By Margaret Akers, Campaigns Research Officer, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland

IN this centenary year of the Representation of the People Act, which granted some British women the right to vote, it’s important we pause to reflect on the voice of women in the public sphere. Many brave and convicted women risked much to be given a means by which to advocate for themselves and have their opinions heard. A century later, women forget this original intention, and silence each other in the name of progress. In the opinion of many, there is only one legitimate point of view for a woman to hold, and one must toe the party line on “women’s issues.” If, as a woman, you stand outside of this accepted norm, your perspective is disregarded and your arguments undermined by the very men and women who claim to have your best interest at heart. This could not have been the intention of the suffragettes.

The group of women that most obviously stands outside the accepted norm are the women of the pro-life movement. To oppose the absolute right to “reproductive justice” is feminist sacrilege, and therefore the heretical anti-abortion woman must in fact hate women herself. Pro-life feminist groups are disinvited from the Women’s March, women like Rebecca Kiesling shouted down, and Maria Caulfield shamed as she rises to a new position in the Government. When exploring the idea of silencing pro-life vigils outside of abortion clinics, the media and government refused to hear from women who had accepted help from counsellors at these vigils. There is one “female” voice allowed in public discourse – and it does not belong to the anti-abortion woman.

But pro-life women have legitimate reasons to be concerned. A study of American clinics found that 64 per cent of women presenting at abortion clinics felt some element of coercion in their choice. Recent studies have found that abortion could be detrimental to women’s mental health, as the counsellors in services like Abortion Recovery Care and Helpline can attest to. Gender-selective abortion still has a drastic impact on communities abroad and within the UK. Abortion has not been an undeniable good for women. For many, it represents just another turn in the cycles of violence they experience. Why, then, are these women shamed into silence, or excommunicated from the feminist inner-circle?

Modern women are not alone in opposing abortion. Many early feminists spoke out against abortion themselves. Alice Paul, American suffragette, called abortion the “ultimate exploitation of women”. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman on the British Medical Register. She once wrote of abortion: “The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the hounorable term ‘female physician’ should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women…”. It would be wrong to claim to know what these women would think about the current state-of-affairs. But it is equally wrong to appropriate their lives to push an agenda of “abortion rights”.

There is a convenient misrepresentation that the pro-life movement is predominantly made up of old white men. But it is a diverse movement, and many young pro-life women are fighting desperately to have our voices heard. Why, after 100 years, do we still not respect the opinions of women? Have we so easily forgotten the tremendous efforts of the women who came before us? Perhaps it’s time for a new women’s movement in the spirit of those first suffragettes.