Thursday, 19 July 2012

Are you pro life or pro choice?

As a general rule, I tend to steer clear of subjects which involve decisions I would never have to make in any circumstances. There is nothing in the world worse than people pontificating about the difficult decisions other people make, safe in the knowledge that it isn't a bridge they would ever have to cross. Sometimes however you have to look at the people making arguments and question their motives and what they are trying to say.

It is a peculiarity of English culture that when there is a slightly delicate subject, we completely avoid using the  correct words to describe what is going on. A simple example is when we say "Terry is married to Judy, but he's sleeping with June". In actual fact what we should probably be saying is "Terry is sleeping with Judy but having sex with June". The issue which to me which seems to have the most contradictory set of terms is the debate about abortion. I was talking to a customer who is rather young and pregnant recently. She's made the decision that she wants the baby. She is also rather responsible in her attitude, has made and informed choice and is under no illusion about what she is letting herself in for, raising a child without a partner. She isn't a religious person, she just wants a baby. We got talking and she asked a rather interesting question "Where is the best place to find out about healthy lifestyles for pregnancy?". I suggested she tried the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I explained that when my wife was pregnant, we attended sessions run by NCT and they were helpful. She then said a very interesting thing. She'd rung up the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and was surprised to find that they don't actually advise on pregnancy, they advise on abortions. She asked me "Why aren't they called the British Abortion Advisery Service, it would be much less confusing?". The honest answer is that I don't really know. It would certainly make sense to me. I suspect that when BPAS was set up, in the aftermath of the legalisation of abortion in 1968, it was because there was a stigma attached to abortion. I would suggest that in the year 2012, maybe we have moved on enough to call such a service by it's proper name. 

Then I gave some consideration to the other terms involved in the abortion debate. People don't say "I'm pro abortion rights", they say "I'm pro choice". People who believe they are against legal abortion say "I am pro life". I was discussing education with a good friend recently who is an ardent pro abortion campaigner and an ardent socialist. We were discussing academies, free schools and faith schools. She stated that it should be illegal to attend any school apart from the nearest one which the local authority allocates to you. She said that  this would force all schools to give decent educations and ensure that middle class parents didn't manipulate the system to get their children into schools perceived as better. She is also an opponent of faith schools. In an attempt to wind her up, I said "oh, I thought you were Pro Choice" in response to her statement. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and she became extremely cross. The truth is that we are all Pro Choice in matters we believe we should have a choice in. I suspect that the people who are pro choice for faith schools are anti choice for a legal abortion. 

Then there are the people who are "anti legal abortion". Rather sadly, many of these are anything but "Pro Life". If we look at the USA, the many of the people who stand outside abortion clinics waiving placards and harrassing customers and staff are also big supporters of the death penalty. Most of them are members of faith communities, but don't subscribe to "Thou Shalt not Kill" or "Turn the other cheek" when it comes to convicted felons. Many actually go way beyond the death penalty for convicted felons and actually have attempted to kill and maim workers in abortion clinics. How people with murderous intent can claim to be pro life is beyond me. 

As I said at the start of this piece, I don't ever pontificate about the decisions people make, when I won't be in that position. That does not mean that I don't have opinions about the issue. Being raised as a Roman Catholic, I have a deeply ingrained cultural sense that abortion is not a good thing. I do however take a rather different view to the church on the subject. Perhaps the first crack in my opinion of how it should be dealt with happened when I was about 13 years old. My parents were stalwart members of the local church. The most prominent anti abortion group is "Life". My parents agreed to host a fund raising party at our house for the organisation. At the time, the Sacred Heart parish in Mill Hill was 90% Irish. Such events were usually raucous events where everyone got as pissed as a newt and went home at 3 am. 

This event was no exception. My parents also allowed us to drink at such events, so I got completely sloshed and had a great time. The next day, I was with my Father driving in a car somewhere. I commented that the previous evening was a great success. I can only guess that maybe he was a bit hung over, but I wasn't expecting his response "They all make me sick, they are such a bunch of hypocrites. If any of that lots 13 year old daughter got pregnant, they'd be the first to take her down for an abortion. They all turn their noses up at single mothers, yet they will stick their hands in their pockets and suck up to the priests at doo's like that". I was stunned by his comment. I then asked "so do you believe abortion should be legal?". His response framed my thinking on the subject "listen, whilst you have a society where people look down their noses on single mums, kids born bastards are disadvantaged and having a kid when you are skint means that you will have a rotten life, people will have abortions. Let's fix those problems and then have the debate as to whether it should be legal or not.". 

The more I think about it, the more I realise he was spot on. When it comes to abortion, people don't make the choice. They generally feel they have no choice. They have an abortion because they feel that there isn't an alternative. The pro life lobby say "give the baby up for adoption if you don't want it". This doesn't address the social stigma many women would have, the impact on their lives, the psychological problems they may have coping with giving up a baby. In short it is a lovely idea but one few would ever take up. The other alternative they offer is that you shouldn't have sex if you don't want a baby. Is there anyone who is heterosexual who has only had sex, purely with the intention of getting pregnant? Unless you fit into that category, STFU - you are being a hypocrite. Many anti legal abortion supporters believe abortion is wrong in all cases, even if the mother will die or is pregnant due to incest or rape. I cannot see how anyone could condemn someone who makes such a decision, but there are people who do.

The anti legal abortion lobby will come back and say "ah, but most abortions in the UK are not had be people in such circumstances, they are choices made by women who use abortion as an alternative to contraception, what about them? I don't personally believe that this is anything more than a gross oversimplification of the position. If we had a government that wanted to stop abortion, they could do it tomorrow, without making abortion illegal. If you simply gave every woman who booked in for an abortion a  million pounds if they had the baby, then hey presto, no abortions. Of course, members of faith communities wouldn't receive the money, as they don't have abortions, do they? Now I daresay that you are all scoffing at this idea "where would we find the money?". I quite agree that this is a problem, but how much have we spent on the arms industry since 1968? I'd hazard a guess that if we'd spent that on grants for women wanting abortions, it wouldn't be far off a million pounds each. Which begs another question. If the "pro life" movement is really "pro life" why do they stand outside abortion clinics and not arms factories? Why do they not turn out en-masse for anti war demonstrations? Why don't they lobby parliament to end poverty and disease in the third world, which causes more death and destruction than legal abortion in the UK?

I love my kids, if my wife told me tomorrow that she was pregnant again, I'd be over the moon (she wouldn't be). The thought of destroying a baby in a womb horrifies me. I cannot, however I look at it, reconcile the action with what I believe. I do however also think that I don't have arbitration over other peoples bodies. I want to work to make a society where people choose not to have abortions because there are better options for them, not because they are legally prevented from having them. These are

a) Better sex education, so that pregnancy is avoided when not wanted.
b) More financial help for mothers and young families as raising children is expensive
c) Abolition of all social stigma associated with single parenthood
d) Better general education and opportunities for young people generally

One anti legal abortion campaigner I spoke to, told me that it didn't matter if there was one of seven million legal abortions, they were all wrong, whatever the circumstances and the law should ban all of them. He told me that if any daughter of his had an abortion, he would "disown" her and he had made this clear to his children. I suggested that this probably meant they simply wouldn't tell him, should such a thing happen. His solution seemed to be cruel and certainly wouldn't help his children get through what may be a very difficult time.  I however think that if people are genuinely Pro Life, they should stop trying to dictate other peoples life choices and start campaigning to build a society which cherishes and values life rather than trying to put a legal blanket ban on abortion, which will simply send people abroad or to dodgy back street clinics. They should stop campaigning for changes to the law and start campaigning for social justice and fairness. Their efforts should be directed at the following, not at people in difficult situations

a) The Arms industry
b) Global corporations who exploit the third world
c) Pharm companies who price life enhancing drugs out of the reach of the third world
d) The policies of the coalition government which place intolerable strain on family budgets

As to the Pro Choice lobby, I'd suggest that they campaign for the same things. I believe that many people (not all) have abortions, not because they have a choice, but because they have no choice at all. They are compelled to have them by partners, family, economic circumstance and society in general. It strikes me that in the battle to protect rights, these issues are sometimes overlooked.

In short, I passionately believe that if our society is better educated, fairer and less judgemental, we will have less abortions as a society. Whether you are Pro Life or Pro Choice, surely that has to be a good thing and a better way to address the issue?
Over the course of this existence of this blog, many people on both sides of the abortion debate have noted the fact that I refer to my religion. I have repeatedly been challenged to state what my views are and what side of the "choice" argument I sit on. I hope that this answers the question. I don't expect that too many people will agree with what I say here, but it would be dishonest to do anything other than explain my personal views.

1 comment:

Duncan Macdonald said...


I think this is one of the most sensible articles on this subject that I have ever read. Abortion polarizes opinion as almost no other issue and it is difficult to have any kind of rational debate in that climate. Whatever your position we should all want less abortions.