How not to debate abortion

Okay, so while I was tackling Deborah Orr’s misconceived view of the abortion debate, Mehdi Hassan was stirring up a shit storm of his own at the New Statesman with an article entitled ‘Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty‘.

Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

To be honest life’s far too short for me to give a toss about other people’s package deal fallacies and after seven years out here in the blogosphere – yes, I really did start out in 2005 – I’m sick to the back teeth of reading articles telling what me ‘The Left’ should think about abortion, world politics and price of Krispy Kreme do-nuts and I can honestly say that if all you can do is frame your argument in terms of a bunch of hollow stereotypes then, please, keep your opinions to yourself because you ain’t got anything under your belt that’s worth saying.

So, left or otherwise, is Medhi actually packing any halfway decent arguments?

Well, it seems that he has three, or maybe three and half, points that he want to raise with us pro-choice types, so lets have look at what he has to say:

First, you do realise that the UK is the exception, not the rule? Jeremy Hunt’s position is the norm across western Europe: 12 weeks is the limit in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium. Then there’s how 91 per cent of British abortions are carried out in the first 13 weeks. You may disagree with a 12-week cut-off but to pretend it is somehow arbitrary, or extreme, or even unique is a little disingenuous.

Mehdi, you do realise that you’re arguing from a position of complete and utter ignorance here? Abortion law across Europe is far more complex than you seem to think, a point that I’ve already dealt with in detail, so let’s just call that a strike, suggest that you do your homework next time and move on to point two.

Second, you can’t keep smearing those of us who happen to be pro-life as “anti-women” or “sexist”. For a start, 49 per cent of women, compared to 24 per cent of men, support a reduction in the abortion limit, according to a YouGov poll conducted this year. “Polls consistently show . . . that women are more likely than men to support a reduction,” says You – Gov’s Anthony Wells.

Because, of course, possession of two X chromosomes automatically renders someone incapable of being sexist, just as the melanin concentration in your skin determines your capacity for racism, unless you’re from Essex in which case you really should be spending much less time in the tanning salon.

Sorry, Mehdi, but that’s not an argument, it’s a whinge – and as for opinion polls, just don’t get me started on that subject.

Strike two?

Maybe not – let’s call that a check swing on a ball and give Mehdi the benefit of his extra half an argument.

Then there is the history you gloss over: some of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, such Mary Wollstonecraft, were anti-abortion, as were pioneers of US feminism such as Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the latter referred to abortion as “infanticide”. In recent years, some feminists have recognised the sheer injustice of asking a woman to abort her child in order to participate fully in society; in the words of the New Zealand feminist author Daphne de Jong: “If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic or social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience.”


As in ‘died. 1797’… of complications following the birth of her second child (the one that wrote ‘Frankenstein’)?

Okay, Feminist history is not my field at all, so rather than spend time researching the subject I’ll hand this one off to Kelly Hills, who does know her stuff and fair rips Mehdi a new orifice:

First, the history. Yes, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were anti-abortion. Historical women’s rights activists were not always awesome. For example, Anthony and Stanton were also quite racist by contemporary standards. Anthony was so upset with the idea of freedmen getting the vote before women that she frequently argued that educated white women would make better voters than ignorant black and immigrant men. She also wasn’t above using racist fears to further her goals; after the 15th Amendment gave freedmen the right to vote, she argued that voting freedmen threatened the safety of white women (playing up fears of “racial contamination”).

Are we then to assume that Hasan thinks contemporary feminists should back the racist positions held by Anthony? One presumes not, as this would undoubtedly negatively effect him. Why, then, should we selectively be required to follow other outdated ideas?

It’s not glossing over history to be grateful for advocates who set the stage for our rights while simultaneously discarding the culturally constructed beliefs that we now view as morally injust or just simply wrong.

Now that is Strike Two, and I don’t know about you. but I’m very impressed, so that’s Kelly’s blog into the RSS reader as well.

So we’re down to the bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes and the pitch is going in, what will Mehdi come up with?

Third, please don’t throw faith in my face. Hitchens, remember, was one of the world’s best-known atheists. You might assume that my own anti-abortion views are a product of my Muslim beliefs. They aren’t. (And the reality is that different schools of Islamic law have differing opinions on abortion time limits. The Iranian ayatollah Yousef Saanei, for instance, has issued a fatwa permitting termination of a pregnancy in the first trimester.)

Sorry, it that it? That barely qualifies as a bunt… ah, hang on, there’s more…

To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”. (Nor, for that matter, do I take kindly to some feminists questioning my right to have an opinion on this issue on account of my Y-chromosome.)


After all that, Mehdi’s carefully considered position on abortion comes down to the argument from ‘awwww look at the wickle baaaaaabbbbbbyyyyy’ and he thinks that’s fine because he’s speaking as a parent, just like Rosie O’Donnell?

There’s this one celebrity, Rosie O’Donnell, a talk show host, and she said this: “I don’t know anything about Afghanistan, but I know it’s full of terrorists, speaking as a mother.” So what is this “speaking as a mother” then? Is that a euphemism for “talking out of my arse”? “Suspending rational thought for a moment”? As a rational human being, Al-Qaeda are a loose association of psychopathic zealots who could be rounded up with a sustained police investigation. But speaking as a parent, they’re all eight foot tall, they’ve got lasers under their moustaches, a huge eye in their foreheads and the only way to kill them is to NUKE every country that hasn’t sent us a Christmas card in the the last 20 years!! “Speaking as a mother”.

Bill Bailey – Part Troll (2004)

Admittedly, that’s not a position that necessarily either left or right, just one that’s wholly disengaged from any of the issues and plain fucking stupid, so that’s definitely Strike Three and if you want to get home tonight Mehdi then I’d suggest you try jogging behind the team bus.

To be scrupulously fair to Medhi, I should point out that the dumbass argument from personal experience is not an exclusively male preserve and introduce into evidence the thoughts of Naomi McAullife:

It is not the Y chromosome that makes men less qualified to talk about abortion. It is your lack of a womb and a vagina that makes you less qualified. You do not have to be confronted with your fertility every day. You do not bleed regularly. You do not risk pregnancy whenever you have sex. You do not have to ever carry a foetus to term, to give birth, to breastfeed, to take time off work, hamper your career, risk poverty and ill health due to pregnancy. You do not have your internal organs turned into a public place for people to debate over, legislate over and pronounce over. Therefore you find it very easy to see abortion as a optional extra for this “other”, these women. And you then see women  as selfish or individualistic for making these demands for rights you don’t need.

Can someone please explain to me why some members of the half of our species that has spent most of the last two hundred years arguing that sexual dimorphism has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on cognitive ability insist on going all ‘men are from Mars and woman are from Venus’ at the mere sight of a bloke who’s failed to engage his brain before expressing his ill-informed opinions on the subject of their reproductive bits?

And, as purely secondary question, am I alone in thinking that this whole vagina-pun blog title thing (visit the link) is just a bit like putting up a sign that says ‘ Hello, I’m a stereotype’?

It might have been a bit transgressive back in the 1970’s but as I’m reliably informed that women successfully reclaimed the word ‘cunt’ several years ago – if only in serious theatrical performances – it hardly makes for cutting-edge contemporary comedy. Put it this way, you’re hardly like to find to many blokes queueing up to publish their thoughts under the title ‘Total Cock’, not when ‘Top Gear’ conveys much the same message without being anything like so mind-numbingly obvious.

Sorry, I’m drifting off the subject, which is the contention that half of our humble little primate species has been rendered more or less incapable of comprehending the views of the other half due to their lack of built-in baby carrier and associated hormonal bits, an argument that makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. We’re not dinosaurs and we don’t have secondary brains lodged in our genitalia, so why even try to argue the point when it’s clearly ridiculous?

I don’t need a uterus to be able to engage intelligently in the public debate on abortion – no one does. I have a brain and because it’s a human brain, a highly evolved problem solving engine, I have language, a theory of mind, an imagination and the capacity to reason and empathise with other human beings, all the tools that I need to make sense of the world and understand how other people think and feel, just so long as I choose to use those abilities.

Look, I can happily buy the argument that some people are less ‘qualified’ to engage in this debate than others by virtue of their unwillingness to think through the issues properly and make any real effort to make sense of the arguments but that just isn’t a gender-specific trait and there is no great shortage of women out there whose views on abortion serve to prove that particular point, so sorry, but no, I’m just not buying any of this privilege crap.

Men ain’t Martians and if women were genuinely from Venus they’d be able to breath carbon dioxide and bench press a London bus, and as I don’t see any of the latter going on I’m going to stick with the view that we’re all human beings and, therefore, all perfectly capable of engaging intelligently in this particular debate if only we can be bothered to make the effort and use our evolved mental capabilities to the full.

Anything less is just plain old fashioned sexism, regardless of which particular brand of reproductive equipment you possess.

9 thoughts on “How not to debate abortion

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  3. Er, I don’t think it’s sexist to say that women have a different perspective on getting pregnant. They have the only inside view of getting pregnant. That pretty much does change the level of access they have to credible first hand information on the topic, which I think is all Naomi was arguing for.

    It’s all very well to assert that any reasonable person is capable of thinking themselves into the lived experience of any historically oppressed minority. When you’re the reasonable person and not the member of the oppressed minority, that is.

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  5. “unless you’re from Essex in which case you really should be spending much less time in the tanning salon”

    So, stereotyping is bad except when you’re stereotyping people from Essex because they’re just a bunch of chavs, right?

    I’m so sick of this.

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