No one campaigns for back street abortions…

Posted on September 23, 2013


Sex worker activists have faced accusations of not being representative from those opposed to our fight for rights, often coupled with the accusation we glamorize our jobs. This has permeated the discourse around sex work legislation so deeply that many sex workers are afraid to even mention they enjoy their work for fear of being called fools and liars.

Luckily the enjoyment or not of someones job is totally irrelevant in the fight for labour rights. Whilst in an ideal world everyone would be in a job they found fulfilling and which met all their social and economic needs we live in the real world. All we can hope for is that people are protected from harm whilst working and able to seek redress should harm result as a part of their work.

Thus whilst sex workers as individuals have a number of different narratives around their work, all of which are personally important and do a great job of removing the veil of secrecy we are forced to operate behind, it is recognized that in the wider context these narratives are unimportant. What matters is harm reduction, human rights and equal treatment before the law and arms of the state which may oppress us.

It is rather odd therefore, as we move away from saying our stories are anything but personal to see those opposed to harm reduction trumpeting the stories of a few individuals as the evidence to base legislation on. After years of being told “you are not representative” it is confusing to be told actually personal narrative does matter, and is the foundation for policy.

Those who do not want us to have rights have personalized the debate, perhaps because they know the facts do not support them, they are now claiming if we support harm reduction we do not care about those who have had bad experiences. There is no correlation at all though and there is another campaign for rights that many feminists will be familiar with that shows why this is not the case.

The battle for access to abortions is waged in many countries.  If you visit any pro life/forced birth (terminology is as embittered as in the battle for sex workers rights) website you can read horrific stories of abortions that have gone wrong. Stories that have left women bleeding, traumatized, unable to conceive.  There are accounts of fetus still moving after an abortion, of callousness, pain and genuine heartbreak. It is inconceivable to me to say that these women are lying, it is clear their pain is real. However, I have yet to find a feminist say, well these women went through such an awful event we must ban all abortions.

Those in the pro choice camp have a collective memory of back street abortions, in places like Ireland they mourn Savita, and remember X, a raped child the state wanted to force to carry a child. The fight for abortion rights understands that legal, safe abortions are better  than the alternatives, and whilst some people are damaged by those legal, safe abortions this is not an argument to deny them to all. I personally do not believe I would ever have an abortion, but I also want people to be able to make a choice to do so, to be supported, to have abortions in safe, clean, properly managed conditions. I do not want them to be shamed for their choices. I want the person who returns to work afterwards and never gives it a second thought to be be considered as valid and important as the person who mourns what might have been.

Currently women who would never dream of saying they want back street abortions brought back because someone somewhere is traumatized by their abortion are demanding sex work be criminalized, be pushed to the dangerous, dark, back streets. Their argument is that one person was traumatized by sex work, so all sex work must be heavily criminalized. Can anyone explain to me how that works, or, is it simply the case that their argument really is one that would campaign for back street abortions?