Allison Pearson has written a thought-provoking piece about the burka debate in her Daily Telegraph column. I disagree with her, on grounds of both libertarianism and religious freedom, however she raises an interesting issue, quoting Sarah Wollaston’s tweet that the burka won’t be banned because too many politicians will hide behind the guise of freedom.
I’ve already written about this issue for this week’s Universe column, so I don’t intend to re-hash the arguments, but this point about creeping oppression dressed up as freedom of choice seems far more salient when it comes to the subject of abortion.
Arguably abortion is infinitely more oppressive than whether or not a woman is being coerced into wearing a piece of clothing or even prevented from certain activities (by the way Muslim women are not forbidden from swimming, specialised swimwear is available) because the way it is promoted and encouraged by society, automatically presents women with a choice, which is not a good in itself. Choice is not a value that we should put above all others. There is nothing to be ashamed about being labelled ‘anti-choice’ when one considers what the nature of that actual choice is, namely the decision to end the life of another human being.
But like it or not, despite the fact that the UK’s legal framework is designed for the protection of unborn life, every single pregnant woman is now forced into the position where she has to consider and indeed medically affirm whether or not she wishes to carry her unborn child to term and give birth to them. This then presents a whole new set of dilemmas and pressures, such as does a woman have the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ set up to have her baby and if not, is she being responsible or even fair to unborn child to allow it to live?
When we consider that abortion on the grounds of sex seems to be allowed to go unpunished, in the name of reproductive choice, is this really freedom or oppression dressed up in the name of choice? Given that girls and disabled children are the main victims of freedom of choice, how can we claim this as liberating? What is free about a society in which children are not given the basic right to life, on the grounds that their sex or physical disability is seen as an inconvenience?
Equality is not achieved by banning a piece of clothing, but changing prevailing attitudes which leads to thinking that certain sections of society are second or third-class citizens. If we want to tackle perceived unfairness we should start with the fundamental principle that every unborn child deserves protection, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, their sex or their physical ability. Anything else is oppression, for mother and child alike, even if it is marketed and sold in the name of choice.