Anti-sex discourse is rife when it comes to abortion debates – and it’s killing people.
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
This article is part of The Broad's short series in response to the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. For more articles like this, search the hashtag 'Roe v Wade' on our website.
When we talk about abortion, a popular comment that anti-choice, ‘‘pro-life’’ campaigners like to chime in with is ‘if you don’t want a baby, don’t have sex.’ Continuing on the line of this argument, a popular one I hear a lot is ‘if you get yourself into that mess, you should have to deal with the consequences.’
This narrative assumes several things. First and foremost, such an argument misses the mark entirely. It fails to understand the variety of complex reasons pregnant people opt to have an abortion, dismissing situations of rape, abuse, financial impediments, pregnancy and health complications, as well as the huge array of other personal reasons. Furthermore, it assumes that sex is for the purpose of procreation, and nothing else. To have sex is to have a baby – if you don’t want a baby, why would you have sex? The person with the uterus, in this scenario, is the baby machine, the cargo ship of future generations that engages in sexual activity for, and only for, the purpose of reproduction. This is an archaic, heterosexual, and patriarchal notion of sex – and, ultimately, it has no place in society today.
Notably, the idea of making your bed and lying in it assumes the age-old, conservatively prudish narrative that sex is bad. More than this, it assumes that women, in particular, having sex is bad, that it’s wrong, that we deserved to be punished for having it.
Throughout history, female desire and sexuality has been an ever-looming, ever-terrifying concept that has threatened patriarchal systems of control and coercion. Laws restricting women's rights directly correspond to limitations on our sexual freedom; religious and political doctrines that reduce women to their husbands property assume a mandatory submission to male desire, from stories of Eve the temptress to legislation around marital rape. Clitoridectomy, the surgical removal of the clitoris, is something that has popularly been used throughout British history to “treat” female desire and prevent pleasure. FGM, including Clitoridectomy, has still not been outlawed and is still common practise in many places and cultures across the world, causing huge amounts of harm to women and girls who are forced to undergo it. Sex education, failing to provide young girls with information on masturbation and the orgasm– in fact, failing to discuss desire at all– feeds a culture of shame and discretion around sexual satisfaction and desire. Pornography actively contributes to violence against women and girls, and the prioritisation of male pleasure at the expense of women’s sexual satisfaction and physical and mental wellbeing is a main factor in this.
Significantly, systemic failure to prioritise birth control and reproductive health directly correlates to an outright rejection that women can, and should be able to, enjoy sex. The issue, without a doubt, runs much deeper than just sexual liberation, trickling down from decades of unchallenged misogyny and an institutional unwillingness to give women control over our own bodies and regard us as fully autonomous beings. But when it comes to abortion, it’s hard to ignore the backwards narrative that women who have sex deserve to suffer because of it.
The truth is, lack of funding and investment in birth control that allows anyone who may use it to have a sex life untainted by crippling hormone changes, mental illness, fatigue, weight fluctuations, acne, and all the other undesirable side effects, ensures one thing: that we are put off having sex. As long as birth control is a risky and inaccessible provision, and abortion is a highly-stigmatised, gatekept procedure, women’s sexual autonomy will remain stifled, disregarded, forbidden.
Even then, when the risk is taken, and the birth control fails, or it was so harmful and inefficient in the first place that we stopped taking it, or we never went on it in the first place, and an accident happens, anti-sex discourse rubs its hands together and grins, because it proved exactly what it wanted to, and now it gets to punish us. If you didn’t want a baby, you shouldn’t have had sex.
Limitations on abortion, it is well documented, cause death. Unsafe abortions are one of the leading cause of maternal deaths internationally. Lack of provision for abortion on a global scale is a strategic method of obligating women to motherhood, forcing us into the service of reproduction under the premise that it is a necessary 'consequence' of having sex. And the woman who rejects this service, who rejects the one acceptable 'condition' of sex and decides they don't want to become a mother, is a dead one– another devastating statistic.
But in reality, we deserve sex. We deserve good sex with any consenting adult we want and we deserve free, accessible, and guilt-free abortions when things don’t go to plan, or when they do, or when we change our mind, for any reason and no reason other than that we want them. We deserve safe, complication-free birth control that we can take without risking our health, and desire and sexual satisfaction that we do not have to face constant barriers when allowing for ourselves. Sex should not be the life sentence anti-choice narratives make it out to be– more importantly, it shouldn’t be the death sentence they make it into.
On Abortion Access in Scotland - Statement by Anna Cowan, campaigner for Back off Scotland
The verdict of Roe v Wade represents a huge step back in the progress we have made for equal reproductive rights. Allowing abortion to be banned does not ban abortions - it bans safe abortions.
Although decisions like this may seem incredibly far away, in Scotland we are facing a fight against abortion access in the form of anti-choice protests outside of clinics which provide abortions. These protestors come from Texas-funded organised 40 Days for Life, who are an insidious and restrictive religious group who's sole purpose is to ban abortion.
In Scotland we must show our solidarity with our American sisters and siblings, while also being vigilant and fighting against anti-choice movements. If you want to be apart of the cause to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, please fill out the Scottish Government consultation to enact this into law at bufferzones.scot
Please fill in Gillian Mackay’s consultation on buffer zones here, open until 06/08/22.
You can write to your MSP here.