote about this decision in UK newspaper The Guardian. Speaking about her experience, she wished to counter-argue the graphic images used by pro-life protesters, whose vitriol she experienced attending the local clinic, as she felt realistic images of abortion were difficult to find.
Predictably, both Letts and her anonymous forbearer received a mixed reaction. One on side they were touched by messages of women who’d experienced abortions and who were glad that someone had taken the time to document the reality of their experience, and also messages of support from women who had been forced to seek illegal abortions in countries where abortion is not legal. On the other where those who felt that the decision was flippant, and of course not in keeping with their pro-life views.
She has a point. For those of us advising and consenting women on abortion procedures, where can we find such intimate information to advise women on the reality of the procedure that focuses on what they should expect to experience? Women who wish to birth in a hospital in the UK can take tours of the unit so that they know what to expect, and there are countless examples of videos of gynaecological surgery on the internet for those wishing to know the intricacies of their chosen procedure. Why should we treat the procedure of abortion differently?
The experience of Letts and Cunningham revives the debate as to whether a woman’s body is something only she has the right to control, with the base population of the internet vying largely for the right to choose for them. It only takes a short glance at some of the particularly vile commentary to be sure that they are the party that we can clearly say do not deserve the decision to be recognised as people.