Slippery Sophistry

In response to the series of exposes by the Daily Telegraph last week, Voice for Choice, ‘the coalition to defend and extend women’s choice on abortion’, has released an open letter of support. (h/t SPUC)

I was left open-mouthed in astonishment by some of its claims, which are crying out for a good fisking.

As can be expected, all of the signatories are members of pro-abort lobby groups and providers, including Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS and Lisa Hallgarten, director of the former charity, Education for Choice. The amateur nature of the arguments encapsulated in the letter was summarised by the suggested reading list, which included blog entries from the various signatories, such as Ms Berer and Ms Hallgarten, a link to Nadine Dorries’ piece on Conservative Home, links to the Telegraph articles and most amusingly an editorial from that bastion of common sense and moral ethics – The Observer. Had the pro-life lobby signed a letter with those sources, Dr Evan Harris and his ilk would have been all over it like a cheap suit, decrying the lack of scientific evidence and satirising the use of opinion pieces as sources. Instead of linking to scientific studies and sources, or academic papers regarding the practice and ethics of gender selective abortion, readers are urged to reference individual blogs and a supportive column in the national press and take this as “supporting evidence”. The only reason for the mention of the Telegraph and Mrs Dorries’ piece is so that the reader can read what is being referenced and instead of being directly linked to in the letter, they are listed at the bottom of the list of sources, to be read once the pro-abort lobby have had their say. If I wrote something for widespread circulation that I expected to be taken as a basis for informing policy and debate citing only opinion pieces and personal blogs, then the work would be written off for lack of an evidence base and its biased nature.

In the style of the indomitable Father Z, I shall reproduce certain extracts and highlight my comments in bold.

In the face of the Daily Telegraph’s attempt to entrap and discredit a number of doctors who provide abortions – entrap? That means to force a person to commit an offence that they would not ordinarily have committed. So the doctors would not normally have referred to abortions on the grounds of gender then? They would not normally have said “no questions asked” or, as in the case of Dr Mohan, falsified paperwork? Those mean old undercover investigators made them do it?

we believe…that the provision of safe, accessible abortion care is a vital element of health care provision. I guess that depends upon whether or not you are the unborn baby, for whom the procedure is not particularly ‘healthy’. Nobody has mentioned the Republic of Ireland where abortion is banned and yet maternal death rates are among the lowest in the world and still dropping.

Similarly, abortion on grounds of sex selection is neither legal nor illegal in itself.1 Under the 1967 Abortion Act, it is the effect of the pregnancy on a woman’s health, mental health and life that must be taken into account to determine whether or not she has grounds for abortion. – actually they’ve got this bit correct, but that still means that “no questions asked”, which 3 of the consultants stated, was in breech of the Act. It is morally and legally dubious to pronounce that having a specific gender is going to cause so much damage to a woman’s health, mental health and life, that she must abort the baby, with no further questions asked. The law demands further enquiry and probity.

Rather, the law gives doctors the responsibility to decide whether the risk of continuing the pregnancy to the woman’s health and mental health is greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. In making this judgement, doctors are directed by the law to take into account the woman’s personal circumstances. – which rules out a no-questions asked policy. Duh!

The 1967 Abortion Act gave doctors the responsibility for authorising abortions in the belief that women could not be trusted to take this decision for themselves. – spot the feminist revisionism. No it didn’t. The Abortion Act gave doctors the responsibility, because it recognised the gravity inherent in the taking of a life of the unborn. Trusting a woman had nothing to do with it. The Act recognised that this was a medical procedure, like any other and thus the clinical decision needed to be taken by the medics, having taken into account all of the circumstances, if all other possibilities were closed to a woman. Abortion was NEVER envisaged as a right or a lifestyle choice. If I went to the GP tomorrow and asked for breast implants to take me up to a double HH, otherwise there was a serious risk to my health, the doctor would not simply refer me for the procedure forthwith. They would recognise the risks inherent in surgery and explore whether or not this was a strictly necessary procedure. The abortion is the ending of a human life, the removal of a baby from a mother’s womb. Why is this decision of less gravitas than cosmetic surgery for whatever reason? A woman will still have to live with the outcome of her cosmetic surgery or lack thereof, so what right does a doctor have to refuse it?

Hence, most doctors are willing to provide an abortion referral for a woman if she requests it because they understand that continuing an unwanted pregnancy is not good for women or their children, and will almost always cause a woman greater distress than having an abortion. – really? Do we have the stats to back that up? If so why are they not cited? Whether or not abortion is more harmful than pregnancy is greatly contested amongst the academics. Certainly not what the study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported in September 2011 – stating that women who had an abortion had an 81% increased risk of mental health problems. Have any qualitative studies been carried out of women (such as myself) who have carried an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy to term? Would it really have been better for me to have had 3 of my children aborted? Would I feel so much better? Hmmm. No-one can qualify this claim with any certainty because of the nature of the variables.

We think that abortion should be available on a woman’s request, and not be governed by criminal statute at all. – in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies – they would say that wouldn’t they? Which would presumably mean abortion up to birth and post-birth abortions, if you follow through that logic.

We are also opposed to gender discrimination, but sex selective abortion is not gender discrimination. – ???? Eh. What???? Lovely piece of semantics here. Sex is not gender because it’s a social construct presumably? We’re in Blackadder territory – “Lord be Praised, it’s a boy without a winkle”!! In any event it’s evidence that most have not yet thankfully bought into Judith Butler’s nonsense. Discrimination means choice. What is abortion on the grounds of a lack or addition of penis, if it is not gender discrimination?

Gender discrimination applies only to living people. A fetus does not have rights in the same way as a living person does, and therefore cannot be said to suffer from discrimination. – ah there’s the nub of it. It’s not really a person and therefore has no rights, therefore we can do as we please with it. Choosing to abort because the baby is not a boy/girl isn’t discrimination, which can only apply to a person. I see. Discrimination is only concerned with the treating of people unfairly, so given it’s not a person, it can’t be unfair to kill it because of its gender. Hmmm. I see…

sex selective abortion may be one of the consequences of gender discrimination, but it is not a cause of gender discrimination. – its getting increasingly slippery here. Think you’ll find that if there are less girls (or boys) in a country’s overall demographic due to sex selective abortion, it has a massive impact upon that society’s behaviour. Societies where there are less girls for example, suffer from more violence, more violent crimes against women and higher rates of sex-trafficking. China is taking steps to limit this practice due to concerns that a boy’s inability to marry will cause psychological concerns and more violent crimes. Sex selective abortions are all about the worth of a particular gender’s (usually women) life.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, who otherwise claims he wants doctors to be in charge of all our health care services, said that doctors would face the “full force” of the law if they break the 1967 Abortion Act. This is hard to swallow, especially considering that many of us hadn’t even been born the last time a doctor had to face the full force of the law in relation to illegal abortion. – how’s that for a piece of irrelevant cant? I wasn’t alive when the offence against the Persons’ Act was passed, most of us weren’t alive when many laws that affect our everyday lives were passed, that doesn’t make them any the less applicable or binding. Ignorance of the law is no defence.

The Health Secretary should know better than most that the 1967 Abortion Act was formulated precisely to allow doctors to exercise their professional judgement. It is shocking that he would threaten them with prosecution for doing so on such flimsy evidence. – flimsy evidence? You mean video recordings showing the doctors not making any attempt to adhere to the law and make any enquiries as to whether or not the woman fitted any of the grounds laid out in the Abortion Act. Nothing like a piece of outrage to up the emotional ante, attack being the best form of defence.

Then follows the obligatory smear of Nadine Dorries, without which, no pro-abort literature is worth its salt. Then to conclude:

The vast majority of heterosexually active people of reproductive age are currently using a method of contraception to the best of their ability, but one in three women in Britain will have an abortion in her lifetime. – no contraception is 100% effective right? So is that 1 in 3 women will have a contraceptive failure, or 1 in 3 women will choose to have an abortion? Nice bit of conflation to befuddle the issue and typical of the soft marketing messages given out by the abortion providers. Social conditioning is a known sales, marketing technique. When faced with a choice or dilemma we look to the examples of other people to validate our own actions. What do we teach our children? I’m not interested in what little Johnny does. What matter is what YOU do. Same principle.

We applaud their commitment in the face of unwarranted harassment and condemnation. – unwarranted harassment. I remember last year Dr Evan Harris’ absence of evidence is evidence of absence argument. He argued that because there was no evidence of abuses by clinics with regards to abuses of the law, then that lack of evidence was in itself evidence that everything was fine. Undercover filming to ascertain whether or not clinics are operating in according to the law, is not harassment. It’s a review, which should have been done by the Quality Care Commission. Every other industry is subject to outside review, it seems that this is yet another area in which the CQC has been lax. Which is why Cynthia Bower resigned last week.

every public debate show that most people in Britain are aware of and support the right to use contraception and the right of women to seek abortion when pregnancy is unwanted. – rightyho, so what do you make of the Sky News Live poll last week in which 74% of participants expressed the view that abortion is far too easy to obtain?

We call on everyone who supports family planning, including safe abortion, to express their appreciation for the health professionals who provide them. – by baking them cakes and buying them thank-you cards, like the 40 Treats for Life people? Bleurgh. Looking at that photo stream again, I noticed that Easter eggs are some of the treats donated? Could anything be more subverted than the Easter egg, the symbol of new life, given to people who think that destroying it is serving some great purpose to humanity.

Voice for Choice. It’s a catchy name for a group, but like so many other slogans, it’s utterly shallow.

11 thoughts on “Slippery Sophistry

  1. I would like to read your blog. Just a hint. Its too long and you get lost after the first couple of paragraphs. Only the truly committed ( and two of your respondees should be committed) will be bothered. Therefore it will convince no-one. All it will do is massage the vanity of similar minds. No doubt you will visit their blogs and do the same, making a cosy but totally pointless little circle.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I think you’ll find that thoughtful blogs will tend to be longer in order to explain and develop cogent arguments.

      I don’t comment very much on others’ blogs and am often critical or raise issues that the blogger may have overlooked. It’s rarely pointless or about ego massaging, but ensuring that all sides of the debate are considered. Short pithy soundbites tend to be lacking in substance.

      Still I’m sorry you felt unable to engage on any meaningful level.

  2. Oh, as if easter eggs make any sense as a symbol – new life, drained out and dyed, or more commonly, mass produced cheaply and hidden for small children. Eew.

    Caroline, your response seemed really damning, until I read the actual letter. Very often, you misinterpret the statements.

    I agree that it’s a bad idea to give sex selectivity in itself a pass. However, banning it based on personhood rights would be wrong if it’s not a person. That section is in no way related to a Judith Butler gender thesis.

    But, they observe correctly that there would be no motive for sex selection if cultural and religious institutions didn’t still teach that women caused original sin and all of the ideological baggage that goes with that. You ignore this part of the argument completely and it’s relevant.

    Also contributing, is the assumption of women’s dependence on marriage for honor, or because of a lack of reproductive control – also religious ideas. If you truly want sex selection to cease, you have to confront the fact that the very notions you put forward are very close relatives to ones that drive it and making abortion illegal, or difficult to get for everyone will not change the occurence of it very much at all.

    As an aside, I was surprised and confused by the nature of the UK abortion act, and do find it very outdated. How on earth are doctors supposed to accurately judge a woman’s current mental health in a short period of time? And projected mental well being? Later laws recognize that these kinds of decisions are purely subjective and absurd.
    I don’t think that having that in place is very helpful for the pro-life movement either. Obliging doctors to make unmakable decisions doesn’t achive what you want, and could (certianly should) lead to revolt.


    Not being alive when a law is passed and not being alive when ‘the full force’ of it is brought to bear are two very different things. Changes in sentencing create presecedent and indicate a shift toward or away from the substance of the law. While this prescedent is not binding, slapping a doctor with the full force now would be pretty arbitrary. It’s not an ignorance argument, it’s a relevance argument.

    The skynews live poll: it’s a cable news poll. Are you using a cable news poll as supporting evidence? No, I thought not.

    1. More sophistry. Hardly any surprise.

      Gender selection is cultural, not religious and has nothing to do with original sin.

      As for attempting to deny the symbolism of Easter eggs – lame 🙂

      My post clearly rattled you.

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