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  • Grace Murray

A coerced narrative

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

“I often find narrative and storytelling to be helpful.”

(Margaret Akers, Life Society Meeting, Mon 17th, 19.45)

It is an ordinary scene: a nervous person stands at the front of a classroom, a PowerPoint presentation behind them, talking to a group of university students. Her voice quivers occasionally, and her left hand moves to the paper in front of her, and back to her hair again. Such is the watering in her eyes, and her quiet demeanour, that I start to feel sorry for the figure before I am reminded— abruptly, uncannily— of the words leaving the woman’s mouth.

The speaker’s name is Margaret Akers, the Services Coordinator at The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). SPUC was originally founded in 1967 to oppose the debating of the abortion bill in parliament. Though SPUC’s ‘About Us’ section makes its anti-abortion stance clear, the speaker of the event is less forthcoming: it takes around half an hour, and a direct question from one of the protesters, for Akers to state that she is against abortion.

Before the PowerPoint begins, a member of the Life Society takes out their mobile phone, snapping up images of the front row, where myself and a friend are sitting. It is unlikely that they have captured photos of true, ardent Life Society members: around half (if not more) of the room appear to be there in protest, or, as is customary for our generation, ironically. “We’re here, but like, not really,” one person says to another outside.

Then, the slides: we are ‘informed’ of various kinds of coercion, from familial pressure and coercion from healthcare staff to homelessness. Ostensibly, this could all be building up to a broader narrative about increasing the opportunities available to pregnant people and encouraging effective governmental support in relation to childcare funding and housing systems. The talk, however, takes a different approach. Instead of looking at these wider frameworks, Akers makes general references towards people she “knows” who have gone on to regret abortions after being “coerced”. Akers cites a UK survey of “1,060 women”— and this, notably, is the only statistic used by the society over the course of the evening— 15 percent of whom were “pressured into having an abortion”. The SPUC’s website also cites cases where domestic violence may have influenced a person’s decision to have an abortion.

At every opportunity to invest time into discussing projects that support people with uteruses, the SPUC reorients the discussion around abortion and its banning under the guise of “protection”.

At seventeen minutes past seven, a protester with a megaphone walks into the room, followed by around fifteen to twenty others, all carrying posters with green and pink letters: ‘My body, my choice.’ It is a sight for a much larger protest, one that would take place outside, but here it is, and here they are: defiant, loud, and in direct contrast to Akers’ subdued talk.

Akers lasts around five more minutes before relinquishing her already tenuous control of the room. Perhaps it is a relief; she no longer has to answer questions that she does not know the answer to, like “where did the £72,000 donation from America come from? Was it an interference with the UK government?”, or “why must your right to religion trump my right over my own body?”

In the days following the protest, the SPUC have published their own article in response to the protestors, and by co-opting “feminist” terminology, they frame the interruption as (yet another) silencing of women.

Politics is all about emphasis. Attention is grabbed, moved, and refocused, allowing organisations like the SPUC to spotlight cases which, though fitting for their cause, neglects the wider narrative surrounding the events themselves.

So, yes: I almost feel sorry for the speaker, but not quite— not when considering the woman beyond the room, suffering, in shame and alone, as a result of words like Akers’.


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