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The humbling experience of picking up the pill

Marisa Bate thought it was a routine appointment. And then she thought again

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By Marisa Bate on

When I came out of the NHS clinic off Tottenham Court Road last Tuesday, I felt strangely emotional. 

I was neither hungover nor premenstrual (nor pregnant; don’t worry, Mum). I’d had plenty of sleep and my day was only just starting. I hadn’t had any bad news nor any particularly good news. In the back of my mind, I knew that I was moving house and coming ever closer to the final episode of The Good Wife but, at that particular moment in time, neither of these things were making my eyes swell and my chest swell, or making me send small dossiers of superlatives to half my phonebook. 

It was the simple fact that I had walked into an NHS clinic and collected the contraceptive pill – free of charge, free of judgement, free of explanation. 


It was the fact that, as the women of the world were preparing to strike against the nations that don’t believe a woman’s body is her own, I’d just picked up the pill as easily as buying a coffee

And it was the fact the Margaret Pyke Centre is still standing, despite attempts to dismantle it due to government cuts; it was the kind young doctor who seemed taken aback by my questions about the centre and job cuts – “It’s just the NHS at the moment,” she responded guardedly, as if speaking about a friend who was being a bit of a dick because they were going through a rough patch. It was the question at the bottom of the questionnaire and repeated again face to face: “Are you frightened to go home?” – the small victory of domestic-violence campaigners. It was the fact I was in a waiting room full women, all being granted information and advice about their sexual health. 

And it was the fact that, as the women of the world were preparing to strike against the nations that don’t believe a woman’s body is her own, I’d just picked up the pill as easily as buying a coffee. It was the fact that the president of the United States has said on the record that women who have abortions should be punished; it was the fact that Paul Ryan plans to defund Planned Parenthood. It was the fact that a mass grave of babies dumped in septic tanks had been discovered in a country whose church and state stubbornly insists a woman’s body and baby isn’t her own. 

It’s the fact that, in countries all over the world, access to free sexual health and contraception is a pipe dream. It’s the fact that Trump reinstating the global gag rule will result in girls in Africa having unwanted babies or backstreet abortions, and face death as a consequence. It’s the fact that, in Ireland, women are buying abortion pills off the internet and then being shopped to the police by their flatmates. It’s the fact that the UK is still one of 45 countries in the world where you can’t get contraception over the counter. It’s the fact that some of our cabinet minsters actively voted for a shorter legalised abortion term. It's the fact that, today, a 10-minute bill is being read in parliament to bring an end to criminalising women who have a self-induced abortion in the first 24 weeks; it’s the fact that, according to BPAS, “Under current laws, any woman who causes her own abortion from the moment she misses her period can go to prison for life under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) – the harshest criminal penalty for self-induced miscarriage of anywhere in Europe, bar Ireland, where the life of a foetus is given equal weight to that of a woman.” It’s the fact that El Salvador, Malta, the Vatican, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua still refuse abortions to women under any circumstances, even if it’s to save her life; it’s the fact that people think that Trump cracking down on abortions doesn’t have any relevance to the rest of the world, yet activists say his actions only prolong the conservatism in their own countries. It’s the fact that religion piles on the guilt as women who, for medical reasons, need terminations are prepared to put themselves through unspeakable trauma to placate a patriarchal faith. 

And it was the fact that, walking away, I realised that access to sexual healthcare had to be a human right – not a “privilege or a subsidy”, as one charming man on the internet pointed out to me, but a right because access to sexual healthcare is the fastest route to equality; it means our bodies are ours, our choices are ours, our sexuality is ours, the path our life follows is the one we want it to follow. And, as I walked away, I realised there is nothing more powerful than realising that you are exercising a right that many women still don’t have. And, because they don’t have it, they die, or they are shunned from their communities, or they fall into poverty, or they are sent to homes where nuns abuse them and bury their babies in unmarked mass graves. 

And it’s the fact that it’s not a privilege, but I have privilege, and I can use it to help fight for women whose choice is stolen from them. 

And so I cried a bit and then I realised there was a hell of a lot to do. 


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