Abortion: it takes a man to tell it like it is

As any woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy will know, deciding what to do involves a delicate balancing act. Do you make a decision based on your physical and mental health, and the impact continuing the pregnancy will have on your entire future? Or do you take into account the feelings of people you’ve never met, who don’t have to live your life, but who may feel, well, a bit icky at the thought of you having a termination? It’s a difficult situation, and one on which pregnant women aren’t really qualified to comment since they obviously have such a vested interest. Thank heavens, then, for men like Daniel Sokol, who’ve studied law and ethics and don’t have wombs to get in the way of them thinking straight.

Writing in the Guardian yesterday, Daniel summed up the problems reasonable men have faced when the stupid, irrational masses have their traditional face-off regarding abortion:

 Of course, for some, the answer was crystal clear: abortion is murder most foul of a helpless human being; for others, such as Professor Sally Sheldon, who wrote for Guardian Law last month, abortion is the denial of female autonomy “in this most personal of decisions” and to hell with doctors telling women what to do with their bodies.

The morons! Don’t they realise it’s all a bit more complicated than that? (“denial of female autonomy”! I ask you!). Thankfully, Daniel has chosen to ignore random anti-abortionists and, um, women with professorships, and asked some nameless students for their views instead:

For the majority of students, however, the issue was morally opaque. They felt uneasy at the woman who sought an abortion to maintain a svelte figure for a beach holiday or who aborted out of preference for a baby boy rather than baby girl; sympathetic to the 14-year-old rape victim; and protective of the mother whose life would be put at risk by the unborn child.

Ah yes, good abortion / bad abortion, with the usual cast of characters. The imaginary woman who wants to maintain her figure (and doesn’t, say, also CLEARLY NOT WANT A BABY). The sexist bitch who doesn’t want a girl (obviously the issue here is abortion law and not tackling gender prejudice, right?). The lovely, innocent rape victim (providing, one assumes, it wasn’t date rape or one of the countless other “grey area” rapes – let’s make sure these things are proved in a court of law. And let’s not include adult rape victims, either). And the mother whose life would be put at risk by the unborn child (er, not wishing to get too technical, but isn’t that, like, ALL PREGNANT WOMEN?).  Sheesh, it’s complex. Particularly for women like me and Sally Sheldon. But not for the likes of Daniel Sokol:

 The Abortion Act does not, in the words of Professor Sheldon, “deny female autonomy”, it restricts it. The key question is whether the restriction is justified.

Err…. No it isn’t?

 Moral pluralism is a feature of British society. Reasonable people differ on the moral status of the foetus, the scope of the right to life, and the moral weight of women’s autonomy in abortion decisions. No position on abortion will satisfy all groups.

So why not have one which at least works on the assumption that the “moral weight of women’s autonomy” should hold final sway in abortion decisions? Given that said women are the ones facing the not remotely abstract challenges of an unwanted pregnancy? Why should we be satisfying “all groups”? (And actually satisfying none).

 Battered, bruised, and covered in mud slung from all directions, the resilient Abortion Act has survived nearly half a century. It is, in my view, a wise piece of legislation on a divisive and complex issue. It has, with time, achieved a satisfactory equilibrium. Any plans to nudge it in one or other direction should be approached with caution.

Jesus Christ. So now we’re not just meant to think of the fetus as the equivalent of an independent person – the Abortion Act itself has to be anthropomorphised! Where next?

Anyhow, just ignore me. I don’t know what I’m on about. Back to Daniel Sokol. He’s studied things. He’s got a dick. He’s not as bad as Pope Benedict. Ladies, do whatever he says.


3 thoughts on “Abortion: it takes a man to tell it like it is

  1. Well, he iS a philosopher. Philosophers love arguing in this kind of way but yes, I am pretty much with you when this philosophizing gets too much involved in the abortion debate, as it has done quite a bit on various Guardian threads recently. It is easy for a man to philosophize about abortion because abortion for him will always, no doubt about it, be theoretical. He’s not the one who has to contact the clinic, go through the procedure. Or the one who will be weighed down by pregnancy, the one giving birth which is almost always painful and hardly ever easy, the one struggling to bring up a child and having his life completely changed and not necessarily for the better.

    Any argument which seeks to call into question a woman’s autonomy re her own body and her own life is one that gets short shrift from me. And I can’t help noticing that the men who have been heartily philosophizing on the threads recently (not all with as good a grasp of philosophy as Mr Sokol) have all been, i think I’m right in saying this, anti-choice. I have pointed this out to them, saying how cold I find their arguments, and how it is a luxury for them to be able to make such arguments because hey, they will never have to make that choice. I don’t think they have the slightest grasp of what I am saying, though i make it clear enough and I don’t think they are unintelligent. No, their failure is not one of intelligence but one of empathy. For them, women are containers. The embryos get mentioned a hell of a lot, but women rather rarely. Unless they are silly, of course. . .

    1. I so agree with what you say about the lack of empathy. I find the tone of people like Daniel Sokol so dismissive and depersonalising (I remember once when I was pregnant reading a comment on a thread saying “but the pregnant woman is, technically, two people” and thinking, “no, I’m not!”. But if you can confront someone and say “look, I’m a whole person, all that’s under my skin is mine” and they still don’t believe you, there’s so little else you can do). As a middle-class white woman I couldn’t imagine sitting around openly pontificating about which rights those born without my own unfair privileges should be “allowed to” share with me, particularly if the sharing of such rights didn’t affect me in the slightest (actually, I can imagine doing that. But only if I truly believed such people were inferior to me – not quite people in the same way. Then I’d no doubt quite happily be able to philosophise about what would be an acceptable restriction on the autonomy of others …).

  2. Ultimately (and I don’t use that word a lot) it can’t be resolved through any amount of philosophizing. A woman is a real human being. As you say, there’s a failure to feel this. (And a failure to see that this is, indeed, a failure.) I too can’t imagine pontificating and theorizing about somebody else’s rights. I don’t walk in their shoes, I don’t breathe with their lungs, I don’t have to live with their decisions.

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