Reproductive rights


Everybody loves babies, at least in abstract terms. They’re super cute, aren’t they? All babbly and cuddly, with their plump little arms and downy heads. They never start wars or fuck up the economy or make George Osborne Briton of the Year. They just flop around being babies. Bless them. I bloody love babies, I do.

I’ve had two babies myself. They’ve not been cute all the time, what with the incontinence and crying and being totally useless at witty repartee, but it’s pretty hard not to fall for your own. Mine are particularly brilliant now and were perfectly lovely when they were tiny. I was even fond of them when they were foetuses, loving every kick, wriggle and hiccough.

Like most people who pay attention in biology classes, I’ve a good understanding of what pregnancy means. I’ve seen that little heartbeat fluttering on the scan and been filled with complete and utter joy. It’s not just a clump of cells, it’s a human life – a bloody miracle! And how fragile, innocent and precious that tiny life must be. The trouble is, though, I’m also a pro-choicer. What this means is that whenever anyone mentions the word “abortion” I forget all of the above. I just think, “sod it. Baby, schmaby. Isn’t it just some random blob?”

This, at least, is how a number of male columnists seem to think pro-choice women operate. Silly little creatures who come to the debating table having completely forgotten the magnitude of having a life grow inside them. Good job there’s always a bloke on hand to explain it to them.

Take Mehdi Hasan, for instance. Last year he took it upon himself to patiently explain to the pro-choice lobby that “Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty”. His piece included the following anecdote, which I’m sure will delight us all:

I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.

Obviously I’m grateful for that insight. Me, I look back on having 20-week scans and think “bloody hell, what kind of alien parasite was that?” The very idea that one could invest personhood in one’s own offspring and still have a clear-eyed view of the human cost of pregnancy; well, that’s just impossible, isn’t it?

Then we have Marko Attilla Hoare getting out the tissues at Left Foot Forward and telling us that “abortion is a tragic choice no woman should have to make”:

Women who seek abortions are victims of a society that does not respect them or their babies; they should not be stigmatised or treated as criminals. But let us stop pretending that this ongoing bloody tragedy is a manifestation of their emancipation.

I’ve responded to this more fully here. Suffice it to say, I am surprised at Hoare’s pitching of abortion as the choice of the woman who lacks privilege, since without easy access to safe, free abortion, it tends to be only the very wealthy who can avail themselves of what should be universal right. But never mind. Clearly the 68,000 women who die every year due to limitations on legal abortion are emancipated in ways I could never understand.

Now we have Tim Montgomerie of The Times (and supporter of SPUC), telling us that “the ground is shifting in the abortion debate”. Montgomerie writes approvingly of the recent approval for new restrictions on abortion in Spain, and of Michigan’s decision to force women requesting abortion see pictures of foetal development to help them “fully understand what they’re choosing” (because clearly they have no sodding idea). He’s utterly incensed about UK abortions being permitted at later dates on the grounds of foetal abnormality:

Many people are simply too frightened of having to raise a disabled child. Although the UK currently recognises that a 24-week-old foetus deserves the full protection of the law, this protection is not afforded to babies that might be disabled in some inadequately defined way.

Brave, brave Tim, making a stand against all those women who carry a foetus inside them for 24 weeks then think “disability? Yuck! Can’t be arsed!”. If only there were more Tims like him. But wait, there are! Here’s Tim Stanley of The Telegraph ready to back Montgomerie up:

Yeah. Who’d be pro-choice at Christmas? Imagine. Makes you think etc. etc.

The thing is, I’d rather not be pro-choice at Christmas. Who would? It makes you sound like a right Scrooge. “Right to life? Nah, not for them there embryos, Tiny Tim.” If it was all about protecting unborn babies, I’d be waving the anti-choice flag as much as the next person. The trouble is, that’s not what abortion is about. Human beings not yet born are not merely sitting in some waiting room, hoping that the evil pro-choicers won’t come and nab them before their time has come. They’re inside other human beings. These other human beings need ownership of their own flesh and blood. Clearly that’s a right pain in the arse, but there it is.

Being pro-choice is hard because it involves empathising not just with abstract innocents, but with women who are faceless, ordinary and no more perfect than you or I. There’s evidence to suggest that, at least when it comes to their own lives and those of their nearest and dearest, anti-choicers can be somewhat flexible in their understanding of pro-life politics. Being pro-choice involves taking the empathy you have for those closest to you and extending it to all women, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done. In a patriarchal society that isn’t easy but we owe it to womankind to do so. Fussing over the blameless foetus is easy; defending the rights of normal, everyday human beings is far more difficult (but, if we’re going to get religious about it, I’d bet it’s what Jesus would do).

In Backlash Susan Faludi refers to US legal cases in which it was established that parents are not obliged to sacrifice their bodily autonomy for their live, born children. In one such ruling the judge stated that “to compel the defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and principle on which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual.” And yet this is precisely what anti-choicers expect pregnant women to do for those not yet born. In England, where consent to organ donation after death is not even assumed by default, we still expect living pregnant women to give and give, regardless of their physical health, social environment and personal needs. This is not right. If we’re prepared to let people die because we won’t automatically harvest the dead, we should not expect the living to serve as hosts for those not yet born regardless of the effect this will have on their lives.

When it comes to foetal abnormality, I’ve made my personal position clear before. And I feel bad, if not ashamed, about it. I don’t want to care for a severely disabled child because I’m already in a position of having to care for a disabled adult in later years and I know what it involves. And having grown up with this adult, I know what it’s like to have this pressure around you when you’re young and I don’t want that for my children, too. It’s not easy. It’s miserable. The thing that Montgomerie et al miss is that we are not simply talking about babies (who are in any case dependant). We can be talking about whole human lifespans, and witnessing slow, agonising declines. One thing I know for sure is that not wishing the pressure I face to be upon my children is in no way similar to wishing the person I have to care for out of existence. I love him, but I am realistic about my limits, and those of people around me (and of the society I live in). It’s a horrible thing to admit to but it is, I think, more truthful than glibly stating that people are “too frightened to raise a disabled child”.

And that, perhaps, is the most difficult thing about being pro-choice. You feel it strongly and vehemently because you respect the bodies of other women, but you also know it’s not as neat as you’d like. You know it’s difficult. Some things are morally messy, but it’s no reason to trample over the bodily autonomy of half the human race.

It would be brilliant if pro-choicers were simply deluded. If “look, it’s actually a baby!” was the only answer we needed. That’s not how it is. “Look, we’re all human beings, we all make difficult choices, we all have to own our bodies and lives” is the less satisfactory answer. It is, nonetheless, the most honest and humane one we can give.

I wouldn’t normally rant about Life, the anti-choice organisation. What’s the point? It’s more fun ranting about life. Today, however, I am making an exception. I am feeling particularly incensed by Life’s promotion of #notblinkered, an utterly lame cool and trendy website that briefs anti-choicers on all the crap they need to pretend pro-choicers think.

#notblinkered is a bit like those ads for the Alpha Course you see when you’re on the bus. The ones that say stuff like “Who’s there 4U?” in the hope that you’ll think “cool! They spelled ‘for you’ like in a text! There MUST be a supernatural deity after all!” Life describe #notblinkered as their “biggest social movement to date” (bless!). It would be funny if it wasn’t so arrogant, callous and basically awful. (more…)

Earlier this evening I sent a tweet regarding the anti-abortion laws just passed in Texas. Not long after I received this response (from a men’s rights activist whom many of us know and love):

@Glosswitch Well, it’s a start, at least. Our post on abortion in the UK http://t.co/FmMQTr3Ypm

Obviously, when we’re witnessing the rollback of fundamental reproductive freedoms, it doesn’t seem worth getting het up about one MRA’s pitiful decision to gloat about it. Hey, at least someone’s got a brief chuckle out of the real pain and trauma that this ruling will cause. If MRAs want to cause offence, they’ll have to try a lot harder given how offensive the real world is. Nonetheless, curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link supplied. Just what IS the world-famous Justice 4 Men and Boys position on abortion? Well, it’s laced with misogyny, naturally. But it’s a peculiarly interesting, childish type that seems especially easy to tackle. Therefore I thought I might as well give it a go. (more…)

“The women who have had nine abortions” screams the Telegraph headline. Then you click on the link and find out that these 33 women – about whose experiences we know absolutely nothing – are mere statistics embedded in a more general piece on “repeat” abortions. That’s a pity, isn’t it? Shouldn’t these feckless baby killers be named and shamed?

You do of course wonder how the Telegraph would react if news came that anyone who’d had one abortion never had a second. Presumably this would mean that all those tragic “abortion industry“ victims / cold-hearted murderers had seen the error of their ways and vowed never to do the same again. In actual fact, though, that’s not what’s happening. Not only are there women who have more than one abortion over the course of their lives but the number who do so is increasing. (more…)

Forced motherhood is a kind of slavery, because motherhood and autonomy can never coexist.

Tanya Gold on abortion, Comment is Free

I am a mother. I’m also pro-choice. Much as I appreciated Tanya Gold’s recent piece on the human cost of anti-choice ideologies, the above statement, which appeared in the final paragraph, has got to me – and stuck in my mind ever since. When Gold writes of motherhood and autonomy never coexisting, does she mean all motherhood or just the forced motherhood of her earlier clause? Is this merely a case of over-editing or an actual belief about every experience of being a mother? If it’s the latter, I’m unsettled (and would advise Gold to steer well clear of anything by Rachel Cusk).

Mothers are not a different class of human beings, or rather, if they are, they shouldn’t be. They are people with a wide range of experiences, beliefs and responsibilities. We shouldn’t have to big up the magnitude of motherhood in order to convince ourselves that reproductive rights matter. If we are able to value women regardless of their reproductive status then that should be enough. (more…)

Until this week, I didn’t realise bump painting – having one’s heavily pregnant belly decorated by a professional face painter – was “a thing”. I knew about those plaster casts some women get made, and that some pregnant women choose to wear “statement” T-shirts (“Under Construction”, “Baby on Board”, “It Started With A Fuck” – I may have tweaked that last one slightly). But I didn’t know that some were actually going in for having their tummies made into temporary works of art. This is annoying; if I had known, I’d probably have had it done myself.
(more…)

In the Guardian’s Saturday interview, Aida Edemariam puts the following question to Maria Miller, who has both spoken and voted in favour of reducing the abortion time limit to 20 weeks:

Let’s say that a woman goes for a routine anomalies scan at 20 weeks. And let’s say, because of timing, or because maternity units are often so oversubscribed, this turns into 21 weeks. And at that point this woman discovers that the foetus she’s carrying has a terrible anomaly and will either die  in the womb or have a terrible quality of life, for both baby and mother – what would you say to her?

I think it’s a good question. I’d probably ask it, too. Except I wouldn’t because I’m not a journalist, hence I’m not trained in asking politicians the right questions, those questions which are relevant and pointed and put them on the spot. It’s only people such as Edemariam who are able to do this. This may be why Miller notes that  “the only people who ever ask me about this issue are journalists”. Too bloody right, Maria. The rest of us, well, we’d only fluff our lines. That’s if we got to interview you at all, which we won’t. It’s not our job. This doesn’t mean you don’t owe us answers all the same. (more…)

Eight years ago my partner and I became addicted to “gritty hospital drama” Bodies. Set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictional UK hospital, the series tracks the moral descent of registrar Rob Lake, who becomes aware that his superior is bungling procedures and maiming the women he treats. Two years after watching the series I became pregnant for the first time and tried to forget I’d ever seen it. Of course, I knew that real life wasn’t like that. Your average registrar isn’t as fit as Max Beesley, for starters, plus you’d hope your average consultant wasn’t as incompetent as Patrick Baladi’s Mr Hurley. All the same, things can go wrong, just like on TV, and just like on TV, sometimes all you can do is watch. (more…)

I can assure you that no other lefty will dare touch this subject given the response I got today

tweet from @mehdirhasan, following responses to at his anti-abortion piece in the New Statesman / Huffington Post

Dear Mehdi Hasan

As someone who, like you, would describe themselves as “on the left”, I’m dreadfully disappointed that fellow lefties have let you down so badly following your groundbreaking piece Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty. You have been called “evil, a dickhead, sexist, misogynist, a dictator and the enemy”, and “a self-righteous little prick”. Worse still, bloggers have come up with virulent pieces such as this and this, which go so far as to accuse you, if not of being the type of person who fetishises “selfishness and unbridled individualism”, then at least of being in the wrong. I’m not surprised you’re upset and feel that the other side “effectively dominates and closes down the debate”. Well, sod them. You don’t have to listen to what they say – don’t they realise they’re just meant to listen to you? (more…)

So, where do you stand on the real abortion debate? I don’t mean the one about whether or not women should be able to have abortions. I mean the one about whether or not men should be able to say stuff about abortions. I hadn’t realised it, but apparently a man’s right to express anti-choice views is under greater threat than a woman’s right to choose not to continue with a pregnancy. Clearly this is disturbing stuff. Whatever happened to a man’s right to pontificate ad infinitum?

Following health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s declaration of support for a halving of the abortion time limit, the Spectator blog has run a piece by Freddy Gray which articulates this far more serious threat to human rights:
(more…)

“Bigot” and “hypocrite” are words I don’t use all that often, but all the same I probably use them too much. They don’t say an awful lot about people, other than that I find their views hateful and/or morally inconsistent, yet none of this is terribly productive. There are always people who’ll claim that it’s bigoted to label other people bigots in the first place. And since we’re probably all hypocrites in one way or another, it no doubt is hypocritical to call another person a hypocrite. In fact, it may be far safer just to call anyone who annoys you a fucking annoying fuck (but bear in mind that that’s still rude).

That being said, there is something about Republican Scott DesJarlais that continues to make me want to scream “hypocritical bigot!”. This could be the fact he is a Republican Congressman who stands on an anti-abortion platform, yet nevertheless encouraged a woman with whom he had an affair to have an abortion (as an added bonus, DesJarlais – a doctor – first met the woman while treating her as a patient). This all happened ten years ago, of course. Since then DesJarlais has declared on his website that “all life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life”. It’s really quite a turnaround for someone who, when his back was against the wall, was recommending to his ex-lover that they “get it over with so we can get on with our lives”. He’s since got on with his life, that’s for sure. (more…)

So it’s all kicking off about Jeremy Hunt’s 12-week abortion limit pronouncement. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s all about making Maria Miller look reasonable. Maybe it’s all about drawing attention away from massive NHS cuts. Maybe David Cameron’s played his hand too soon by disagreeing with Hunt but revealing he’d like to lower the limit, too. Maybe … Well, we can all speculate. I’m just a bit worried that “spot the distraction” is become the distraction itself.*

Amidst all this, one thing in particular has started to annoy me. It’s the emergence of an ever-growing number of pro-choice “voices of reason”. In this particular case they tell us that yes, Hunt is wrong, and no, we don’t want a return to the bad old days, but hey, let’s not get carried away. It’s not as though all this is going to happen tomorrow. It’s just a thing Jeremy Hunt said and besides, it’s not as though abortion isn’t a complex moral issue. And then comes the part where pro-choicers are encouraged to be that bit more honest about the whole debate and to stop pretending that it’s just about “a woman’s right to choose”. After all, it’s way more complicated than that. We need to come clean and confess that weighing up the pros and cons of preserving a woman’s bodily integrity and taking the life of a potential baby is hard. We need to be more open. We need to acknowledge that no one likes abortion. We need to – (more…)

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes the legal abortion time limit should be reduced to 12 weeks. “It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start,” he explains. Well, if that’s your view, Jeremy, who am I – a mere fertile woman with her own body and opinions – to argue? Although to be honest, I’m not quite seeing the link between this and making access to a termination even more difficult and restricted than it already is. The point at which human life begins and whether or not an individual woman’s bodily integrity should be sacrificed in order to sustain the life of another strike me as two completely different issues. Or have I missed something? Is my feminism just not “modern” enough? (more…)

Maria Miller describes herself as “a very modern feminist”. In a similar vein, I would like describe myself as “a very modern Conservative Party supporter” plus, as a hobby, “a very modern axe murderer”. Right now I’m eating my lunch, “a very modern Michelin starred feast”, which merely happens to look and taste exactly like a cheese and marmite sandwich.

Modern feminist Miller – Tory minister for women – has reiterated her support for a reduction in the legal limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20. Quoted in the Guardian, she claims to be “driven by that very practical impact that late term abortion has on women”, and notes an apparent need to “reflect the way medical science has moved on”. Sigh. This is all very boring, isn’t it? Not that unwanted pregnancies and waiting lists and doctor’s signatures and fear and pain and isolation are boring. But the argument’s boring, isn’t it? The same one, again and again, unmoving, as dates and rights are chipped away at simply by the lack of response. (more…)

For all I know, Sarah Louise Catt is a heartless human being who felt no shame in breaking the law and ending a pregnancy one week before the due date. I didn’t attend her trial, don’t live in her head and have no idea, in the grand scheme of things, how harshly she deserves to be judged. Why, then, does her eight-year sentence for administering a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage disturb me so much?

I have been pregnant three times. I have two children. I have never had a pregnancy that wasn’t wanted – I have no idea what that feels like. I know what it feels like to be pregnant, and to lose a pregnancy, and to carry two pregnancies to term. I can’t understand why Catt acted as she did. I can’t imagine ever being in such a place, nor how I’d justify making the choices she made. But these are all idle thoughts – I’ve never been her. (more…)

Calling all mums-to-be! I hope you don’t mind me asking but have you really thought this one through? I know, you’re all excited about the impending birth but do you actually, honestly know what you’re doing? And yes, people might have said this to you before, but you should listen to me. I might not know you, but I’m a doctor.*

Pregnancy and childbirth can seriously damage your health. Trust me – I might turn out to have a PhD in something entirely unrelated to healthcare, but I’ve had children, so I should know. Except I don’t. No one ever went through a list of all the possible negative effects with me (and I went to see the GP loads!). In the interests of writing this post, I’ve just gone and googled a list myself. There are a lot of effects I recognise but hadn’t given much thought to until now, plus there are others about which I knew nothing at all. For instance, I had no idea pregnancy could be linked to a loss of bone calcium. And as for prolapsed uterus – well, I knew it could happen, but I had no idea that it affected as many as 11% of women. 11 sodding percent! And all that’s before you scroll down to the really serious stuff (including, naturally, death). Flippin’ heck! Do these children of mine, currently scrapping over whose turn it is to push down the lever on the toaster, have any idea what I’ve risked for them? Do they heck as like. And to make matters worse, I can’t even change my mind and undo it all. The damage has been done, both to the toaster and to me. (more…)

There’s a story in the news at the moment relating to sex, reproduction and consent. Well, okay, there are several (and each is maddeningly offensive in its own special way). But this one stands out from all the others. This one relates to husbands, wives and sperm donation. A woman in Surrey whose husband donated sperm without her knowledge is calling for new guidelines to treat sperm as a “marital asset”, which would mean that in future sperm could not be donated without the spouse’s views being taken into account. (more…)

Today’s Guardian features a piece by Jonathan Freedland advising male politicians on what’s required to appeal to the laydeez. I’ve had a good read and as a full-on, humourless feminist, I’d say it passes the test. The basic rules are:

  1. don’t be a rape-excusing, anti-choice dickhead
  2. when considering new policies, don’t forget that thing about “women being people, too”

And who can argue with that? Not me, and I tend to be someone who could get embroiled in a heated exchange with a corpse. So why is it that the piece still makes me feel so uneasy? (more…)

Calling all non-male occupiers of human bodies! Have you ever stopped to wonder whether each constituent part of the organism in which you reside is being owned and deployed in the most efficient manner possible?

I have been performing an audit of the heap of flesh and bones which, using a somewhat inaccurate shorthand, I happen to call “me”. It has come to my attention that the multiple ownership of “me” is becoming unwieldy, leading to serious concerns about productivity. In order to provide a template for other non-male body occupiers wishing to perform a similar analysis, here’s where I – or should I say “I” – find myself in terms of body distribution and possession: (more…)

When I was pregnant with my children, I told people early on – way before the 12-week mark. It’s a decision I don’t regret, particularly when I recall the aftermath of an early miscarriage. Recently, though, I’ve started thinking that I wouldn’t do the same again. It’s not that I’m pregnant now, although you’ll have to take my word for it. The fact is, if I were pregnant, I’m not sure I’d want anyone to know until after I’d had all “the tests”.

I am on the wrong side of 35. The side upon which, apparently, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong, at least if you’re female. Reproductively you’re running out of time but as if that wasn’t bad enough, like Jackie in Footballer’s Wives, you start getting “rotten eggs”. You might still have a baby, but it might not be as healthy as the babies you could have had earlier (we’re assuming you’ve always had money and been in a stable relationship; if not, well, you just don’t deserve a baby, ever). That said, it’s probably best not to worry about it. After all, who do you think you are? You’re not some Nazi eugenicist, you’re a pregnant woman, and it’s time to start acting like one. The trouble is, I’m not sure I’d be prepared to do that. (more…)

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