The whole ball game

In a 2012 interview, Gloria Steinem was asked why she felt that contraception was still an issue for feminism. Her answer was unequivocal:

Because it’s the whole ball game. It’s the whole thing. If our bodies weren’t the means of reproduction, we wouldn’t be in the jam we’re in. That’s the name of patriarchy game: to control reproduction and how many children and who owns them. That is the bottom line.

For someone who came of age in feminism’s third wave, it’s a strange thing to read. My instinct is to think of reproduction not as a something to be fought over, but as a biological millstone around women’s necks. Men do not live with the fear of getting pregnant and, if and when they do have children, they do not have to bear the physical costs. Hence reproductive rights matter because they enable women – some women, at least – to enjoy the same freedoms as men and in doing so become less dependent on the latter for support. Biology will no longer be destiny and all that.

But that’s not quite how things have worked out. Men, it seems, do not want women to make their own decisions regarding conception, pregnancy and birth. Rather than simply delight in their avoidance of Eve’s curse, men have remained very keen to make it known that PREGNANCY INVOLVES US, TOO. Whether a woman gets and/or remains pregnant is not just a matter for her. Abortion is entirely illegal in seven countries, even when a woman’s life is in danger; it is practically inaccessible in many more. Each year an estimated 47,000 women die from the complications of unsafe abortion. Women’s bodies might be metaphorical battlegrounds but the deaths are very real. Continue reading

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Not being male doesn’t make anyone less human

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An adaptation of the post that accompanied the above image:

Buried away somewhere in our collective subconscious is the knowledge that hundreds of thousands billions of children women are human beings aborted every year in the UK As a civilised, democratic society we have somehow to square what we’re allowing to happen to these young lives with our need to view ourselves as decent, compassionate and caring.

Cognitive dissonance is a term first coined by psychologists to describe the unease we feel when facing a situation which causes a conflict between our attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.  This feeling of discomfort leads to an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviours in order to restore balance.

So for instance, I might think that it’s important to vote in my local election (belief) but I can’t make it to the polling station on time.  I have some options to reduce the dissonance this causes me: I can either drop what I’m doing and make sure I do get to the voting station on time (change my behaviour) or alter my belief that voting’s important by telling myself that my vote doesn’t count anyway (change my belief).

On a societal level we’ve developed a veritable arsenal of tools to relieve our collective cognitive dissonance about women abortion.  Unwilling to change our behaviour (we allow what is effectively the terrorization of an entire sex class abortion on demand) we reduce the discomfort this causes us as a nation by altering our attitudes to women abortion.   Among the beliefs promoted to ease our consciences are that the woman has men have the ultimate right to choose what happens to ‘her’ body control women’s bodies and labour and that there are too many people with full human rights (aka men) in the world already. Continue reading

The truth about pro-choicers

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.

#notblinkered: Because we’d all be anti-choice if only they gave out more wristbands

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. Continue reading

How pro-choicers could save the unborn

“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. Continue reading

Some thoughts on motherhood, freedom and reproductive rights

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. Continue reading

Abortion: Bridging the compassion gap

“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. Continue reading