Yes, restricting the abortion time limit IS “anti-woman”

Jo T, a London-based student and pro-choicer, critiques an article defending Jeremy Hunt’s comments on the abortion time limit.

a maroon banner at a pro-choice protest outside parliament, with the words don't turn back the clock painted on in whiteIndependent journalist Dominic Lawson has gifted us all with his wisdom on abortion time limits, in an article full of irrelevancies, bad logic and a barely-hidden sympathy for anti-choice arguments.

Despite Lawson’s claim that men aren’t allowed to voice opinions on abortion (“Any man who steps into this moral minefield is asking to be blown sky high”), the pro-choice movement is made up of people of all gender identities. Therefore his cissexist concern that possession of a “Y chromosome” makes his views irrelevant when weighing up his intervention into the abortion time limit row, which has flared up so spectacularly in recent days, is unfounded.

Hunt’s comments on his desire to see the abortion time limit lowered to 12 weeks have, deplores Lawson, elicited “blow-back” from pro-choice groups and other sections of the media. He decries the furious reaction, adding: “Perhaps Hunt will become much more of a bland autocue minister”. Frankly, the wider issue of the “blandification” of political discourse is rather less pressing to millions of us than the reminder that the health secretary – in charge of a multi-billion pound budget, and with ultimate say-so over the future dispensation of NHS resources – is, essentially, in favour of dramatically restricting the right to choose. It’s impossible to know how long Hunt will stay at the Department of Health but, regardless of this, the damage he could potentially inflict on pro-choice causes is immense. And in any situation in which abortion rights are restricted, it is women who will bear an outsizedly disproportionate share of the harm that will inevitably ensue.

In supporting a 12-week limit, Hunt claims to have “[looked] at the evidence and [come] to a view”. As Glosswitch says:

Hunt claims to be just looking “at the evidence”. Has the evidence changed? Does pregnancy now take place outside of the bodies of individual women? Is the short- and long-term impact of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term suddenly of no consequence?

Lawson quotes a YouGov poll and says it is women who are more likely to wish to reduce the time limit for abortions. He admonishes pro-choice commentators such as Tanya Gold and Jane Martinson (who has written two posts on the time limit subject: here and here) for giving “the impression that they are speaking for all women”.

What Lawson doesn’t seem to grasp is that being pro-choice – believing abortion should be available “as early as possible, as late as necessary” – is the pro-woman position, seeing as the damage caused by restricting abortion hits women hardest. The anti-abortion/pro-lower time limit views of large sections of women are, frankly, more or less irrelevant; anti-choice women are not a recent phenomenon. 99.9% of women could be anti-choice, and being pro-choice would still be the pro-woman stance to take.

The logic which Lawson uses to argue that the topic of abortion causes a reversal of ‘normal’ political stances is also flawed. He says: “This is where the abortion debate appears to be an unusual one in which ‘the right’ argues for some sort of societal good and the ‘left’ for a kind of atomised individualism: pure personal choice before all other, wider human considerations.” The inescapable consequence of restricting abortion is that – on a societal level – women‘s options and lives are unnecessarily curtailed, damaged, and blighted, as it is women on whom the burden of childcare disproportionately falls, women who are far more likely to be single parents, women who must overwhelmingly bear lifelong the physical and psychological after-effects of a crisis pregnancy which they are forced to carry to term. What societal good comes of banning or restricting abortion, Dominic? None whatsoever. And yes, the pro-choice movement is so named because we believe that no-one should have the right to force another person to remain pregnant – but, pray tell, which “wider human consequences” does this position of respect for the individual supersede? That sounds suspiciously like a sneaky statement in support of the anti-choice position.

The sentence which ends Lawson’s piece is similarly telling on his views on abortion. Speaking of the abortion of embryos which are diagnosed with disabilities, Lawson quotes a newspaper editorial which says many disabled people lead full and happy lives and adds: “Given the chance to live in the first place, of course.” Here, again, he focuses on the potential issue of a pregnancy, rather than the person who is carrying the pregnancy to term. As always, we can take this superficially emotive but actually empty sentiment to its logical conclusion and start singing “Every Sperm is Sacred”. Lawson’s article ultimately makes about as much sense as a Monty Python sketch, after all.

Photo by ge-shmally, shared under a Creative Commons licence.