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Podcast Episode 03: Pro-Choice Activism with Lauren Hession

Courtney Jones: Hello and welcome to the Feminist Law Podcast. I'm your co-host Courtney Jones.


Clara Topiol: And I'm your co-host Clara Topiol, we're both co-founders of the Feminist Law Project and final year law students who are very passionate about feminism and the law.

Today on the podcast we have Lauren Hession, a fellow final year law student and pro-choice activist. Lauren, would you please like to introduce yourself?


Lauren Hession: Yeah, absolutely. Hi, I'm Lauren Hession. I am a final year law student at the University of Exeter, and I am also one of the fundamental activists in the Pro-Choice Society.


Courtney Jones: Thank you for joining our podcast. So how involved were you in terms of the campaign to counter the Pro-Life Society at Exeter University?


Lauren Hession: So, it was a very sort of snowball effect situation when everybody found out that the society existed. I think that it was through Instagram posts of people saying, "Oh my gosh, this exists." And it all just went from there really. A couple of girls got together, me and two other girls got together, and we sort of said, you know, let's start something.

Maybe not a response for want of a better word, but to be a voice against the rhetoric that was being used by the Pro-Life Society. So, I was involved in helping set up the Instagram. I spoke at one of the protests. Just to make the people that were there aware that we existed on Instagram, Facebook, all of these things.

I was just more really involved in just talking to people and giving statements when things like The Tab were there and Devon Live as well. So, it was just more of like a personal conversation, involvement to let people know that we were there.


Clara Topiol: That sounds really interesting, Lauren. You mentioned that you were instrumental in setting up the Instagram to raise awareness around the Pro-Life Society. So, could you tell us more about why you thought it was important to actually shut it down or raise awareness about it?


Lauren Hession: I think that when people discovered it and really read the posts and the captions and the comments that were being left underneath it, it wasn't just an expression of an opinion, which obviously will always happen. Everyone will always have opinions on every topic. Nothing will be spared from that.

But the dialogue and the tone that was being used just seemed really aggressive and hateful. It wasn't just "This is my opinion, and this is why I think it," it was "You are wrong, and I'm going to tell you that you're a terrible person for having a different opinion than me."

And I think that that was the real thing that made everybody angry. Some of the published posts on their Instagram were throwing murder into the mix. And a recent one that's actually only just been posted, because obviously this account still exists and the society still exists justifies the pro-life argument based on the fact that some of the aborted babies could have been boys, meaning that women that abort these babies deprive them of becoming fathers, which just wasn't grounded. Like things like that aren't grounded in anything substantial, and it just seems to be a way of spreading hate in my opinion, a lot of opinions as well.

And they also spoke frequently on this Instagram about protecting the human rights of a foetus, which is interesting to me and a lot of other people because in the UK a foetus doesn't gain legal personage until it becomes a separate person from the mother with legal rights. So, I think it's important to address. When people are using these legal terms without using them correctly, because a foetus doesn't have human rights in the UK law, so you can't use that as an argument because it has no grounding. Of course, you can believe it should have human rights. That's entirely your opinion, but you can't say you are depriving something of human rights when it isn't a human and it doesn't have legal personage.

And I think that's why it's so important to raise awareness because a lot of the dialogue that the Pro-Life movement uses is either based on religious movements, which again, everybody has their own entitlement to hold whatever religion they believe in, but it's used in such a way that is "You'll go to hell" or you'll do this or you'll do that, and it just felt very hateful and also not grounded on anything substantial.


Clara Topiol: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. And I think clearly your involvement in setting up the Pro-Choice Society was instrumental in terms of putting these, you know, assumptions at peace and trying to clear up the narrative. So, abortion rights are featured abundantly in the news recently reaching wider than just Exeter.

So, for example, in the United States, we had the overturning of the runaway decision. What do you think that decision, or the overturning of it rather, what impact has it had on American women's lives and humans around the world generally?


Lauren Hession: Yeah. So obviously Dobbs v Jackson, I think it is Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned the constitutional right.

And I think that there's not only that sort of shock factor and that fear, it's completely true that the law protects... It isn't just a case of protecting people from the bad guys. It protects your health; it protects your autonomy. And that's exactly what's been taken away because of this decision, women in America have lost their right to healthcare because they've lost their right to these legal and safe abortions, which are protected. They're regulated, they're given aftercare, and all you've done by removing that law and that constitutional right is, all they've done is remove safe abortions. They've not removed abortions. Abortions will still occur. They will still happen. All this has done is criminalised bodily autonomy rather than abortion.

It's put in this disguise of protecting babies and stopping murder. But all it's really done is criminalised access to safe medical abortions. And this post-Roe world will not be the same as a pre-Roe world. It will be different. We have greater knowledge and understanding on medical abortions, which is obviously quite new.

But it is still inevitable that America will return to a situation where women are practicing unsafe methods of abortion, which can have severe complications. It will purely increase this issue of women's health within America. And obviously it's essential to point out that this will impact women of colour and ethnic minorities disproportionately than it will white women.

This situation American women find themselves in where they can't have an abortion in this state, but they can have an abortion in that one. So, they can fly there, they can travel there. It will disproportionately impact poorer communities and women of colour and ethnic minorities. And that is something that you, we just cannot ignore.


Courtney Jones: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And I mean, it goes beyond abortion, doesn't it? Because there's been stories in like the New York Times and The Guardian about how women who were miscarrying, for example, were refused care because the doctors were afraid to give them abortion because they didn't have a proper understanding of what the law in their state was anymore.


Lauren Hession: Absolutely. This sort of ambiguity now that this sort of middle ground where American women are just lost in this sort of like, I don't even know how to describe it. This blank space of knowledge is just going to cause so many problems. As you said with not having the right knowledge, not knowing what to do.

The doctors don't want to land themselves in any trouble either. And that can have really, really negative effects on, like you said, a woman who had a miscarriage and they didn't know what to do.

And obviously there's this whole other side, which I don't always love to bring into the conversation because I think that people just jump on it straight away and use it as a, "Well, what about in a case of rape," because bodily autonomy should be yours regardless of whether someone has already breached it.

But these young girls, young children, 12 and 13 year olds cannot access an abortion, even if they've been a victim of rape and incest in some states. And that is, it's so heartbreaking because it's just completely pulled women back to, gosh, you know hundreds of years ago when we had nothing and we had no way of having our own bodily autonomy.


Courtney Jones: Yeah, you're absolutely right. So, going on from that then, why do you think that this landmark decision to overturn Roe and Wade is so problematic and worrying in terms of how it could possibly impact other countries?


Lauren Hession: I feel that America is a very glorified nation around the world. I think it is this epitome of power and wealth and knowledge in a lot of people's minds.

And I think that if other countries are seeing this happen in America. This will give the Pro-Life movements in other countries, this whole new footing where they can really push these dialogues within their communities because it's like, "Hey, America's done it, so why can't we?" And I think in less economically developed countries where women are only just starting to get this legal personage and this access to healthcare or access to education, it's just going to push all of that backwards. And all of that hard work, and all of that movement towards a better world for women will just cascade down. And I do think that it will just cause more and more and more domino effects to occur in different places and in different ways. And that is just really, really concerning.


Clara Topiol: I think you make a really good point, Lauren, especially in light of the fact that France actually last month refused to make the right to abortion a constitutional one. So, it might have actually been impacted. by the Roe and Wade decision in terms of it being overturned.

So that is worrying and obviously we hope that other countries won't follow suit, but we can't prevent that risk.


Lauren Hession: Yes.


Clara Topiol: So now regarding the situation in England and Wales, could you please remind our listeners of the situation surrounding abortion and the applicable law?


Lauren Hession: Yeah, absolutely. So, under the Abortion Act 1967, a pregnant person may have an abortion up until the 24th week of pregnancy.

So up until that 24th week, for whatever reason you decide, you may go to the NHS or another abortion clinic to have an abortion. Any termination carried out after the 24-week mark will only be done in really limited circumstances. So mainly if the mother's life was in danger or if the foetus just wouldn't survive outside the womb, then you would have the option, or you would probably be advised by a medical professional to terminate the pregnancy.

You can receive a medical abortion up until the 10-week mark. So, this involves taking medicines in the form of a pill which induce abortion. So, give your body that instinct of a miscarriage in a way. And then after 10 weeks you have to go up for a surgical abortion, which is a quick procedure that removes the pregnancy, and you can pretty much go home on the same day. Although it's more invasive than the medical abortion, it is definitely still very easily recoverable. So yeah, that's the law, the Abortion Act.


Clara Topiol: Thank you for that information, Lauren. So, going back now to the Pro-Life Society that was set up in Exeter, if other similar societies to the Pro-Life Society came to be in other universities, what do you think are the key steps that people should take to raise awareness about them and potentially even take them down?


Lauren Hession: I think that the main sort of advice that I would give is equip yourself with knowledge, equip yourself with arguments, equip yourself with responses, and also to make sure you, you try as much as you can, I know I struggled really badly with this, and a lot of people did, but try as much as you can to not let it get you down.

I think that when all this first came out, I, and a lot of other people I knew, got really, really upset about it, really panicky, and I think that you have to be strong. You have to look at it from a point of view of you've got to be strong enough to take these, these opinions down.

And I think also another great way of doing it is sharing things on your social media. Speak out, speak to people, organise rallies, organise protests. You know, you have absolutely the right to peaceful protests as has been seen on Exeter University campus many times. I really do think the main thing is just speak out, prove it wrong, have data, have research, and just really, really believe in yourself that you can make a difference.

Because your voice may be such a beacon to someone who feels really personally attacked by this may be someone who's had an abortion and the dialogue that can be used by societies like the Pro-Life Society and other societies who have similar messages can really mentally and sometimes even physically affect someone who might feel guilty about their abortion, and it's just really important that if you do feel like that, you should talk to people. Get help if you need it. But also, if you want to stand up and you want to maybe take them down or at least have that sort of quick response, do your research and really, really just believe in what you're saying.


Courtney Jones: Thank you for that. So why do you think it's important then, in more general terms to be so vocal about women's rights surrounding abortion and bodily autonomy in general?


Lauren Hession: I think that with abortion specifically, it's such an important one because although you are just talking about in reality, abortion is merely just a medical procedure. And although you are just talking about that, there is so many other conversations that stem from abortion, like you said, bodily autonomy. You know, the right to be able to have sexual relationships have sex and not worry that you will be condemned to a pregnancy and condemned to having a child just because you are a woman.

Obviously, this isn't something that biological males have to worry about, and I think that that's why it's so important to carry on speaking out, because it isn't just about a foetus and a womb and a mother. It's about your feeling of complete control and complete autonomy, and it makes you feel like you're a real person because if no one else can tell you what you can and can't do with your own womb, it - that's liberation.

And I think that's why it's so important to talk about abortion and women's rights and bodily autonomy because abortion is liberation. It's healthcare. It's having that access to being a legal person and that one step closer to equality.


Clara Topiol: I think that's really powerful. Thank you for that. If any of our followers would like to get involved with campaign surrounding women's rights to abortion in England and Wales, where do you suggest that they look?


Lauren Hession: So, I have found a few that I quite enjoy looking at and reading. The Women's Equality Party. If you Google that, there's loads of resources and campaigns to do with that. Also, We Trust Women is a great one. Another one where you can just go and have a look and see, you know, if you can get involved in anything, and also you can donate to MSI Reproductive services- sorry, Reproductive Choices because they are an abortion service separate from the NHS. So, if you didn't want to go to your NHS provider for whatever reason, then you can go to them if you want an abortion and that is a really great place to donate.


Clara Topiol: That is already helpful. Thank you. Is there anything else you'd like to add, Lauren?


Lauren Hession: Obviously this was really wonderful and thank you so much for letting me come on. And I also would say to anyone that's listening, if this is something that you are really passionate about and you are worried about speaking up and you're worried about, you know being sort of, attacked or you do feel attacked by any rhetoric you've heard from Pro-Life because it is, it is out there and it is everywhere.

Don't be afraid to do the research. Don't be afraid to know your rights, know where you stand, and also know your argument and know how to respond to things like this. Because it can feel quite overwhelming, you know, some of the dialogue that is used, "You're a murderer if you have an abortion," "God will condemn you." All of these things, it can be quite overwhelming and it can be quite terrifying. But really back yourself, really know that you can make a difference by speaking out. You can make a difference by researching and you matter. Your bodily autonomy matters and stand up for what you believe in.


Clara Topiol: Thank you very much for joining us, Lauren.


Lauren Hession: Thank you so much.


Clara Topiol: In today's Feminist News Roundup, Columbia has started putting pressure on facilities to actually host places that women can safely abort, bearing in mind that the right to abortion was passed in 2006. And closer to home, in Yorkshire a woman from Weatherby has actually won 60,000 pounds in terms of her court battle against her former employer Morrison's over an unfair dismissal and sex discrimination claim that saw her initially almost dismissed over her pregnancy and then abused in terms of making her work for a full-time contract where she was put on a part-time contract.


Courtney Jones: If you have any suggestions for this podcast, let us know directly via email at contact@feministlaw.org.


Clara Topiol: Please also visit our website at feministlaw.org and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up to date with our latest articles, podcasts, newsletters, and exciting news.

Courtney Jones: The music for this podcast was sourced from Pixabay.com.


Clara Topiol: Thanks for listening.


Transcript by Gaia D'Arro.


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