|Dawn Purvis - Programme Director of Marie Stopes in Belfast|
This may not come as a surprise but when I write, I consider the reception to whatever I write. Many of my friends are avidly pro choice, many are just as avidly pro life (please can we ignore the idiocy of the terminology for now?) and I wanted to be careful. That's not usually a consideration for me so it's an indicator of just how polarised the debate is.
Over the last week or so though, considerations for the views and opinions of the other side of the argument clearly hasn't concerned a whole host of commentators or even news outlets so I may as well weigh in. As the title says, I consider myself to be pro life and pro choice and I don't think the two positions are mutually exclusive. Why? Because I agree with many of the arguments presented by both sides. I don't agree with abortion; I consider the termination of a pregnancy at even a few weeks to be the ending of a life whilst acknowledging that the life at that point is little more than a collective of cells and tissue.
So that's my pro life position. My pro choice position is that it's not for me to make that determination for others and it's not for me to judge those who wish to have a termination. There are many valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy and I abhor the implication from some within the pro life camp that women use abortion as a method of contraception. One DUP Councillor referred to 'designer abortions' - about as awful language as you can get.
Abortion should be a last resort. It should be, as Bill Clinton once said, "safe, legal & rare". The part of me that is pro life says I should focus on how to make it rare, because making it illegal will undoubtedly make it unsafe.
So it is the pro life part of me that supports comprehensive sex education for all children in high schools; it's that part of me that supports free contraception for school children; it's the part of me that thinks girls shouldn't need their parents consent to get the pill - only their doctor's; it's the part of me that believes fully funded maternity and paternity leave for all employees should be available; it's the part of me that believes businesses and the state share a responsibility for providing affordable childcare to working parents; it's the part of me that thinks we should stop stigmatising single parents and it's the part of me that thinks adoption should be based on your ability and suitability to be a parent and not based on your sexuality.
You see: you can't be pro life unless you make preventing unwanted pregnancies from occurring in the first place your number one priority. You can't be pro life unless you have a plan to make continuing with a pregnancy the best option. It's not enough to just say 'oh, there's always other options and there'll be plenty of support' - you have to come up with the options, you have to provide the support.
Even after that, you have to cater for the exceptions - victims of rape & incest, genuine & serious health risks to the mother, the likelihood of stillbirth etc - but with the right approach to the issue, abortion will stay as an exception.
Anyone who thinks they'll ever be able to stop abortion from happening is deluded but if the majority of pro-life activists dedicated their time and energy into achieving the measures I outlined above, they'd soon see a huge drop in the demand for abortion and that's a more achievable goal.
Or they can continue to stand outside clinics intimidating women who desperately need help and advice. Yeah, i'm much happier with my definition of pro life.