Another day, another pro-lifer…
From All that Chas.
Another day, another pro-lifer…decides their viewpoint on the ethics of abortion must be heard. Today, our resident anti-choicer is Mehdi Hasan, who considers it greatly important that we know one can be both left-wing and pro-life. Quite what relevance he thinks this has to the abortion debate I’m not sure, but Hasan seems to think he’ll get some kudos for not being a right-wing nutbag as anti-choicers usually tend to be. Sorry chap, it doesn’t work that way. Ladies are well aware that men can pride themselves on saying and doing all the correct liberal, lefty political things, and still be downright women haters. Julian Assange, anyone?
But let’s consider what Hasan feels he has to bring to the debate. He starts with a defence one of my painfully right wing (Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-feminist) relatives has trotted out to me before, pretty much word for word “Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?” Anyone who canonises a zygote, embryo or foetus over a living woman has pretty much shown which flag they’re nailing their colours to. Yet Hasan’s article was (seemingly) defended by James Bloodworth, another left-wing man, who tweeted “not all pro-lifers are simply anti-women.” Sorry fellas, but I’m not buying it. If you want to erase women from the picture and rate their life behind those of the unborn, then you’re anti-woman. You don’t get to wriggle out of that just because you put your argument forth nicely and calmly and don’t stand outside women’s clinics hollering and holding up pictures [of] dead foetuses.
Hasan then puts forward the bizarre argument that because the UK is ‘the exception and not the rule’ with its abortion time limit being higher than the rest of Europe, that’s somehow reason enough for us to fall in line and follow suit for the sake of consistency. Hmmm, just like Britain went into the Euro just for the sake of fitting in….oh, wait. Anyway, why compare Britain to the likes of Italy – where the Catholic church has massive influence – when you could compare it to Canada, another liberal Western country, where there is no time limit on abortion?
He also point outs “how 91 per cent of British abortions are carried out in the first 13 weeks”, which is actually a fact that I do wish more people would take notice of in the argument about the 24 week limit. Unfortunately he goes on to say “You may disagree with a 12-week cut-off but to pretend it is somehow arbitrary, or extreme, or even unique is a little disingenuous.” No, where I disagree is with people who act like the small percentage of women who do get late term abortions just get pregnant, hang about for 23 weeks twiddling their hair and then decide to ‘kill their baby’ at the last minute. The majority of late term abortions are given to women who WANTED to give birth, but discovered major deformities or life-threatening conditions after the crucial 20 week scan, and to vulnerable women such as rape victims and sexually abused minors, who are often in denial about a pregnancy. How denying much-needed abortions to women in either of these terrible circumstances is ‘protecting the vulnerable’, I’ll never know. To me it sounds like utter sadism.
But Hasan’s clever – he’s even trying to manipulate feminism to support a pro-life agenda. Wot, you mean some women who fought for votes and equal treatment in the 1700s and 1800s were anti abortion? Oh right, better alter my whole ideology on that basis. For the record I love Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, but I can accept that they were wrong or misguided on some points. They also lived in an extremely different era where childbearing was seen as effectively mandatory due to the lack of available/reliable birth control, let alone abortion access. The likes of Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes changed that by promoting birth control and were harangued for it (much like those defending the right of women to control their fertility are today – hmmm, I see a pattern). Neither of those women were perfect either – Sanger made some very unfortunate statements about using birth control for eugenics. But I support and believe in the good things they did, without believing I have to subscribe mindlessly to everything they say just because they’re a) women and b) feminists.
But Hasan even has a 21st Century feminist up his sleeve, or so he claims. He describes Daphne de Jong as a New Zealand feminist author – all I can find about her is that she has written a lot of Mills and Boon novels, oh and – she just happens to be part of ‘Feminists for Life’, an organisation that claims to be both feminist and pro-life. Much like my mate who’s both Palestinian and Zionist. But OK, let’s address De Jong’s claim that “If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic or social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience.” Yes, that’s a good point. It’s utterly wrong, and counter to the aims of feminism, that women should ever have abortions simply to fit in with a male-dictated system. Funnily enough, it’s also counter to the aims of feminism that women should be made to give birth simply to fit in with a male-dictated system. And what is Mehdi Hasan asking us to do? Legislate about women’s bodies based upon what he, Jeremy Hunt and Christopher Hitchens think. Last I checked, that’s a pretty fucking male-dictated system.
But Hasan just can’t let go of this idea that being a woman automatically makes you a feminist, or pro-woman. Apparently 49 percent of women would support a reduction in the abortion limit – OK, I’ve never met any of them apart from the wife of the anti-abortion relative mentioned above, but I’ll assume the poll was taken from a broad enough pool. I wonder how many of those women are past reproductive age, single or happy mothers who can’t imagine ever wanting or needing an abortion. It’s easy to argue against abortion when it’s theoretical and will not impact upon your own life. Just look at how ‘pro-life’ US Representative Scott DesJarlais switched from saying “all life should be cherished and protected” to pressuring his pregnant mistress into getting an abortion the moment his happy little set-up was threatened by an unwanted pregnancy. Or have a read of the deeply revealing article ‘The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion’, where abortion clinic workers reveal that many of the ‘pro-lifers’ who picketed outside their clinics later turned up wanting a termination themselves.
As my dad, who manages to be both a man and pro-choice, often says ‘It’s easy to argue from a position of no consequence’. It’s easy to be a woman who doesn’t want or need an abortion, or a man whose bodily autonomy will never be threatened, and say abortion is wrong. Wait til your needs or your life changes. I wonder how Hasan would feel if one of his daughters (and it bears saying he is lucky to have two WANTED children) came to him after a rape, or with a life-endangering pregnancy, and he had to explain to her she was morally obliged to go through with a birth that might ruin her life, or kill both her and her baby, because her dad felt she should not be allowed to make a decision about her own body.
I think Hasan is using his credentials as a ‘left-wing’ man with ‘progressive principles’ (I use quotes because I do not believe him to be progressive in any way) to try to obscure the fact that being anti-abortion does make you anti-woman. The fact is, his left-lean has nothing to do with this argument. Neither does the fact he is not religious. They are not even worth mentioning, and the fact he does shows he feels he needs to try and pre-empt the inevitable accusations of being a woman-hater by hiding behind the ‘Moi? Impossible? I’m a liberal kinda guy!’ defence.
But feminists are smarter than that. We know that you can be left or right wing, male or female, religious or atheist, and still be insidiously trying to erode women’s right to bodily autonomy. So when Hasan asks “my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists”, it’s a pretty bloody tall order. Because on this issue, Mr Hasan your ‘principles’, make you indistinguishable from those ‘right-wing reactionaries’ and ‘medieval misogynists’ you are trying to distance yourself from. And that is why I am not interested in trying to ‘understand and respect’ your views.
Anti-choice = anti-woman. It’s always that simple.
Catherine Scott is a freelance feminist writer who has worked for Ms Magazine and the BBC. She has also written for Bitch magazine, the Independent and the Times Literary Supplement. Read her full bio at cathscott.co.uk.