As I sit down to write this piece, I’m acutely aware of its delicate nature.
For centuries here in the UK and abroad, homosexuality was seen as incompatible with parenthood and a healthy childhood; gay fathers and lesbian mothers had to deny their personal truths and inner wishes or risk facing terrible legal, social and even physical consequences. To be outed was to face community outrage, threat of job-loss, isolation from family and friends, criminal charges, violent repercussion – and the loss of child custody. Sadly, this is still the reality for a number of gay parents in the world today.
Our community has fought tirelessly for the right to freely enjoy the ups and downs of love, marriage, and parenthood; rights afforded to heterosexual couples simply because of the heteronormative society we lived in, and continue to live in. But leaps and bounds have been made. Though not yet equal, we are challenging and broadening what it means to be ‘family’ and a ‘parent’ today.
Why then, after such a long struggle to be allowed to have children, let alone be seen as ‘acceptable’ parents, should any lesbian place her flag firmly in the ‘pro-choice’ abortion rights encampment? Some say you shouldn’t. In fact, there’s an entire anti-choice lesbian and gay movement dedicated to labelling abortion as a ‘heterosexual atrocity’ which allows heterosexism to go unchallenged. This could not be further from the truth.
In fact, LGBTQ+ people are themselves deeply and personally affected by reproductive issues like abortion access. You might not think that unplanned pregnancy would be much of an issue for our community, but a 2015 study by the American Journal of Health discovered that lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers who have had sex with a member of the opposite sex are more likely to have children than their straight counterparts.
Possible reasons for this have been named as lack of sex education, a misguided desire to ‘normalise’ behaviour, and peer pressure. On top of this, the School of Public Health found that lesbian and bisexual women may be up to three times more likely to be victims of sexual assault, which can of course result in unwanted pregnancy.
In truth, any idea that abortion is an issue only affecting cisgender, heterosexual women is not only untrue, but dangerous. Reproductive justice is a queer issue. It is a marginalised community issue. More than that, it is a human issue.
And it is an issue at our very doorstep. Here in the UK, the 1967 Abortion Act, which established legal abortion, has never applied in Northern Ireland. Except in extreme circumstances (where the mother’s life is in danger) women in Northern Ireland are unable to have a termination in their own country. Even cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not circumstances in which abortions can be performed legally.
Instead, Northern Irish women must travel to England – at their own expense. After the High Court ruling in June reiterating that Northern Irish women are not entitled to NHS funded abortions, a recent BBC report quoted the cost of seeking a termination reaching as much as £9,000, though most estimates place the cost at between £800 and £2,000. These financial barriers make abortion not only a gender issue, but a class one too; and with LGBTQ+ people struggling disproportionately with economic insecurity, our community should be taking notice and taking action.
This rings true perhaps now more than ever; as I type this, our government is in closed talks with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, hoping to come to a mutually beneficial agreement after the recent General Election. Let me be clear; an agreement that includes the DUP is profoundly bad news for women and LGBTQ+ people, and we must not shy away from protesting any erosion of the rights we have fought to win. The DUP is a deeply socially conservative party, and has consistently blocked both the extension of equal marriage to Northern Ireland and the roll-out of the 1967 Abortion Act, two issues which I’m sure the Diva readers feel passionately about.
Threats to abortion rights come from all angles, so the support has to as well. Abortion access is not just a cisgender, straight woman’s issue. It’s a healthcare issue. It’s an economic justice issue. It is an education and employment issue. It is a human rights issue. It is an LGBTQ+ issue.
It is our issue, too.
[This article was originally published in DIVA’s August 2017 issue. Read my latest column in DIVA, on sale now at divadigital.co.uk]