Friday 25 January 2008

Hey, mister! Keep your morals off my sister!

Nice, angry little protest outside the CMF today: real energy from the picketers, and CMF were waiting for us with biscuits and explanatory pamphlets, both of which were crumbly and oversugared. I spent much of the time arguing choice and sexual morality with a gaggle of young women in nice cardigans, and the argument I found myself weaving on the street corner was this:

What we can't agree on isn't fact, but opinion. You're convinced that a divine spark of life begins at conception and must not be snuffed out, and I believe that the process of becoming a whole person with rights takes longer than that and cannot be applied to a jelluloid ball of cells. That's the binary that we can't get beyond. We have no rational way to prove which one of us is right, if in fact either of us is - but until that time, when one or both of us is doubtless going to feel damn silly, we're arguing phantoms.
So let's say, for point of illustration, that you win. Let's say that someone manages to push through a bill severely restricting women's right to legal abortion in the UK, or banning it outright. What happens then?
If you're right, then it has been statistically and historically proven that the actual number of abortions taking place will not change that much. What will change is that far more women and young girls will seek illegal, unsafe abortions, damaging their physical and mental health in the process. There will be a huge boom in black market abortions and shipping of vulnerable women out to countries that do offer legal abortion, leading to massive increases in crime - and not only in crime, but in crime that specifically targets the poorest, most vulnerable and scared members of society, as rich women will always be able to find ways to have abortions, as they always have. Women will be increasingly stigmatised for the sexual and reproductive choices that they will continue to try to make; sexual health and reproduction will become more taboo, returning us to a dark age of social superstition and ignorance. We may, however, save a few thousand christian souls per year, even if we'ved only saved them for lives of poverty and resentment by parents uncared for themselves and unwilling to bear and raise a child, and our consciences as a society will be that much clearer. .
But what if I'm right? What if real human life is contingent upon upbringing and brain development rather than just cell fusion and division? What if the choice to continue a pregnancy really is the choice to make a life or not, rather than the choice to terminate a life that's been forced upon you? If I'm right, and that's the case, then young women will be shunned, stigmatised, criminalised, wounded and left vulnerable and bleeding in backstreets - and all for nothing. All for nothing at all rather than the moral high ground of a few people with pretty religious delusions who happen to be in power.
As I explained to the students outside the CMF, I respect your right to your opinions - as long as they don't turn into law. I respect your right to believe whatever you want to believe, no, more than that, I'll stand up and shout for that right of yours - as long as you don't try and take away my own right to decide for myself. I think religious fanaticsm is an impediment to useful wielding of political power, and frankly I'd rather vote for my local acid-house to be given majority Commons representation.

Gaia vs. the Divine Seed.

And again we come back to the big spitting point, the staking post of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate: does life begin at conception, or does it begin when the woman decides to continue a pregnancy to term and raise that child? And what does that distinction mean?
I'll tell you what it means. To argue that life begins at conception is implicitly to argue that the sperm - the penetrating seed - is what causes life to happen. Not the formation of a blastocyst, which the sperm catalyses, but life itself becomes contingent upon the entry of that male sperm into the woman. The woman is seen as no more than a baking tray, a patch of bare soil, fertile or unfertile, where the divine seed can grow. She has no agency; she has no autonomy. To act with any such is a heinous, possibly a criminal act if she decides that she doesn't want to play the compliant window-box anymore. To argue that life begins at conception is to argue that life is man-made, that that divine seed comes from man alone, that woman is a convenient incubator and nothing more.

To argue, on the converse, that the woman has a say (indeed, the final say) in life-formation and in life-creation throughout her own pregnancy and beyond is to acknowledge something unthinkable: that women wield the power to create life, a terrifying, world-destroying, frightening power. Acknowledgement of this level of female power is unthinkable in most patriarchal societies, and so the balance is shifted to demonise and criminalise women's excercise of that power, turning us conceptually into scared, subservient baking-ovens.

Knowing our enemy.

The truth is that women have always had abortions; women have aborted pregnancies, safely and unsafely, for as long as women have had babies, and there is, in fact, precious little the patriarchy can do to stop us having either. They can, however, impose their fear of our power onto our bodies, they can make our choices harder to access and criminalise us when we try to exercise them.

The moral and religious right's lobby for so-called 'life' is nothing to do with the rights of the unborn child: if it were, they'd pay more attention to the rights of the many thousands of born children living in poverty and suffering in the UK. The pro-life movement is not even about stopping abortions, since they know full well that abortions happen anyway. The pro-life movement, in fact, not only about restricting and criminalising women's sexual and reproductive choices but about retaining a social paradigm that denies women's essential power, a power which is intimately bound up with the choice to have children - or not to have them. Yes, you can be against the notion of abortion; yes, you can believe, if you're female, that should you fall pregnant accidentally you would continue the pregnancy, and you can be proud of that intent. But if you dare to try to take my choices or my power away from me, or my friends, or my two baby sisters in school; if you dare to frame us as passive trays of fertilisable soil unable to make our own moral and spiritual choices; if you dare to stamp your regressive laws across our bodies, we'll be there to fight back, and you will see us as we can truly be: fully realised, fully sexual, fully confident, fully informed and frankly fucking terrifying. Bring it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "If you're right, then it has been statistically and historically proven that the actual number of abortions taking place will not change that much."

    I have heard this claim a few times and am sort of inclined to believe it, but do you think you could point me to a link about this?

  3. Certainly -

  4. Ugh - all the statistics I can find seem wicked contradictory? Maybe I am just being dumb, I dunno. If there are 46 million abortions and 137 million babies born every year, how can (as in that report) 50 abortions per women be an unusually high national rate? None of this makes any sense.

    Anyway your link was really useful, thanks.

  5. Well reasoned. I very much enjoyed this.

    It's encouraging to see holes punched through empty ideological debates, the irrelevant lemniscates that distract from the genuine effects of social policy.

    I particularly liked the Divine Seed argument, which is not one I've seen before. Some further support could have been levied from analysis of Catholic policy, viz. that the egg is not sacred (menstruation being unavoidable), but the sperm must be, or unprotected sex would not be compulsory.

  6. Wonderfully well put. As you may or may not know, I can't shake off the feeling that a baby is a baby from the moment of conception, and thus would never have an abortion myself, BUT I am pro-choice. I would choose not to abort, but limiting your right to choose TO abort does nobody any good, as you so rightly say.

  7. I like the 'Every Sperm is Sacred' idea, although I'm not sure how applicable it is to modern consciousness (although I agree it is relevant in a religious context, and fits perfectly with the Gnostic idea of the Panspermia). Sperm in modern popular culture is a thing of Rabbelaisian, Jackass scatology. Plus, the relative acceptability of male masturbation also acts to reduce the primacy of sperm.

    However, I do agree that arguing a woman has no choice over her body does relegate her to the status of an incubator, and does therefore heighten the role of the sperm. Luckily, I think this view is changing, and the taboo against abortion is gradually lessening (not nearly fast enough, I might add).

    I'd also like to point out some problems I have with using the word 'life'. The argument for abortion, as I see it, is not one about life. It is one about humanity. A leaf is alive, but it is not human. An embryo is alive, but it also is not yet human. If you use the term 'life', you're doomed to engage the Christian right on their own terms. If we talk about humanity, we're discussing something difference.

    I think this is important, because an embryo does live. But it does not live independently and is not aware to a sufficient degree to be classed as human. The legal argument for the current abortion laws is that the infant would not survive without the mother until a certain stage of pregnancy. It is not considered a human being in law until it can survive independently. This is why a six-month old foetus cannot be aborted, because in English law that child counts as having independent life and is thus an individual human. A six-month old foetus can survive early labour, and thus the choice to end its life is unreasonable when induced early labour might be preferrable. A three-month old foetus is unable to survive independently, despite modern technology, and so separating it from the mother would kill it anyway. Hence why abortion is allowed. (I also think the maximum dates for abortion should be revised, to allow greater freedom for the woman.)

    Finally, the last principle of English law we have to look at is that all human life is considered equal. It is unreasonable in our legal system to end the life of someone else over our own, because you are implying your own life is more important than theirs and thus people are unequal. As much as I have no truck with fetishising the human body above all others (I think if we kill animals, why not kill people too), the law needs to be consistent if we are going to have it at all.


  8. Gaia vs. the Divine Seed.

    Er, both arguments are wrong! The seed of a man does not 'create' life and neither does the womb of woman 'create' life.

    The egg and sperm are already alive!

    That the process of a new human begins at conception and comes to fruition at birth suggests no primacy save in the mind of bigots.

    No creative power exists in either sex. It is when they work together that they can add a new mind to the world.

    As to the gist of your post... simply inverting a meme you dislike is practising the same sophistry as those you claim to oppose.


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