Are Buffer Zones Acceptable in a Free Society?

Today is the fourth of July and many Americans will celebrate 246 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed. This document, which some historians suggest leans upon our Declaration of Arbroath, declares the equality of its citizens. It also states they are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the Supreme Court decision on 24 June to overrule Roe v Wade has inevitably, once again, amplified discussion around life.

Abortion is a thorny issue where nuance is often in short supply and that was no less the case following the Supreme Court decision, which was presented as an attempt to overturn access to safe abortions. In fact, the Supreme Court did not overturn, but overruled, Roe v Wade and this is an important distinction. They ruled that “authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” Abortion is, therefore, still accessible in 36 out of 50 states and to American women who wish to travel to states where they remain available.

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph on 04/07/2022

In the same week, my wife and I had an announcement of our own – we are expecting baby number four. In a time when every Western census shows a declining birth rate, we are doing our bit to hold up the Scottish one. Our welcome news, however, emerges at an odd historical juncture. Last Monday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held an abortion summit and committed to “national legislation” on buffer zones around healthcare facilities, which would place physical limits, and the threat of criminal penalties, upon those opposed to abortion.

She described the Supreme Court judgment as one of “the darkest days for women’s rights”. Even if she rejects abortion, which is her right, I found these remarks perplexing. Firstly, Ms Sturgeon has no elected status in America and it surely is a matter for their citizens to manage their domestic affairs. Secondly, her party has historically supported the devolution of powers, which this decision affirms. Finally, if she wishes to so stridently defend “women’s rights”, perhaps she might stop wriggling out of questions asking her to define what a woman is.

On abortion, I feel uneasy about a pro-life stance held by those who refuse to adopt, advocate for life before birth with greater conviction than those after birth bedevilled by poverty or overlook the fact 80% of abortions are by women fearful of being able to raise a child in a sustainable environment. I also feel uneasy about a pro-choice stance which affirms the bodily autonomy of women who want an abortion with greater conviction than the bodily autonomy of women who wish to pray quietly outside a healthcare facility with a rosary. 

Seven years ago, my daughter Aria was born with a cleft palate, which is considered a “severe foetal abnormality”. In these circumstances, we could have aborted her up to 24 hours before she was born. We had no intention of it and, 10 months later, a short operation corrected the cleft. Last week my wife and I, for the first time, told our two girls – aged six and seven years old respectively – about abortion. Aria looked back with an aghast expression on her face and said: “No doctor would ever do that.”

Society is spliced between the binary options of life and choice while attempting to mute those who have a different perspective. Buffer zones are an affront to any nation founded upon the equality of its citizens and freedom of their expression and perhaps, instead of celebrating abortion as a triumph for women’s rights, we should view it as a tragedy by those of us who have failed to create a world in which raising a child is a dream come true. Instead of having this conversation, we are instead deciding who is allowed to participate. 

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