Pro-choice campaigners: representative of women and wider society?

800px-Pro_choice_card_madrid

A Spanish pro-choice card distributed at a protest. Many Spaniards have demonstrated against proposed legislation seeking to restrict access to abortion in the country. (Photo: olgaberrios – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26174182)

Abortion rights have long been championed by many feminist organisations and activists. Ever an emotive issue, access to an abortion is regarded as a woman’s fundamental right by such activists. But do they represent a majority of women? Let’s look at it.

Although one might make the assumption that females are more ‘pro-choice’ than males when it comes to abortion politics, perhaps significantly more so, polling and studies conducted over several decades have shown the attitudes of both sexes to be consistently in step with one another. Similar investigations have found education and religion to be better determinants of people’s opinions on the matter than gender. Generally, less religious individuals with third level qualifications are more liberal in their outlook.

In late 2012 when Britain’s coalition government advocated reducing the upper limit of 24 weeks at which abortions could be performed, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt along with cabinet colleagues Theresa May and Maria Miller drew the ire of Guardian and New Statesman commentators who believed that the trio, in calling for reductions, were acting against the interests of women.

Interestingly in a YouGov poll from earlier that year twice as many female than male respondents favoured a lower limit (49% to 24%). In an Angus Reid poll conducted shortly after the YouGov poll, the gap was wider (59% to 35%). Forty-seven percent of women supported a reduction in a 2006 MORI poll. On the questions of whether the NHS should fund abortions only in medical emergencies or whether minors should receive parental consent before undergoing the procedure, more men than women took ‘pro-life’ positions yet only marginally.

These findings and the others collected over the years, do not sit well with campaigners who have criticized male lawmakers for dictating to women what they must do with their bodies, when they themselves, as men, have no experience of pregnancy. Would the changes to abortion legislation, whether ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ have occurred if the legislators had been predominantly female? At the same time, male-dominated legislatures have been responsible for relaxing abortion laws across many different countries over the last few decades.

On many social, political and moral questions most of us do not have particularly strong opinions, many of us being more inclined to ‘sit on the fence’ and take a more compromising, pragmatic stance. Abortion, to men and women, is no different. Absolute, black-and-white positions either way are in the minority. Female attitudes to abortion do not appear to be in line with the ‘pro-choice’ campaigners’ position, which is a constituency they purport to represent. This poses a wider question: does this relationship mirror those between other campaign groups and their respective ‘constituencies?’

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