UK Social media and feminist blogs buzzed on Boxing Day following the publication of a leader article in The Times by Tim Montgomerie, who noted approvingly that the ground is shifting in the abortion debate and made the following extremely powerful point.
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.
Predictably the angry young feminist women emerged with a glut of articles about men interfering in women’s reproductive rights and the difficulties inherent in bringing up a disabled child.
Glosswitch focused upon what she saw as a misogynist and patronising attitude of pro-life male columnists towards pro-choice women and her point was hammered home by disabled campaigner Hannah Buchanan at the New Statesman, who bitterly resented what she coined as ‘being used as a totem’ or pawn by men who wish to restrict women’s bodily autonomy.
Both pieces are worth reading as they raise issues which pro-lifers should be aware of, namely the quality of life for those with disabilities and the difficulties encountered by their loved ones in terms of caring for them. Politicians who promote a pro-life or anti-abortion point of view deserve to be pilloried for their inconsistencies if they are a member of a political party that promotes measures and policies which make life intolerable or even more difficult for our disabled or chronically unwell members of society. These are people who deserve the utmost protection from the very moment that they are conceived.
Furthermore I don’t believe that Tim Montgomerie’s assertion that many women are too frightened by having to raise a disabled child, is a value judgement upon women, rather a statement of fact and one that should fill the reader with compassion, regardless of where you stand on the pro-life/pro-choice spectrum.
If women are indeed frightened of raising a disabled child (and frankly who can blame them, I know I would be equally daunted) the resulting outrage should not be directed at women, nor those who have identified their fear, but at those factors which have resulted in such terror. Both sides should surely be working to mitigate and eliminate the reasons why women feel that it will be impossible for them to be able to care for a disabled child, rather than accepting abortion as the de facto solution.
I share the rage of the feminists however my hackles are not raised by those men defending the rights of the unborn who are amongst the most vulnerable in society, their very existence being denied and obscured in a web of pseudo-medical sophistry, my anger is directed at the self-identifying feminist men who passionately argue for a woman’s ‘right to choose’ and claim that pro-lifers are unable to empathise what it is like to be faced with a crisis pregnancy.
One’s sex should not act as an automatic disqualification from discussing the subject of abortion and neither should it be assumed that being in possession of male genitalia renders empathy impossible. What makes me angry is that these men who advocate for abortion as being a perfectly acceptable and respectable option, are directly responsible for and contributing to a culture that abrogates their responsibility for a child resulting out of sexual intercourse and shifts the whole issue onto the shoulders of women. The ‘her body, her choice’ omits the logical conclusion and underlying premise of ‘ her responsibility and her consequences to face’.
This attitude of shifting all responsibility onto the woman has to be one of the biggest single contributory factors in terms of the stigma that single mums face – the opprobrium does not result from having sex, but being ‘stupid’ enough to be caught and presumably a state scrounger into the bargain without a father to support her. The proliferation of abortion means that women who choose to continue a pregnancy in less than ideal, chocolate-box, double-page magazine spread circumstances have to face a barrage of pressure either directly from displeased employers, partners, friends and family or from softer indirect cultural pressure such as that in the mainstream press and media.
The notion of ‘reproductive rights’ is a canard sold to women which does nothing but harm them, advancing the false utopia of consequence-free sex. There is no such thing as a right to abortion, in the same way that there is no guaranteed right to any medical procedure. Abortion is still technically an offence according to UK, legislation, a woman may only be granted permission to abort her unborn child if she fulfils certain criteria, none of which mention anything about it being her natural human right or even that her wishes should be paramount, although her feelings about the pregnancy would in practice be taken into consideration when weighing up mental health grounds. Dr Peter Saunders posits that 98% of UK abortions are in fact performed illegally.
The change observed by Tim Montgomerie, is one that I wrote about for the Catholic Herald back in March 2012; slowly but surely, public opinion is turning against the idea of abortion being of little consequence or import. This is an important first step because for the past twenty years, women have been fed the notion that abortion, particularly if it is in the early stages is nothing more than a vital piece of women’s clinical health care, a removal of unwanted or malignant tissue similar to a procedure like a pap smear or colposcopy.
Magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie-Claire have sought to support this idea, providing soft marketing for organisations such as Marie Stopes, heavily promoting the idea of a walk-in lunchtime abortion and advocating pro-abortion groups such as Women on Waves, in uncritical terms. I should know, I was an adolescent in the nineties and grew up surrounded by these messages, reinforced by films such as Dirty Dancing, which subtly gave out the message that without abortion, women would die as they did back in the postwar era when a dirty backstreet knitting needle was one’s only option.
The stats however do not back that up, deaths from abortions prior to the 1967 Abortion Act numbered less than 50 per year. Not that 50 deaths a year to illegal abortion should be regarded as anything but an extremely grave concern, as is the death of any woman for any preventable reason, but it’s far less than deaths from smoking or alcohol related diseases, two wholly legal pursuits, if we are going to play the numbers game. There are still a handful of legal abortion related deaths that occur on an annual basis in the UK and US in any event, the book LIME 5, an expose of the US abortion industry, explains that from 1992 to 1993, at least 23 maternal deaths were caused by abortion in America. These were reported to state agencies, but only 18 were reported to the Federal Center for Disease Control. When the official CDC report was released on mortality figures, there were only 2 deaths. Just as the CDC’s coding system rejects abortion as a cause of death, similarly in the UK, deaths and injuries from abortion are not recorded once the woman has left the clinic premises.
Thank God, I thought, for the right to safe, clean, legal abortion and due to its existence, like many women, I therefore succumbed to pressure to put myself in unsafe situations and agreed with my boyfriend that should an unplanned pregnancy occur, we’d nip it in the bud as quickly as possible, without ever really understanding what that meant, either in terms of taking a life, or the physical and mental consequences that aborting an unborn child would bring.
Where my anger emanates from is the discussion of abortion from women and men alike, who have no notion of what it must be like to be pregnant and therefore project their feelings onto women. There is nothing worse than a feisty young feminist screaming about women’s right to choose and control their bodies who has no idea of what it is like to experience pregnancy, ditto a man. Because once you find yourself pregnant, everything fundamentally changes – this is no longer an intellectual or philosophical ideal, but a living growing being inside your body that one way or another that you need to deal with.
Intuitively and instinctively you know that you are carrying a child, no matter what stage at your pregnancy you are at and especially if you have been pregnant before, which is where there are common areas of agreement with the above writers, who understand all too well the dilemmas that pregnant women face. I have had many unplanned pregnancies, I have lived the terror and uncertainty combined with the conspiracy of silence of the abortion clinic. I don’t judge women who’ve walked the path that I did, but I reserve my anger for those who aided and abetted my self-delusion and participation in what was the most evil and wantonly destructive act of my life and which has haunted me through every single subsequent pregnancy. Feminist men who advocate for women’s right to abort, ought to experience an unplanned pregnancy and abortion, before flag-waving in the name of compassion.
Where Hannah Buchanan is wrong is to describe the decision to abort a disabled baby as a complex medical one. Even today’s sophisticated ante-natal sonography is unable to give a detailed prognosis as to the severity of a condition or quality of life experienced by a disabled person, instead everything is pathologised into a worst-case scenario. The mother or parents are given a likely prognosis and then weigh up whether or not they believe that they will be able to cope with a child in that situation. Concepts of love, joy, happiness are rarely mentioned whereas pain, despair, misery, panic and logistics are top of the agenda.
The decision to abort a disabled child is not a medical one in that a mother is not weighing up risks to her own life, which abortion statistics tell us are incredibly rare, but social factors. We should not allow ourselves to be befuddled by the clinical language and pathologisation of conditions, which all add to the fear factor – medics tend to speak in the abstract – of likelihoods, possibilities, forgetting that this is a human life at stake, a defenceless baby as opposed to a hypothetical scenario.
Ultimately the angry women are right to be angry, but not at the men who seek to defend all human life, but those who wish to place all the responsibility for the consequences of sex and the upbringing of children upon women whilst getting a sexual free ride. We should all be angry at incoherent and inconsistent politicians who are not prepared to politically follow through on their duties to the disabled unborn.
Glosswitch is right in her analysis that abortion is morally messy and difficult. This is a truth which the abortion industry are trying their hardest to counter, because once we admit that, then we admit that abortion is not morally neutral, good or a desirable thing, which is what every pregnant woman intuitively knows. It’s why we see organisations like Education for Choice desperately trying to dissuade young people otherwise and it’s why Tim Montgomerie has acknowledged that the ground is shifting and why we see rad-fems pushing back against the notion that every abortion is a tragedy. Pro-choicers who acknowledge this cede vital ideological ground in the abortion debate.
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.
‘It’s actually a baby’ is the inconvenient truth. That we’re all human beings, we all make difficult choices is true and we all have to own our bodies and lives, is also true, however we do not own the bodies of other people, including those of our children. Killing unborn children is the less satisfactory answer, and we should reject any ideology which seeks to promote it as honest or worst still ‘humane’.
We can respect the right of other women to own their bodies, we can give our love and support to women free of insult and invective, but this can not be extended to supporting the right to terminate lives because the alternative comes at too much cost. This is where our anger is most usefully directed.
If we can create an environment where smoking is largely taboo, yet smokers do not on the whole face social ostracism or censure, then why can we not do the same with the life of an unborn child, regardless of whether or not they are able-bodied?