Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Abortion: You Be Her Judge

I liked this. I also really despair of some men, sometimes. I'm not going to go into it too much, as the article smacks down the pillocks quite thoroughly, and I have other things on my wandering mind.

I read all the comments on that piece, which I tend not to do on blogs (I don't enjoy trollfights, as a rule), and I continue to be fascinated by some of the arguments that anti-abortionists come out with, as well as those put forward by "centrists" or "moderates". I mean, this one-per-customer idea - what good is that going to do anyone? Once is alright, but twice is murder? Obviously I know why they suggest it, because they tell me. It's about responsibility. We must be responsible for our own decisions. Translation: I feel that I have the right to control your body if I don't like what you're doing with it. It astonishes me that anyone feels they have the right to tell women when and how often to have sex, and then when and how often they can have a medical procedure. The arrogance of it is astonishing. They think they get to decide who is allowed medical treatment. I mean, I don't like smoking - I think it's stupid, a filthy habit, and can only do you damage, but I cannot imagine saying to a smoker, "Lung cancer? That's your own fault. Fuck off and die in the street."

I also find it difficult to take seriously the position of those who believe abortion should be illegal except in case of rape or incest, et cetera. Why? If you believe it's child murder, then why is the "child" who is the product of rape any less of a child and more worthy of murdering? If we take the favourite crappy trope of the forced-birth crowd: Well, You Wouldn't Murder A Three-Year-Old, would it be more acceptable to murder a three-year-old child who was the product of rape? Obviously not. I firmly believe that the majority of anti-abortionists don't give a shit about children. They make the rape/incest exception because those women can still be redeemed; they can still be Good. Those who had sex on purpose are Bad and must be Punished. It's about control of our sexual habits. It's about transporting us back to this idyllic 1950s state that nobody I know remembers actually existing. Since I first became aware of abortion, I've heard people say: well, it shouldn't be used as a form of birth control. And yeah, that would be a bit dumb. We have much better forms of birth control readily available to us (I know this is less true for Americans, who have to pay for the Pill, but we Englishwomen get ours for free). And if "not as a form of birth control" was meant to mean "don't be bloody stupid about it and learn about contraception", fine. But it doesn't, does it? At its most harmless, it means "I judge sluts." At the other end of the scale, it means "I hate sluts and think I should get to deny them medical treatment." We know it's not about abortion being murder, because otherwise they'd object to all abortion, substitute birth control or not.

You don't often come across people (from a British perspective) who will happily announce that all abortion is murder and nobody should ever be allowed to have one. We mostly get "Well, I could never have one" (which is fine), that strange breed of wishy-washy sort-of-Conservative who firmly believes that we will one day be able to pinpoint exactly the moment during gestation when a foetus becomes a child, or those who sort of vaguely think it's a bit icky but don't support either side of the debate. Of course, we do have an occasional whackjob. No, I promise I won't link to Nadine Dorries again, but she is getting her own tag.

So our abortion debates, such as they are, are often led by the second group. Where and when does life begin? We must find it. David Cameron apparently thinks life begins at twenty weeks in the womb. Why? We don't know. He pulled the figure out of his ass. Should we ask him - which I promise you I will, given the slightest opportunity - he would probably make some noises about scientific advances (one of the arguments I hate most because it implies that one day we will have the technology to outlaw abortion), but I bet you his true feelings lie with the third group: he vaguely thinks it's a bit icky. I use David Cameron as an example partly because I still can't stand him and haven't had a go at him for a while, and partly because he's such a good symbol of England in regard to the abortion debate. We think a fertilised egg is clearly not alive and a thirty-nine-week-old foetus is clearly a baby, so somewhere in between is the point where a magical transformation occurs and what is clearly a ball of cells turns into what is clearly a human being. We don't think of it in those terms, of course, because it just sounds daft. We like to make noises about "viability", but what does that even mean? Foetuses can be "viable" at twenty-four weeks because we have some impressive technology these days. And as I said, at some point, we may well have the technology to make all foetuses "viable". Does this mean abortion should be outlawed when we have made such advances? We would still say no, I think. I think we might also say that removing a six-week-old foetus and incubating it for eight months is a little creepy.

Abortion is a hugely contested subject, but most of us have no idea what we think about it. We might know that we're pro-choice or pro-life (hate, hate, hate that term), but for almost all of us there are questions that would make us go "...huh. I don't really know." I don't know what the time limit should ideally be. I know I don't think it should be any lower, but why couldn't it be higher? I don't know. I just sort of defer to the consensus of the medical profession and gloss over it. If I were in America, I wouldn't do that. I don't believe there should be a limit on how many abortions a woman can get, but if I were to hear that a woman had had twelve abortions, I would want to know why. How stupid is that? Why, even in my own head, am I asking this hypothetical woman to justify herself to me? What if she'd had all twelve because she was careless and didn't use contraception? Well, what if? Why on earth should that make any difference to me whatsoever? Why should she have to set out her precise reasons for me so that I may judge her a slut or an idiot? (I hate the whole concept of "slut" so I'd never do that, but I absolutely see myself judging her as an idiot. And maybe she is an idiot, but what has that got to do with me?)

It shocked me a little when I started thinking about this - I throw huge stroppy fits about anti-abortionists judging women for their choices, so why is it alright when I do it? I don't believe that every choice a woman makes is necessarily feminist, or that it must be the right choice because a woman made it, but I clearly think abortion is alright. If one abortion is a personal, private medical decision to be kept between a woman and her doctor (plus partner and/or family if she so chooses), why aren't twelve abortions just twelve personal, private medical decisions to be kept between a woman and her doctor? Why, instead, do twelve abortions carry some heavy statement about the woman's life? The reason she had one abortion wouldn't matter to me, so why would I demand her reasons for having twelve? Is it because most of us pick up a little of this vague "abortions are icky" from society and have to consciously fight against it? Or maybe because we all feel that we have the right, to some greater or lesser extent, to judge a woman for her sexual behaviour? It's probably both. Unless we work to get over it, we look at the gestation of a pregnancy and pick a point between "clearly just cells" and "clearly a baby" as the point where life begins, just we look a woman's sexuality and pick a point between "clearly a prude" and "clearly a slut" as the point where we as a gender should ideally sit. The whole thing is subjective and ultimately pointless, but most of us have 'em, and they slide up and down as we change, as we think we've learned more and therefore it's alright for us to judge these women now because I've learned.

Have you?

1 comment:

TS (and BJ) said...

Health Insurance companies in America normally cover viagra, but not birth control, which is fucked up in its own right.

I have pretty specific views on abortion. I'm not sure EXACTLY what time a fetus becomes a child, but I think if a woman is past the half-way mark, it would probably be easier to go through with the term. Only because it's more horrifying to most to suck out what probably looks like a pocket-baby than an egg that's barely developed. I base this on the average American squeamish-ness on abortion.

The only reason something like (hypothetically) 12 abortions would bother me is that abortion has its own set of consequences, it hurts like hell, and most people aren't exactly eager to go back. To me, it has nothing to do with the baby/fetus.

Overall, though, you've made a very thought-provoking point. But as tolerant as I TRY to be (it hurts, sometimes), I still can't help but cringe whenever I see a ridiculous argument against abortions. Oh, and you've probably heard this, but my friend and I found it and started using the term "anti-choice" not to long ago. ;)