Women’s Rights And The New Statesman

Over at the New Statesman, Mehdi Hasan has exasperated many women by his new post, Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty.

I am not really that interested in his points, rather the marvellous response from feminists and the quality of their arguments.

Stavvers at Another Angry Woman says:

“A few more points on your piece. I’m very disappointed in you, seeing you repeating the anti-choice porky pie that France and Germany have a 12-week limit, so the UK should too. What these countries actually have is a law which allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, i.e. you go up to a doctor, say “I’d like an abortion”, then you have your abortion. After the 12 weeks, the legal situation resembles that of the UK: you have to jump through hoops, provide reasons, see more than one doctor.

The rest of your argument, I’m afraid to say, is a hot mess of appeals to authority. You’ve just listed the few people who agree with you who aren’t thoroughly objectionable, many of whom died centuries ago. I’m also rather baffled by the fact that you’re not ashamed to agree with Jeremy Hunt, a man who has what I like to call the Copro-Midas Touch. Literally everything that man touches turns to shit. Are you genuinely comfortable with agreeing with a man who hides in trees to avoid being seen by journalists?

You’re also repeating the tiresome “it’s a baby” myth. Again, I’m going to refer you to one of my sisters, because pretty much everyone’s already said what I want to say, but please read this heartbreaking post from Fearlessknits about life at 25 weeks gestation. “

Kelly Hills takes another tack:

“These rights are undermined when women are denied the freedom to decide whether and when to have children, and how many of them to have. Reproductive freedom is an essential part of women’s right to liberty. It is vital to both liberty and responsible moral agency that we be free to protect our health, to plan and shape our lives. So vital is this social good that wherever safe, legal and affordable abortion is unavailable, many women risk death, permanent physical injury, social disgrace and legal prosecution to end unwanted pregnancies.

Hasan argues, at the end of his article, that the biggest problem with the abortion debate is that it is asymmetrical, “the two sides are talking at cross-purposes”. But the biggest problem with the abortion debate is not that it is asymmetric – it is that one group, the anti-choice group, is attempting to force their views on everyone else. As a pro-choice woman, I am not interested in whether or not another woman is carrying a pregnancy to term or aborting, save in the case where the woman asks for my opinion or involvement. My pro-choice position is not pushing her to abort – not even if, in my opinion, it would be the best thing for her life. As I do not believe in forced pregnancy, I do not believe in forced abortion.

I believe in choice.”

Over at the New Left Project Reni Eddo-Lodge argues:

“The so called abortion debate is irreconcilable, because both sides are starting from two different planes of thought. Some people believe that the purpose of women on this earth is to be self-sacrificial, whilst others believe that women shouldn’t be demonised if they opt for a different way to live their lives.

Here’s why Hasan’s piece is anti-woman. He attempts to reframe the debate on his terms, snatching it out of the hands of people who can get pregnant, insisting on the premise of ‘ethics’ rather than women’s rights, and consequentially betraying his male privilege and over inflated sense of entitlement.

Edinburgh Eye picks each point apart.

Finally, Naomi Mc at Vagina Dentata sums up the issue:

“To view women’s rights as simply desirable rather than essential, as an optional extra rather than necessary for our mere survival, is what allows us to negotiate with the Taliban for peace in Afghanistan. Peace is important but peace for women and girls can wait no matter how many 14 year old girls are shot in the head for wanting an education. It is the idea that women’s rights will be achieved AFTER other “more important” “male” rights are achieved. It allows people on the left to think that women’s right to justice for allegedly being raped and molested are not as important as an imaginary global conspiracy to jail a darling of the Left. The Left have a long history of postponing women’s rights until their socialist revolution has happened, their war has been won, their peace declared, their poster-boy has defeated capitalism. But of course it never comes. There is always another reason why women have to wait for their rights and why they are being selfish for having the temerity to fight for them. “

Update 1: If readers see any good contributions please drop me a comment below and I will update the post.

The Abortion Rights campaign adds, Comment: Mehdi Hasan, Abortion and an Asymmetric Debate:

“Many of Mehdi’s supporters and defenders on Twitter argued that it was impossible to have a “sound and reasoned debate” about the issue. People will react differently to what is clearly an emotive and very personal decision for most women and men.

However, when trying to disentangle what is reasoned and rational from the debate (see Mehdi’s timeline), you begin to lose the will to live. There is right and wrong on both sides: we cannot over-simplify what is a complex issue (especially for women), point-scoring over semantics and language.

The level of fury, I think, has to do more with the couching of Mehdi’s piece in gendered terms – he even mentioned male foetuses at one point. Pitch forks came out in their masses, calling out Mehdi, criticising those who disagreed with him – it was like an episode of Glee, when the cool kids and the social misfits square up to each other. “

Update 2: At Glosswatch each argument is dissected with humour:

“Indeed. Thanks to you and non-lefty Freddy Gray I am fast becoming aware that there is a far greater threat to freedom than women being obliged to continue with pregnancies against their will. It is men having to say things about abortion without a special rule being in place which prevents anyone else from disagreeing with them. This limits such men’s rights to say whatever they like without a comeback and, as you so rightly point out, the implications for freedom of speech are worrying. But until this evening, I’d have thought such imaginary threats weren’t quite as bad as genuine legal limitations and the actual threat of further restrictions, as is the case with abortion. Of course, I was wrong. Michael Gove is probably plotting to include “uppity women answering back about abortion” as part of the EBacc, and doing so with the kind of fundamentalist fervour of which Nadine Dorries can only dream. “

Update 3: Sarah Ditum makes a strong point:

“Hasan charges the pro-choice position with “selfishness”, as if the only generosity a woman can rightly show is via her placenta. What nonsense: we are mothers, friends, volunteers, employees, employers – part of society in every way. What if you don’t have enough money to support another child without pushing your existing family into poverty? Is an abortion in that case “selfishness”, or is it perhaps the wise and compassionate action of a woman who cares for her existing dependents?

What if a woman knows that having a baby know would prevent her from completing her education or starting a career – is she selfish for wanting to be able to support herself rather than rely on others for her own welfare and that of the baby? Because here’s the thing: if you care about what happens to a proto-person with a part-formed nervous system, you should care many, many times more about what happens to them when they’re born.

If you force women to have children they’re incapable of caring for – whether for financial, health or emotional reasons – the women do badly and the children do worse. Luckily, women are quite good judges of this and tend to seek out abortion when it’s the right course for them, even if abortion is made inaccessible. Unluckily, when abortion is inaccessible, women are forced to rely on dubious services, sometimes unsafe and sometimes simply exploitative. “

Update 4: Mehdi Hasan replies to his critics. Too much self-pity for my taste:

“1) Language matters. A lot.

First and foremost, I do deeply regret saying that supporters of abortion rights (not women, per se, by the way!) “fetishise… selfishness”. Both words are, of course, deeply provocative and negative and I wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that I’d never used them.

Now, some on my side of this argument might say that the dictionary definition of “selfishness” – i.e. “concerned primarily with one’s own interests” – makes the word relevant to this debate, on an abstract, ethical level, but that is beside the point. My use of it in this piece caused needless offence and hurt and, for that specifically, I want to apologise – especially to any female readers who have had to undergo an abortion, something I, of course, as a man, will never have to go through.

I normally write quite polemical and provocative columns but, when writing this particular piece, I did try to be careful and restrained in my use of language and avoid gratuitous abuse of my opponents – clearly, I wasn’t careful or restrained enough. “

Update 5: Kenan Malik’s summarises the wider issue:

“Let me return finally to the question of whether the pro-life stance is a progressive position. It is true that one can oppose abortion and not necessarily be a ‘right-wing reactionary or medieval misogynist’. It is also true that many who oppose abortion are indeed ‘right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists’. The fact is, the argument for abortion rights came out of the struggle for women’s equality. Much of the argument against abortion rights comes from those opposed to such equality. The illusory rights of the fetus have been, and are being, used to curtail the real rights of women. If Hasan wants to make a left-wing case for opposition to abortion he will have to do more than pull at emotional heartstrings and play the victim. “

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