Who died and made you God?


3:00 pm - March 4th 2008

by Unity    


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I ought to apologise in advance for this – yes it’s another ‘abortion’ post and yes, you can be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done this issue to death over the last couple of week but there are a couple more points that need addressing before we let this one go, but for (I’m sure) regular updates on the progress of the Human Tissue and Embryology Bill.

The first of these points, and the one to which I’ll confine this post, comes by way of response to this post, by Laura Woodhouse, over at the F-Word.

Oh I am fuming. Absolutely fuming. Just… this:

But “pro-choicers” aren’t short of poor arguments themselves. One goes a bit like this: “Male control over birth rights, over women’s bodies, has been a tool of patriarchal oppression for centuries.” True, but any reasonable ethics only allows remedial action against the oppressor. Most of them are long dead, none of them are foetal – so what’s the relevance to an abortion in 2006? Even if the medicalization of terminations in America involved (male) doctors claiming power over (female) midwives, this is irrelevant. History should only carefully be a guide to justice – and only if it suggests a just remedy. Thin-end-of-the-wedge arguments are usually weak, and this is no exception. DonaldSOh looky there: a man belittling my argument by telling me that male oppression is a thing of the past. How’s about getting yourself a female reproductive system and then trying that one out for size again?

Tell me, Donald, how can you possibly claim that male control of women’s bodies is a thing of the past, that it is irrelevant to abortion today? Are men dead, removing the world of all the sperm? Or have the nasty feminists gone and chopped all their dicks off? Are 80,000 women not dying every year because their male dominated governments refuse them access to safe, legal abortion? Can you spell Nicaragua?

Ah yes, context. Donald’s comments were, and are, written with a very specific context in mind, that of the UK, hence the comment ‘Everyone in the real world has an opinion, so why does nobody in political Britain want to discuss abortion in public?’.

There is no doubt that when looked at globally the issue of ‘male control of women’s bodies’ is anything but a ‘thing of the past’ but in Britain today, in legislative terms, it is a relatively minor issue but for those few occasions where efforts to amend abortion law find their way on to the parliamentary timetable. Abortion has been legally available in the UK, up to a defined upper limit for elective ‘social’ abortions and without an upper limit where an abortion is sought on serious clinical grounds, since 1967, relegating most of the serious questions about the role and extent of ‘patriarchal control’ over women and their reproductive rights in British society to ones of differing cultural and religious mores and the various goings on within individual relationships.

Your turn to listen up. Abortion is not some kind of fun little ethical conundrum for you to hone your liberal arguments on, for you to play rhetorical games with. Women’s access to safe, free and legal abortion, along with contraception, is essential to our liberation from patriarchy. Without recourse to abortion we are vulnerable to male control, unable to freely determine what happens to our bodies and, ultimately, the course of our lives.

I would hardly consider Donald’s approach to abortion to be one which treats it as a ‘fun little ethical conundrum’ but then again I would hardly consider the abortion debate to be a hypothetical exercise in feminist theory either – although there is very little extant evidence giving insight into the important question of why women choose to have abortions, what little that does exist seems to suggest that ‘liberation from patriarchy’ is anything but a significant factor in women’s real world calculations, hence the need to engage in rather messy and imperfect ethical debates about ‘best-fit’, or perhaps more accurately ‘least-worst’, solutions rather than grand-sweep exercises in ideological demagoguery.

We’re not just talking about control through rape or the withholding of contraception and abortion. Women are biologically vulnerable because we are the sex that can be made pregnant.

To which I can only respond by quoting Samuel Clemen’s (Mark Twain) response on being asked what men would be without women… ‘Scarce… Mighty scarce.’

Rape and the withholding of contraception and abortion are all, of course, cultural artifacts in which biology plays only a limited and, for the most part, long superseded role; i.e. while biological differences between the two genders may well have played some part in the early development of differing cultural attitudes towards men and women, those attitudes have long since developed a ‘life’ (and an evolutionary impetus) of their own and have almost entirely ceased, in the vast majority of societies, to rely on biology for their raison d’etré.

Arguments from biology are, I’m afraid, no more convincing when wielded by feminists than they are when advanced as justifications for rampant misogyny and such arguments too foten amount to nothing more than a variation on what Daniel Dennett refers to as ‘greedy reductionism‘. If we’re going to ‘do’ biology here then it need to be understood that, in evolutionary terms, it makes no more sense to blame ‘biological vulnerability’ for the social and cultural conditions that have largely – but not always – led to the historical subjugation of women than it would to blame the contribution that air travel makes to global warming on evolution’s ‘failure’ to provide humans with a pair of wings.

Simone de Beauvoir suggested that this is why men initially gained control over women and became the dominant sex, and I think her’s is a valid hypothesis. Access to contraception and abortion allows women to neutralise the biological advantage men have over us and, contrary to your assertions, this advantage has not been consigned to the history books: it never will be.

Without getting too heavily into a detailed critique of feminist theory here, De Beauvoir’s main body of work in this field is getting on for sixty years old and starting to seriously show its age in light of more recent work in a number of fields, particular in the field of social anthropology. To provide just one example of this, In her essay Woman: Myth and Reality, De Beauvoir suggests that men have made women ‘the other’ by surrounding them with a false aura of mystery in order to avoid the need to need understand women and deal/help them with their problems. This, she argues, is a practice used generally in societies by groups that are higher in the prevailing social hierarchy, not just in relation to women but also in regards to race, class and religion, although (she continues) this nowhere more evident that in regards to gender where it has been used to stereotype women as a means of organising society into a patriarchy.

There is one problem with this account of patriarchy that should be obvious to even a casual observer, its suggestion that a ‘false aura of mystery’ is something that is applied to lower social groups by those that are higher in the prevailing social hierarchy is quite obviously ahistorical and disregards the fact that throughout recorded history no social group has been more assiduous in surrounding itself with a false aura of mystery than that which sits at the very apex of the social hierarchy, hence notions such as the ‘divine right of kings’ and that which holds the Pope to be the ‘Vicar of Christ’ and Jesus’s divinely ordained representative on earth.

Moreover, De Beauvoir’s work is the product of a period in which the study of social anthropology was still very much in its infancy and many of the assumptions derived from the work of pioneers in this field, such a Margaret Mead, that have influenced radical feminist thought, in particular, have since been successfully challenged and overturned – and one assumption that has met just such a fate is the presumed universality of patriarchy.

There is a growing problem within a number of strands of political feminist thought, particularly those which continue to cling to the work of ‘heroic’ figures like De Beauvoir or which remain steadfastly rooted in the radical feminist ideas that emerged during the 1960s and 70s. Many of its core assumptions are increasingly being shown, by scientific, psychological and anthropological studies into the development of gender differences, to be crude, grossly over-simplistic and at odds with the growing body of evidence which supports a more complex and nuanced understanding of such issues. Concepts such as ‘patriarchy’, which were once common currency within these disciplines, are now increasing beginning to fall into disuse in much the same way that the study of human sexuality is increasingly moving away from strict delineations of sexual preference (heterosexual, homosexual) toward a fluid and nuanced understanding of human sexuality in terms of specific behaviours and patterns of behaviour on the understanding that such labels are often crude and unhelpful and serve to obscure rather than shed light on the complexity of human behaviour and human society.

(For an example of the current state of anthropological thinking on patriarchy and gender differences try this 2002 paper (pdf) – A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Behavior of Women and Men:. Implications for the Origins of Sex Differences – particularly pp12-19 of the PDF document – the actual displayed page numbers, 710-717, are from its original publication)

To claim that the key feminist argument in favour of abortion is poor displays not only incredible arrogance, but deep ignorance of the fact that it is feminists who have successfully fought for women’s access to abortion across the globe.

What a glorious example of a non sequiteur – the fact that feminists may have made a significant contribution to the fight for women’s access to abortion rights in no sense automatically validates their core arguments, not least because there are, from a woman’s perspective, many valid, practical and pragmatic arguments in favour of a right of access to legal abortion, arguments that are frequently much more compelling than any amount of high-minded talk of ‘liberation from patriarchy’.

If there is any arrogance on display here, it lies in the hubristic belief that what the majority of women have responded to in fighting for their own, personal, reproductive rights is feminism’s efforts to claim to the moral high ground and not the obvious and compelling ‘bottom line’ arguments linking, amongst other things, personal control over fertility to improvements in personal economic circumstances and the avoidance of risks to personal heath associated with repeated pregnancies. Indeed, one of the more telling demonstrations of the limited influence of feminist arguments on abortion, even where it has been legalised, is the extent to which, in some countries, abortion has been easily suborned in support of culturally-driven gender prejudices, as has happened in parts of the Indian subcontinent where abortion has been used to ‘tip the reproductive balance’ in favour of culturally ‘more-useful’ male offspring at the cost of aborting female foetuses.

Without the recognition that abortion is a tool of women’s liberation, women would never have been put first in the debate, and we all know that the consequences of that line of thinking are dire.

That’s an eminently contestable view, at best, and one that receives scant historical support when one comes to review the circumstances and character of the debate surrounding the decriminalisation of abortion in either the UK or the United States.

The pivotal judicial ruling of the US Supreme Court in Roe vs Wade is particularly illuminating in as much as the courts deliberations on the question of whether the prohibition of abortion in all circumstances but those in which continuation of pregnancy would put a woman’s life at risk constitute a violation of women’s rights over their own body result ultimately in nothing more than a ruling that it is impermissible for a US state to regulate access to abortion on the basis of its having adopting a specific ‘theory of life’. Pretty much everything else in the court’s decision is derived not from considerations of rights and personal liberties but from a historical evaluation of cultural, philosophical and common law precedent on abortion and the state’s duty of care towards women in seeking to regulate medical practice.

This same emphasis on the state having a ‘duty of care’ is equally evident in the debates leading to the 1967 Abortion Act, particularly in terms of the extent to which the horrific consequences of backstreet abortions served to persuade parliament that it would be preferable to bring the practice of abortion under the clinical supervision of qualified medical practitioners.

While I’m not suggesting that the liberating effects of according women control over reproduction played not part in the arguments leading to the legalisation of abortion it is a bit rich, and not just a little bit absurd, for feminists to try to appropriate all the credit when there is ample evidence to suggest that the arguments that most held sway were those founded on altogether more practical, pragmatic and, indeed, paternalistic considerations.

So excuse me if I get a little pissed off when I read a man constructing his shiny “liberal” arguments on women’s bodies, but I really think that we’re the ones who get to decide what is and isn’t a good argument for abortion, and freedom from patriarchy sounds just dandy to me.

Who died and made you God?

Seriously, while it is up to feminists – or anyone else participating in this debate for that matter – to decide for themselves what exactly they consider to be a ‘good argument’ in support of legal access to abortion, what isn’t in anyone’s gift – and this goes for as much for feminists as it does for the so-called ‘pro-lifers’ who base their objections to abortion on religious belief – is the decision as who can or cannot legitimately participate in the debate, especially not when this is ‘justified’ on such arbitrary terms.

If there is a less plausible and more absurd riposte to Donald’s suggestion that the argument from patriarchy is a poor one to deploy, in the context of a UK-centric debate on abortion law, than the counter-argument – ‘what does he know about it, he’s a man’ – then I’ll be buggered if I can think of it. If anything, the glib deployment of such arguments creates nothing more than the impression that you’re incapable of adequately articulating a credible and reasoned justification for your chosen position, hence the reliance on ad-hominem commentary rather than reasoned argument, and its the widespread use of such tactics on both sides of the debate that, more than anything else, serves to support Donald’s general contention that the arguments presented at both extremes of the abortion debate are ‘poor’ ones, poor in the sense that they are lacking in ethical content and lacking, moreover, in empathy and humanity.

If any feminist cannot appreciate just how divorced from reality their view of abortion as a component of a ‘liberation ideology’ actually is then let me suggest you pop along to your nearest abortion clinic and start handing out greeting cards bearing the legend, ‘Congratulations on your abortion – you’ve just liberated yourself from male domination and patriarchal control over your body’ and see just what kind of reaction you get…

…and I’ll meet up with you in A&E later to get some feedback on your experiences.

And with that I think I’ll leave things for time being other to make two short-ish observations, both of which will serve, at some point, as the starting point for future posts.

The first, which is a general point about philosophy, ideology and political argument, is that what I find most frustrating when dealing with ideologues – and this goes as much for religious variety as it does the political – is their apparent inability to distinguish between the ideal world of philosophical thought experiments and social theories and the real world, the one that’s messy, inconsistent and in which people all too frequently behave in ways that that the most eminent and respect philosophers failed to predict.

If that’s you then can I just suggest that you trying clicking your heels together and repeating the following as your personal mantra, whatever it is you happen to believe…

It’s not like that in the real world… It’s not like that in the real world…

The second point, which is absolutely relevant to this current debate and to which I will be returning to some time over the next week is the observation that, a while ago, I spent some time looking for ‘answers’ to the one major question that no one engaged in this current debate on abortion seems willing or able to address in all but the most cursory terms…

Why do women have abortions?

Now I could well have been unlucky in my efforts to find an answer, but in this entire debate the most sobering ‘fact’ that I’ve come across over the last few months is that, forty years on from 1967 Abortion Act, I could find not one single piece of substantive social research in the UK into the question of why women have abortions and what are the factors that most heavily influence women in deciding to abort a foetus rather than continue with a pregnancy.

The estimate that’s most often bandied around is that around 2 million women in the UK have had one or more abortions over the last 40 years, women whose views and experiences are almost uniformly absent from the current debate – so you’ll have to excuse me if I get just a little pissed of at the thought of 645 MPs taking decisions about the correct framing of the UK abortion laws, the majority of whom will have no direct personal experience of facing up to such a difficult personal decision, none of whom seem to possess the basic decency to realise that, before they consider making any changes to the existing laws, let alone make allegedly ‘moral’ judgements about the current scale of abortions in the UK or the personal character and circumstance of women who have them, there are 2 million women whose opinions they should be seeking because they have the experience that MPs lack.

Where that observation takes this debate, and what little I did find by way of research into why women have abortions will be the subject of my next post on this issue, after which we really will, I think, have exhausted all the possibilities presented by this current debate.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


On your last point, consider divorce. Prior to the availability of no-fault divorces there was precisely one ground for divorce, that of ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ (though evidence of this could be shown in various ways). So ask the question: why do people get divorced? The answer must be: irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

I mention this because the situation with abortion is similar, aiui. Because of the quite specific reasoning required for an abortion to be allowed under the current law (a legal fiction in many cases these days, based only on what I have read), it seems to me that proper research on the real reasons can’t happen, without opening some of the doctors who approved abortions that don’t meet with the strict letter of the law to sanction.

Jono:

You’ve kind of hit on one of the core arguments for my next (and final) post on abortion law.

Yes, one of the effective barriers to research is the pseudo-medical legal categorisation of the majority of abortions in terms of risks to mental/physical health – one of the important and necessary liberalising measures that needs to be introduced is the removal of this classification and the legal acceptance that the majority of abortions take place for markedly social reasons, although whether that’s a step too far for parliament on this occasion remains to be seen.

Why this matters so much – and I have seen research data from other comparable countries and so have a pretty good idea of what we’d find in the UK – is that this kind of research would go a long way towards dispelling the false notion that women who fall pregnant and then choose to have an abortion are somehow irresponsible or feckless.

The response on the F-Word has left me speechless, and not in a good way.

To pick up on one small point: I’d be wary of using any difference in gender studies to back up your arguments. Almost all of them show a difference between average men and average women for whatever it is they are looking at, but if you actually fish into the data, there is generally more difference /among/ men and /among/ women than there is between the two groups.

This is why internet gender selection tests always, ALWAYS peg me as male.

As for the rest of it…

* shrug *

I believe this is an example of the infighting among the let that this blog was supposed to be avoiding?

I hadn’t in fact spotted that piece. Been away from the Conspiracy for a couple days… For sake of completion, I left the following comment at F-Word; it’s in their moderation queue right now

COMMENT BEGINS
Hmm, given you’ve constructed this piece on a misunderstanding or misreading of what I wrote, it’s difficult to know how to respond.

First, and most obvious, I made it clear (in text and several links) that I was writing about the UK, now. So, Nicaragua, 80,000 annual deaths, withholding of reproductive rights on a mass scale, and so on are outside the piece’s remit. For removal of any doubt, I clearly state my support for free and easy access to abortion and contraception.

Second, on the core of the paragraph you don’t like. My point is simply this: whatever the status of male/female relations, now, historically, or in the future, the ethical status of abortion (from a rights-based perspective) swings on the status of a foetus. Taking remedial action for oppression that critically affects something/someone who both 1. isn’t the oppressor and 2. has rights, clearly isn’t reasonable. Of course, if you assign no rights to a foetus, at any point during pregnancy, then it’s completely consistent. Ditto if you believe that the rights of the woman carrying the foetus, always and in all circumstances as far as birth (or even beyond?), trump the right to life of a foetus. I respect your view, but tend to disagree – again, for reasons I spell out.

You seem to have read my offending paragraph as “men don’t oppress women anymore” – which, as you graphically spell out, would have been a silly thing to write. (Though it would have been even sillier if, Mia, I had honestly written “because women are no longer repressed, it is fine to repress them”. Writing that would surely have provided cause to bring back the death penalty.)

As I made clear, I support easy, free (i.e. non-medicalized, or at least non-doctorized) access to abortion up to (maybe beyond) the current 24-week limit. I think we both know, anyway, that demand for it beyond that time limit is vanishingly small; only “pro-lifers” obsess about late abortions. But, for reasons I spell out in the piece, I would not support such ‘unlimited’ access to abortion. If you assign no ‘rights’ to a foetus, I can see that that poses no ethical problem. Again, I disagree.

Also, this: http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2008/03/04/who-died-and-made-you-god/

Finally, if you really are saying, as you appear to be, that only women get to debate abortion, then… first, I disagree, obviously. And second, go right ahead and delete this comment. No hard feelings and all that.

Jennie
#4

>I believe this is an example of the infighting among the let that this blog was supposed to be avoiding?

Perhaps, but it’s my considered opinion that bad arguments, ones which in my opinion don’t stand up to analysis, don’t do the liberal-left any favours. Anyway, as I admitted, I’m not much of a joiner.

I believe this is an example of the infighting among the left that this blog was supposed to be avoiding?

I’m not sure I’d see this so much as infighting so much as challenging some of the assumptions that underpin certain strands of left-wing thought, and those who advance them, to question those assumptions and make an effort to back them up with solid argument.

One of the downsides of blogging, and its as much a function of debates on the right as it is the left, is dealing with people who seem to think that their personal perspective on an issue is so obviously self-evidently the only right one that there’s no need for them to argue their case.

Some of the worst offenders in this respect are often the ‘shoutiest’ of the so-called ‘bloggertarians’ – in fact I’m almost inclined to suggest that the main difference between a genuine libertarian and a ‘bloggertarian’ is that the former can actually argue a reasoned case in support of their opinions while the latter has little or no idea of what they’re talking about but for what they’ve learned to recite, parrot-fashion, from their limited reading of Samizdata – but that’s another story.

As I see it, trying to not to descend into infighting does not mean putting up with poor conceived and constructed arguments – if anything Laura’s comments seem to be more a lazy attempt at a rebuttal than evidence of a lack of ability to construct a good argument, so hopefully what I’ve written here might prompt her to ‘up her game’ a little and take some of us men a little more seriously.

I should, perhaps, stress here that my main criticism of feminism, or rather certain strands of feminist thought, have nothing at all to do with the politics of gender and equality/inequality, rather they’re part of a more general critique of ideological thinking which too often tends to calcify over time into a form of intellectual rigidity which ‘dates’ very badly.

I’m with you all the way on challenging assumptions and dogmatic acceptance of stuff being bad, I just think that perhaps it could have been phrased less combatively than “Who died and made you God?”

Are you going to reply “she started it!” to this?

I’m agreed with Jennie in that this argument is being made more polarised and confrontational than it needs to be.

If any feminist cannot appreciate just how divorced from reality their view of abortion as a component of a ‘liberation ideology’ actually is then let me suggest you pop along to your nearest abortion clinic and start handing out greeting cards bearing the legend, ‘Congratulations on your abortion – you’ve just liberated yourself from male domination and patriarchal control over your body’ and see just what kind of reaction you get…

I think this probably captures the point I’m going over in my head, without articulating it properly. On the one hand, taken from a specific context, Donald’s para comes across as the asesertion that patriarchy is no longer a factor in abortion. But, we’re having this discussion from a left-liberal point of view where patriarchy is a no-no anyway.

But feminists expose themselves to a different environment where they are mindful of constant examples of patriarchy every day and attempts to deny choice by the pro-life crowd based on some very bad arguments. So there is an element of defensiveness over this point I think because of historical context.

The point you made above Unity doesn’t accurately reflect Laura I think. She’s not saying this is a feminist argument entirely, as far as I can tell, but that you can’t extract historical feminist arguments from this debate.

Incidentally, Donald makes this point in his reply to Laura: Ditto if you believe that the rights of the woman carrying the foetus, always and in all circumstances as far as birth (or even beyond?), trump the right to life of a foetus. I respect your view, but tend to disagree – again, for reasons I spell out.

I also believe the rights of the woman trump that of the foetus in all circumstances as far as birth. As far as most normal circumstances go.

#9 Sunny

> taken from a specific context, Donald’s para comes across as the assertion that patriarchy is no longer a factor in abortion

Y’see, that’s the bit I don’t agree with. You’d have to read that sentence, that paragraph, and have already decided that’s what I’m saying to come to such a conclusion. I’m clearly saying that past injustice can’t be a guide to “an abortion in 2006”. That whatever the status of the foetus, centuries (and by implication futures) of oppression are nothing to do with it. Not that patriarchy has no relevance to abortion rights. To make that leap is to argue in bad faith.

I’m clearly saying that past injustice can’t be a guide to “an abortion in 2006?.

But then, doesn’t that come across as saying that patriarchy, outright sexism and attempts to deny women those rights aren’t still widely prevalent? They are. Not as much as before but the issue hasn’t gone away. You could say the past is no longer a guide to the future – true. But that would assume the ‘injustice’ and the attack on womens rights to abortion don’t still happen.

You wrote the piece a few years ago when the debate around abortion was fairly muted. As you know, feminists are currently up in arms because of attempts by anti-abortionists to use the Human Fertilisation and Embroyology Bill to limit those rights. Those past injustices aren’t just in the past – they still remain in many cases.

It just feels like you think that is all in the past, and I think Laura is pulling you up on that too.

13. Kate Belgrave

Unity,

A few thoughts:

I think you and Donald sound a little more defensive than you need to be – or, at least, have written an awful lot about an awful little.

Does anybody really think abortion rights are about blackening the patriarchy’s eye anymore? I’ve read Laura’s post, and while I think she was perfectly entitled to write it, it didn’t resonate with me in the least. Why would it?

Going to be childishly simple here, but here we go (this is a bunch of random points all sort of chucked together as I sit here watching the footy):

The pro-choice argument in the modern era is hardly about triumphing over the patriarchy – after all, lot of us who are doing the arguing have already achieved that. We’re mostly middle-class women who have good jobs and the benefit of a university education, etc, and we are enjoying the money and power. We fight instead a neocon construct. Our argument is about heading opportunistic politicians like Nadine Dorries off at the pass as they try to associate themselves with positions that will resonate with the millennium’s emboldened religious right. Simple as that.

Feminists like myself – and I am very much a feminist – are very well aware that parliament – which is made up mostly of men – has voted very strongly in favour of keeping the Abortion Act as it is, not least on the two occasions that Nadine has taken a swipe at time-limits and attempted to peddle her nutty notion of a ten-day cooling-off period, etc. We feel the patriarchy is doing what it’s told. It just needs to be reminded to keep doing it.

Let me make this point, too – we middle-class girls do not look to liberate poorer women from capitalist oppression by making free abortion available to them – not a bit of it. We look to keep them in the workforce by giving them better control over their fertility. Let’s be honest about this. The pro-choice argument today is an entirely economic one – it’s about controlling one’s fertility so that one can continue to earn, and earn well. And fair enough, I say. I want to be out earning and participating and enjoying a dominant position in a so-called male world. That doesn’t make me a feminist sellout, btw. It makes me a true feminist. It makes me a woman who isn’t afraid to participate and believes she is utterly equal.

My own concern about the male contribution to the abortion debate on this site and elsewhere has simply been to do with the numbers of men involved – ie, there seem to have been a lot more of you than us.

That has annoyed me, because I do think that abortion is a female issue and that conversation about it should reflect that, literally. I wonder if the overwhelming male response is more of a reflection of political blogging at this point in history, though – the prevailing wisdom is that women don’t seem to have embraced political blogging with quite the enthusiasm of yourselves. You touch, as it were, on that point when you observe that you’ve struggled to find much online about the reasons why women have abortions. Abortion Rights recognises this issue, I think – they’ve put together a page with a collection of stories from women about their abortions and the reasons why they had them at:

http://www.prochoicemajority.org.uk/STORY/story_index.php

so have a look at that and see what you think.

Anyway – just a few thoughts. They might not go down so well with the folks at the F-word, but I haven’t got a problem with that. As you rightly point out, we need to have a discussion about feminism’s evolution, so we might as well have one here.

Etc.

#12 Sunny

>But then, doesn’t that come across as saying that patriarchy, outright sexism and attempts to deny women those rights aren’t still widely prevalent?

Absolutely not – like I said, you can only get to that reading by inserting it in there yourself. I’m saying that, on a liberal reading of abortion rights, these histories can’t be a guide to a specific ethical decision to abort or not. Frankly, it goes without saying that this is still a patriarchal world, doesn’t it? That abortion rights are an essential part of liberal Britain.

I’m more inclined to agree with Kate #13:

> Donald sound[s] a little more defensive than you need to be

Fair enough; but I’d just defend myself by pointing readers back to the original F-word post. Even if the arguments are straightforward to pick apart, and mostly directed at stuff I didn’t even write, it was no less vicious for it. But, hey, I’m a big boy – I can take it. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.

I’m not annoyed by the men on this site and others debating abortion – I think it’s a good thing that it’s no longer seen purely as a women’s issue – but I do find it a bit bemusing.

As for women not embracing political blogging…

I see that old canard is never going to die, no matter how many times I go on about it.

* sigh *

I think I need a break from the internet before I get really cross.

Donald, shame on you. It was supposed to be Unity that said “she started it!!!”

Grargh. Switching the machine of now, i swear.

>It was supposed to be Unity that said “she started it!!!

I think to be accurate, I was me that started it, wasn’t it? I’m lost now. Maybe I should just go back to watching the football or something.

18. Kate Belgrave

‘As for women not embracing political blogging…

I see that old canard is never going to die, no matter how many times I go on about it.

* sigh *’

Yes, I wonder how true that canard is as well, and wondered if I should drag it up at all, except that the abortion threads on this site do seem to be full of men – men who take exception to my tone, I might add.

Maybe I’m just a lonely old online shrew.

Ah, well, Could be worse.

Kate, for reference here’s my post on the subject of female political blogging being ignored: http://community.livejournal.com/theyorkshergob/7140.html

I reckon a good two thirds of the blogs I read are by laydeez. Can we be Shrewish together?

(also, to cheer you up, I had a hugely antagonistic and ad hominem attack on Nadine Dorries yesterday: http://community.livejournal.com/theyorkshergob/50588.html)

Sunny/Jennie/Kate:

So far as being a little confrontational goes, mea culpa…

…but then I don’t tend to get snarky without considering that there’s a good reason to do so, and in this case I feel that Laura’s comments point to a tree that needs a bit of shaking just to get people to think a little more not only about what they’re saying but the impression their comments make.

We need to be just a little careful here in our strategy and approach to this particular debate not least because its a too easy to write off the ‘pro-lifers’ on what we see of the personalities involved in the ‘pro-life’ campaign.

Dorries is, I think we would all agree, patently barking and anything but the ‘brains’ of the operation – the primary reason why she’s fronting the campaign is entirely tokenistic an can be summed up neatly as a combination ‘we need a woman front and centre or it looks bad’ and ‘at least she’s not Anne Widdecombe’ – but that doesn’t mean the underlying strategy is badly conceived. In fact its anything but badly conceived because its the same strategy that’s been used with some success in the US.

That said, its also a strategy that’s unlikely to work effectively in the UK, largely because its one that designed to target the ruling in Roe vs Wade and our native ‘pro-life’ crowd appear not to have had the wit to realise that the evolution of abortion law in the UK is contextually very different to that in the Us in ways that help to negate many of the arguments that have been effective over the pond. But that doesn’t mean to say that certain aspects of this strategy won’t transfer readily to British conditions and one such element that could ‘go over’ if were not careful is that of triangulating the classic feminist ‘rights’ argument.

Historically, what you have in this debate are two diametrically opposed ‘fringe’ positions – the heavily prohibitionist ‘pro-life’, no abortion except in extreme circumstances stance on one side on the feminists ‘rights of women above all other considerations’ on the other and these largely act to cancel each other out because each takes the argument on abstract principles too far for the majority of people to feel comfortable with either position. They each define the far boundaries of the debate and being seen as boundaries these can then be safely set aside while the core debate takes place in the ‘centre ground’ around things like time limits and the hoop jumping that women have to go through, etc.

A key part of the ‘pro-life’ strategy is now to massively downplay its own absolutist position and push for what it presents as small incremental changes in time limits – its trying to shift its perceived boundaries much closer to the centre which, at the same time, creates the false impression that only ‘extremist’ views operating in the debate are those of feminists who advocate an absolutist ‘rights-based’ position – the strategy tries to paint itself as being ‘reasonable’ and its opponents ‘unreasonable’ and then takes it a step further by suggesting that those who argue for the status quo on time limits and modest liberalisations in terms of access are being unduly influenced by/making concessions to supporters of the extreme ‘pro-choice’ view.

To that extent, what part of this strategy relies on is feminists publicly playing into just about every possible stereotype that’s ever been thrown in their direction in a way that both marginalises themselves and which shifts public perception of the ‘pro-life’ arguments into the mainstream debate, and whether Laura appreciates it or not, arguments that appear to seeking to claim eminent domain over the abortion debate play right into that strategy.

The more general point here is that, almost uniformly, people who approach politics from a strong ideological position, particularly on the left – and this is particularly true of any strands of left-wing thought that carry a heavy Marxian influence – don’t seem to ‘get’ quite how triangulation works and what has made it such a successful political strategy, largely because they seem to not recognise that what is does is not try to exclude ideological positions by challenging them head on but get those who take an ideological view of politics to marginalise and exclude themselves. We’ve seen this with the Trotskyist and other hard left groups over Iraq, we’re seeing this more and more in debates about multiculturalism and race relations and if we’re not just a little care we’ll start to see this emerging fully in the arena of gender politics, which is something we should certainly be concerned about given that this is helped spawn a more open ‘culture’ of racism and prejudice in the race relations debate and we have no reason to suppose that it won’t spawn a similarly open and misogynistic ‘culture’ if it takes root in the public discourse about gender and gender issues.

Unity, that’s all well and good, but you don’t change somebody’s mind by being confrontational and throwing playground insults at them. You make lots of good points, but the person you are aiming them at will not have seen them because the red mist will have descended as soon as she saw the title of this piece and realised it was aimed at her.

You may consider Laura’s post a good reason to get snarky, but you should always bear in mind that getting snarky INSTANTLY makes your opponent (even more) hostile and means you will not get your point across.

If you want to change minds, which it appears to me that you do, you won’t do it by posting like this.

My own concern about the male contribution to the abortion debate on this site and elsewhere has simply been to do with the numbers of men involved – ie, there seem to have been a lot more of you than us.

That has annoyed me, because I do think that abortion is a female issue and that conversation about it should reflect that, literally. I wonder if the overwhelming male response is more of a reflection of political blogging at this point in history, though – the prevailing wisdom is that women don’t seem to have embraced political blogging with quite the enthusiasm of yourselves.

Possibly, although my feeling is that it may have as much to do with attitudes to talking openly about abortion amongst women being more tightly bound up in taboos and false stigmas that men, certainly myself, don’t feel the need to observe or be concerned about.

Personally I’d welcome seeing many more women engaging in these debates and I’d like to think that the general tone of the debate here, which has been open, thoughtful and supportive, might help to encourage more women to join the fray and speak out in the knowledge that their contributions will be listened to and debated on their merits and the strength of the argument they put forward – I may have been a bit snarky in this piece but what I’ve sought to address are Laura’s arguments and not her personally.

I do think that there are other factors that may well come into play, as well, which stem from the often heated tone of the overall debate. It would be stupid to suggest that women to do write/speak out on abortion don’t run the risk of attracting crude and misogynistic comments from men (and in some cases from women – some of the pro-lifers can be particularly foul and abusive) and, yes, I do also think that in some case some women can and do find the radical feminist discourse on abortion, and on other issues, both off-putting and a little intimidating as well, particular where they don’t feel quite as strongly about the question of ‘women’s rights’ as some of the more politically ‘charged’ feminist commentators.

So I don’t think that there’s any single overriding reason for the shortage of contributions from women, its more that there are a range of different things at work which serve to exclude some women, or cause them exclude themselves, and those exclusions can fair quickly mount up.

You touch, as it were, on that point when you observe that you’ve struggled to find much online about the reasons why women have abortions. Abortion Rights recognises this issue, I think – they’ve put together a page with a collection of stories from women about their abortions and the reasons why they had them at:

http://www.prochoicemajority.org.uk/STORY/story_index.php

so have a look at that and see what you think.

It’s certainly a start, although as I’ve said previously there are limits to the amount of credence that I tend to place in anecdotal evidence because its often too easily manipulated to present a false picture of a situation – what Baudrillard referred to as a ‘hyperreality’. I’m not automatically dismissive of such evidence but I do tend to treat it a little sceptically until I can find some supportive evidence which validates that what’s being presented is a fair and accurate picture of the actual situation.

That said, while there’s been little or no substantive evidence gathered in the UK – it’s only in the last couple of years that there’s been any published research on ‘late presentations’ for abortion and why these occur – evidence which Dorries tried to get excluded from the S&T C report, I might add – there have been some efforts to gather such evidence elsewhere.

I’ve got a copy of just such a study and, to make matters more interesting, its actually a longitudinal study which shows not only why women access abortion services but how patterns of access and the reasons behind those patterns have been changing over time – one of the more interesting findings is that one of the fastest growing ‘sectors’ for abortions over recent years is amongst women in the 30-40 age range who already have children amongst whom a common stated reason for using abortion services is that they’d ‘completed their family’.

That study – which is from the US and is therefore broadly comparable with conditions in the UK – is what I’m going to use as the basis for the follow-up post I mentioned and from what I’ve seen of the Abortion Rights site should prove very useful to you – my general impression from reading the material you do have is as the data and analysis the report provides will substantially back up and support your anecdotal evidence, countering any questions that might otherwise be raised about selection bias.

Oh, and, of course, if you’ve not seen this report yourself and want a copy, then drop me an e-mail and I’ll dig it out an send it to you – its a pdf so I can move it by e-mail – it does make for some very interesting and illuminating reading, not to mention go a long way towards dispelling some of the more pernicious public myths about women and abortion choices.

Jennie:

Hold on a second – while the title of the piece, taken alone, could be considered a bit ‘in your face’, the actual section where I do get a bit snarky comes almost at the end of the article and after I’d worked through the detail of Laura’s comments and made a series of specific criticisms of the arguments she’d advanced.

It’s a style of writing I do tend to use quite often and invariably in situation where, even if what I’m addressing is something I consider to be a poor argument its perfectly apparent to me that author of the argument is more than capable of making a much better argument and of debating the topic at hand robustly and and intelligently.

I do confrontation just for the sake of it, but I can, and do, up the ante at the end of some posts in order to drive a specific point home – in no sense did I get snarky ‘instantly’ here because even though the title appears quite sharp, its only after I put up the main core of my argument that the context of the title become clear, and if nothing else I’m certainly to credit someone like Laura with the intelligence to read the full article before making her own judgement on its content – her response to Donald is one I consider to be rather lazy and stereotypical but its not one that leads to think that she might be stupid – in fact far from it, as its perfectly apparent from her remarks that she’s more than capable of putting up string argument and engaging in a robust debate.

On a more general note, one of the growing ‘divides’ in the British blogosphere is that which is developing between blogs and bloggers which set out to engage a general audience and invite a wide range of comment and debate across the political spectrum and those who prefer to operate in a definable ‘comfort zone’ and address only a limited audience – typically the latter is often referred to as ‘party hack blogging’, i.e. the kind of stuff you get from Iain Dale, Tory Home and others.

I’m self-admittedly no fan of the latter approach because it too often doesn’t engage with criticism and enter into debate and generally encourages people to lazily dismiss challenging and opposing viewpoints without addressing the arguments, and it strikes me that there’s an element of that in Laura’s comments which I do find a little frustrating as its quite obvious to me that she’s capable of far better.

Oh, and I should also say that I’m not explicitly trying to change anyone’s mind with any of this – its up to the reader to decide whether or not anything I have to say is worth mulling over or should give them pause for thought sufficient to cause them to rethink some of their assumption.

It’s perfectly within Laura’s gift to fire back from the position of saying that she stands by her comments, although I’d hope she’s argue them a little more effectively second time out, in which case we agree to disagree and move on and leave everyone to reach their own judgements on our respective arguments.

For me this isn’t about winning or losing the argument or swaying opinions – I just argue my case and let people make their own minds up. If they agree with me, fine, if they don’t then so what. I’ve got no pretensions about being or becoming an ‘opinion former’ – its not like I get paid for any of this and need to get all precious over the stuff I write – I’m just a bit of gobby sod who’s just about conceited enough to think that what I have to say might interest a few people somewhere along the line.

Jennie #21

>bear in mind that getting snarky INSTANTLY makes your opponent (even more) hostile

I admire your faith in human nature, I really do, but the fact that I’ve debated forensically and politely below her post and she’s… how to put it?… run away, leads me to conclude that either way this wasn’t going to get a considered response. Frankly what we have here is the bait and scarper trick that regular viewers will be familiar with.

Which brings me neatly to…

Sunny #9

> attempts to deny choice by the pro-life crowd based on some very bad arguments

To which we suggest replying with more bad arguments? As Unity points out above, that way you’re doing the other side’s PR for them. I don’t buy that supposed ‘defensiveness’ is an excuse for bad debate, or debate in bad faith. If you’re going to write strident stuff on t’Web, fair enough, go for it: but be prepared to back it up (or admit you were wrong), or you just end up looking silly.

I’m not suggesting, btw, that there aren’t perfectly cogent objections to my piece. Just that she’s sprayed quite a few around, and not alighted on one yet.

Kate – “Let’s be honest about this. The pro-choice argument today is an entirely economic one – it’s about controlling one’s fertility so that one can continue to earn, and earn well”

I disagree. That may well be one of the arguments used, and the one you’re most comfortable aligning yourself with, but it’s not where I’m coming from at all.

Like Sunny, I believe in a woman’s right to complete autonomy over her body and reproduction. For me that’s an absolute, and yes, that does mean advocating a right to abortion right up to the point of birth. Whether the woman then chooses to continue to earn, or whether she then decides to opt out of the rat race is of no concern; what matters is that abortion gives women the freedom to live lives of their own choosing.

I’m with Laura on this one. Abortion is key to women’s liberation and freedom from patriarchal oppression – I’m happy to debate what exactly that means and why it’s as relevant today as it’s always been until the cows come home. But to be honest, I’d also agree that that argument is likely to turn a lot of people off, as is the one going on right here.

At the risk of coming over completely rad fem on this issue, I don’t see how the debate can be served by seeking to find out why women have abortions. As a woman who has had an abortion, I’m pretty much done with feeling any need to justify myself , and I don’t think women should have to justify it. There is a danger in that approach of opening the door to moralistic judgements about women’s decisions, one that’s already highlighted in the first paragraph with the distinction being made between ‘clinical’ and ‘social’ abortion. But I’ll wait and see what Unity comes up with before I say anymore, ‘cos he’s probably already got that covered…….

27. Matt Munro

“I also believe the rights of the woman trump that of the foetus in all circumstances as far as birth. As far as most normal circumstances go.”

You are in contradiction with all known mammalian biological systems then. Human pysiology places the needs of the foetus above those of the mother, for example when food is scarce, the mother, by design, starves before the baby. This makes perfect evolutionary sense whereas the opposite, if extrapolated, would result in extinction.
Similarly, in a scenario where there is a birth complication meaning the mother or the baby (but not both) can survive, it is the baby that is rescued.
I cannot believe how selfish and deeply in humane women and some men are on this subject, you can dress it up as “rights”, or “choice” as much as you like, but it amounts to putting womens “needs” (usually for such crucial things as a career or the freedom to shag around) before those of the foetus and ultimately the human race.
And the idea that men control womens reproduction is laughable, women have the pill, the cap, the coil, implants, female condoms, morning after pill and abortion. We have er, the condom, 16th century technology. If men really controlled female fertility, there wouldn’t be any unwanted preganancies and no need for abortions.

28. Matt Munro

“while biological differences between the two genders may well have played some part in the early development of differing cultural attitudes towards men and women, those attitudes have long since developed a ‘life’ (and an evolutionary impetus) of their own and have almost entirely ceased, in the vast majority of societies, to rely on biology for their raison d’etré.”

I don’t understand this left wing idea that you can somehow “supercede” biology. It’s analagous to the argument that we have somehow “transcended evolution”, as if something that has been happening spontaneously at a global level for millenia would abruptly stop in the liberal west around 1965 because it was deemed incompatible with liberal/left thinking. Biology didn’t play a part in the early development of cultural attitudes and then just disappear, it’s ever present. In case you hadn’t noticed we are all primarily biological entities, and our primary constraint is biological embodiment.

What is commonly referred to as “culture” is just the contextual expression of biological drives, the white noise, which is why the direction of difference between male/female societal roles is culturally invariant. Saying those drives can be superceded is analogous to King Kanute asserting control over the sea, they cannot be superceded because they are innate, all “society” can do is generate norms around how they should be satiated, and even that is contrained by the fact that it’s imposible to reinforce behaviours which have no adaptive advantage. We exist to mate, and no amount of social engineering has managed to change that.
Culture does not write itself onto a blank slate, if it did how would it ever change, it would simply be slavishly copied from one generation to another, where would technology, innovation and progress come from ? Culture interracts with innate biological differences producing *variable* outcomes, which are mediated by (dynamic) social structres into culturally acceptable behaviour.
I could probably have summaried my argument by saying that nature trumps nurture, as science is increasingly revealing, which is why the left, in the guise of political correctness are increasingly anti science, but that’s a whole other post.

Cath #26

> There is a danger in that approach of opening the door to moralistic judgements about women’s decisions

That’s where I disagree, I think. I see the development of public ethics as an opportunity not a danger. I’m not just talking about abortion here (though why not – the so-called ‘pro-life’ side have much the weaker ethical arguments on this, too); I heard a slot on a supposedly intelligent radio station yesterday, about the inconclusive effects of 24-hr licensing, that didn’t once, in 20 minutes, mention the principle that in the absence of an overwhelming reason, personal liberty ought to be paramount. Trouble is, other than that the Human Rights Act is some eeevil force tearing society apart, mainstream media seems in general unwilling to talk about rights. I know my rights is no more important than I understand my rights. That’s why I like to write about rights and public ethics.

Not that an individual should have to publicly justify themselves (that’s something different altogether). I’m talking about public ethics here – not kangaroo courts. The MYOB maxim still applies.

Similarly, in a scenario where there is a birth complication meaning the mother or the baby (but not both) can survive, it is the baby that is rescued.
I cannot believe how selfish and deeply in humane women and some men are on this subject, you can dress it up as “rights”, or “choice” as much as you like, but it amounts to putting womens “needs” (usually for such crucial things as a career or the freedom to shag around) before those of the foetus and ultimately the human race.

Matt Munro: I’m not sure why you put rights or choice in quotation marks. That anecdotal evidence doesn’t mean anything.

Incidentally, if I was faced with a choice by the doctor asking me to save the life of my (future) wife or a son/daughter, I’d take my wife every time. No contest. I’m not sure where your argument goes really.

Cath:

But I’ll wait and see what Unity comes up with before I say anymore, ‘cos he’s probably already got that covered…….

Well, here’s hoping that I’ve managed to justify your obvious faith in me…

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2008/03/05/why-do-women-have-abortions/

Unity:
The more general point here is that, almost uniformly, people who approach politics from a strong ideological position, particularly on the left – and this is particularly true of any strands of left-wing thought that carry a heavy Marxian influence – don’t seem to ‘get’ quite how triangulation works and what has made it such a successful political strategy

Not sure what the point about triangulation is here. Expand on this a bit if you can… though not in too much detail please. How do you think we’re being triangulated? Incidentally, I reckon the number of women who see their rights trumping that of the child every time is a lot higher than a ‘fringe’ I’ll bet.

Possibly, although my feeling is that it may have as much to do with attitudes to talking openly about abortion amongst women being more tightly bound up in taboos and false stigmas that men, certainly myself, don’t feel the need to observe or be concerned about.

Again, I’m not sure what taboo you’re challenging here. I think Laura made some assumptions about your article that may not have been entirely right but that doesn’t mean anyone is ducking any issue as far as I can see.

Donald:
To which we suggest replying with more bad arguments?

What’s the bad argument that is being supplied here? We can argue what are good or bad arguments until the cows come home, but tyhe point I think you guys need to accept is that in an issue such as this, people approach it from different perspectives. Kate, Cath and I all have different stand-points on this issue and that determines what arguments we make.
You’re setting up a false dichotomy here because I’m still unsure what bad argument is being made. Laure and others think that patriarchy, past and present, is still a valid factor in these debates. I’d probably agree on balance. She hasn’t made any conclusions from that I can disagree with, so I’m going along with it.

To take another example – race politics. I dislike Lee Jasper a lot because I think he fights race politics from an 80s stand-point, at a time where he had to struggle to get ‘rice and peas’ (as he told me once). Now I would say that past racism is a bad guide to determining contemporary policy anyway, but what makes him odious is his blanket accusations that the whole system is still racist – and there is no nuance. Hence, his recommendations are completely stupid.

As far as I can see, Laura hasn’t done that. Sexism exists, as racism does. It’s not as bad as in the past, and one can be mindful of the past and not let it determine the present. But to say it has no bearing on the issue, as your post kind of suggested (though we may have intepreted it wrong), is not right.

Also, I’m in completely agreement with Cath in #26.

Having a debate about public ethics can sometimes ignore that people can do things for entirely selfish reasons, and in most cases we must let them make that decision.

I don’t understand this left wing idea that you can somehow “supercede” biology.

Anyone suggest a decent book on ‘memetic theory’ for Matt?

Seriously, I think you need to read Dan Dennett’s book ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’ in order to understand the limitations of your arguments, which are just another variation on ‘greedy reductionism’.

Sunny #33

Second bit first:

> Having a debate about public ethics can sometimes ignore that people can do things for entirely selfish reasons, and in most cases we must let them make that decision.

Quite. Which is why I wrote:

I’m talking about public ethics here – not kangaroo courts. The MYOB maxim still applies.

MYOB: i.e. mind your own business. Public ethics has nothing to do with trailing people round the streets enquiring of them as to why they dropped their Snickers wrapper. It does, though, suggest that we publicly agree that dropping litter is wrong. Etc.

I wouldn’t even use the word selfish. It’s unnecessarily pejorative. Some things just aren’t anyone else’s business, as you say.

Sunny:

On triangulation – think ‘Bruce Lee’ in ‘Enter the Dragon’…

Seriously, triangulation is in part, the art of political ‘fighting without fighting’ (hence the Bruce Lee reference) in as much as it functions by not engaging with the arguments of opponents – in fact it typically claims to advance a position that is above and outside ‘traditional’ politics – while at the same time drawing opponents into excluding themselves from the mainstream public discourse by creating the appearance that their arguments are unreasonable and sustainable only at the fringes of political culture.

Call it ‘giving them the rope they need to hang themselves’ – it amounts to the same thing.

On taboos in the abortion debate – see my latest piece on the unanswered question of why women have abortions.

Sunny #33

> What’s the bad argument that is being supplied here?

This all getting a bit meta now… but, briefly, the original bits of Laura’s post that

1. Accused me of saying male oppression is a thing of the past – re-read what I wrote, if anyone 35 comments down can honestly be bothered. I clearly didn’t.
2. Suggested that as a male I was unwelcome in sharing my thoughts on abortion (first and last paras.). Which is silly.
3. Berated me for glossing the state of abortion rights worldwide – when I clearly was writing about the UK.
4. Certainly implied that I was against “free and legal abortion and contraception” when in fact I state the exact opposite in my piece.

Then ran away when challenged. (Which, it goes without saying, is her right. As Guido/Iain etc. always says.)

Honestly, there’s no other way of calling that than bad arguing, and arguing in bad faith. It’s quite another thing altogether to say:

Like Sunny, I believe in a woman’s right to complete autonomy over her body and reproduction. For me that’s an absolute, and yes, that does mean advocating a right to abortion right up to the point of birth.

Which is a perfectly reasonable position that clearly doesn’t agree with mine. I have the highest respect for that – and all the other honestly argued perspectives that differ from mine. But that goes without saying here, surely?

Sunny #32

> But to say it has no bearing on the issue, as your post kind of suggested (though we may have intepreted it wrong), is not right.

You have interpreted it wrong, if that’s how you interpreted it. To paraphrase me: to fight sexism, we fight sexism. Not by aborting a foetus, which is an ethical decision quite separate from fighting (obviously existing) sexism.

Or, another way: while the existence of liberal abortion rights absolutely is a key element in the fight against oppression, in asserting female liberty, the individual decision to abort is a quite separate ethical one. One that swings on the status of a foetus, as well as personal autonomy.

I’m not saying that’s the only way of looking at it. I’m saying that’s my way of looking at it.

Have we done this to death yet?

Unity – I know what triangulation is, I’m asking how it applies in this context.

I’m also somewhat similar in thinking to Cath over your point that we need to examine in detail why women have abortions. I’m not sure why that’s necessary. That’s like asking why women choose to have children – there maybe a whole myriad number of reasons that mean nothing in legislative terms. Futhermore, the danger is that a few examples are used by thr right to say: look, OMG, they’re having an abortion because they only care about themselves – to which I’d say: “So fucking what, mind your own business.”

Donald:
1) It may not be what you meant, but it is how others read it as. I think that needs to be acknowledged and maybe cleared up.
2) Not sure if she said that… though if I approached the post from the view that the person was denying that patriarchy is still prevalent, then I’d be quite annoyed too I guess and may end up implying that if the person isn’t aware of how it feels maybe they shouldn’t participate i n the discussion. Again, this may stem from point 1.
3) Sure.
4) Mmmm…. I think she was more annoyed at your apparent dismissal of patriarchy than that.
5) She may be busy. Comparing her to Iain Dale/Guido at this stage, when they do this persistently, is premature.

There is no need to antagonise this debate when both of you are broadly on the same side. This does in fact remind me of the ‘cats in a sack’ analogy because after about 15 posts from yourself and Unity and 1500 comments I’m still unsure as to what the argument is. But so goes web debate.

Because we are broadly agreed on the basic points, I’m not sure what the point of generating an argument that doesn’t affect the current state of affairs…

Sunny #39

Re. your 1). Here’s what I wrote, with added brackets. I’m not quite sure why I’m bothering, but anyway…

Male control over birth rights, over women’s bodies, has been [that’s the past continuous tense – i.e. something that’s still going on] a tool of patriarchal oppression for centuries.” True [I’m acknowledging that this has been and still is going on – so, I’m acknowledging patriarchy exists, specifically not the opposite, which is what I’ve been accused of], but any reasonable ethics only allows remedial action against the oppressor [I’m saying remedial action against an oppressor should be allowed – indeed, must be allowed ethically]. Most of them are long dead [that’s a statement of fact – most men that have lived in Britain are now dead], none of them are foetal – so what’s the relevance to an abortion in 2006 [I’m saying here that centuries of oppression has no bearing on the moral status of an existing 2008 foetus – on which a liberal theory of abortion rests, according to me]? [I also don’t go on to discuss what kinds of remedial action should be allowed – because I’m not writing about that, I’m writing about abortion; nor have I discussed that it’s the patriarchal system rather than individual men that are to blame in some cases; nor have I discussed Nicaragua; and so on]

Is that cleared up? Is this the most pointless argument I’ve ever had? Look, I’ve said many times, if I’m wrong, I’ll hold my hands up. What isn’t acceptable though is a deal of revisionism about what I did (or didn’t) write.

And I stand by 2) and 4). And anyway I consider none of it an excuse for a poorly argued attack. But frankly, I’m more interested in clarifying to you (whose opinion I value) than addressing the original attack (which I couldn’t give a shit about).

Like you say, Sunny, I’m broadly in agreement with everyone that’s commented on this thread – except Matt.

41. Matt Munro

Sunny # 30

It’s not anecdotal evidence, it’s ethical/legal policy. In a situation where there is a judgement call and no relative/spouse available, the foetus is saved over the mother. I respect your personal choice, although puzzled as to why you assume that would be everyones’ choice, there are many scanarios where it would not be a simple choice, and I’m not sure it would necessarily always be mine.
And I put rights in quaotation marks as far as I’m concerned there is no “right” to murder unborn children, it clearly wouldn’t fit the “as long as it does no harm” principle of the positive rights test.

Sunny #39
“look, OMG, they’re having an abortion because they only care about themselves – to which I’d say: “So fucking what, mind your own business.”

By that logic, why can’t I light a cigarette in a pub/drive a car drunk/inject heroin/rob a bank etc etc etc – “mind your own business” is never a coherent argument in a democracy, or anywhere else probably.

Unity # 34

So all I need to do is read a book written by the world famous Dan Dennet, doubtless written from a relativist/constructivist perspective and I’ll be reprogrammed with correct views and become yet another emotion over reason PC drone ?
There’s nothing wrong with “reductionism” – it’s a pejorative terms usually used by those who lack the intellect to understand science, or who lack the moral capacity to accept its’ less comfortable implications. E=MC2 is “reductionism”, does that make it simplistic or invalid ? Is the opposite of “reductionism” – constructivism aka self referential subjective humanist psycho social codswallop – immune from any criticism ?
I doubt if you’ve even read (and you obviously don’t understand the implications of) the theory of evolution, and yet you are prepared to recommend some obsucre criticism of it as a desparate sounding appeal to authority. Belive it or not I’ve read Vygotsky, Piaget et al, and I’m still not convinced there is any “reality” which cannot be explained physically – if that’s ok with you, or do you want me to kick a stone down the street and say “I refute it thus” ?
The evidence of evolutionary theory is all around you, and there is plenty that it din’t stop in 1965 after all, but where is the falsification (leaving the god squad aside) ?

“By that logic, why can’t I light a cigarette in a pub/drive a car drunk/inject heroin/rob a bank etc etc etc – “mind your own business” is never a coherent argument in a democracy, or anywhere else probably.”

Uh, where’s your logic? I mean obviously there’s an ethical debate over life, but all of the above situations have PROVEN consequences to peoples liberty other than your own

Donald – “I’m saying here that centuries of oppression has no bearing on the moral status of an existing 2008 foetus – on which a liberal theory of abortion rests, according to me”

Ok, I think I’m getting it now, although my argument would be that while that may be the case, centuries of oppression do have a bearing on the moral status of women in society, and unfortunately much of the pro-life argument, while couched in terms of ‘right to life’ of the foetus, is in fact centred on women’s perceived fecklessness/promiscuity/irresponsibility.

A liberal theory of abortion cannot just rest on the moral status of the foetus, it must also rest on the presumption that women have the right and the ability to be moral actors. That’s what’s missing in much of this debate, and it’s why some of us do bridle slightly at the way these discussions often become so male dominated and so bogged down in academic discourse.

Matt – “By that logic, why can’t I light a cigarette in a pub/drive a car drunk/inject heroin/rob a bank etc etc etc ”

Because all of those things have a potential impact on others; it is their business if I do something that could cause them harm. I smoke, that’s up to me, but if I light up in a pub next to Sunny and make him suffer secondary smoking he’s not going to be happy – I have no right to impose my choice on him.

Having an abortion has no impact on anyone else. Your life is no different because I’ve had an abortion. If I stand next to you in a pub my personal decision will not affect you in any way. If I didn’t tell you I’d had one you would never know – the only person I have to answer to for my decision is me. That’s why it’s none of your business, because it has no bearing whatsoever on your life.

Cath #42

> A liberal theory of abortion cannot just rest on the moral status of the foetus, it must also rest on the presumption that women have the right and the ability to be moral actors.

I agree. That wasn’t meant to be a total summary of my ethics, just of that sentence; I do discuss and (obviously) defend female autonomy elsewhere. There is no theory of rights without it.

> centuries of oppression do have a bearing on the moral status of women in society

I agree. Which explains why I consider the public ethics of a pro-choice argument extremely important to clarify. Which is why I bothered writing this in the first place. The only difference between us is that, after a certain point, I’d assign/balance the conflicting rights slightly different. (As an aside: this isn’t just about abortion. I can imagine a circumstance (maybe hypothetical) when I’d consider it acceptable to force someone to give blood. There’s an analogy there. But that’s another story.)

The crit that it’s all a bit academic in tone: fair enough. I’m a hack ethicist, but I can do non academic, too. My response to someone making Matt’s argument might be something like: “Do I have to consult you when I have my wisdom tooth pulled? No, thought not.”

Cheers for clarifying that, though I was a bit confused too by your points. Again, I think Cath clarifies my own viewpoint too.

Phew. Looks like we all agree then. (Apart from Matt obviously, but we’ll just have to keep working on him…)

than addressing the original attack (which I couldn’t give a shit about).

*winces*

I think wires were crossed (though I don’t know how Laura feels about this debate now) but I think its worth engaging new voices too. Anyway, let’s leave this for now.

Matt:

Based on your comments you are seriously misunderstanding why I recommended Dennett and what his book is actually about.

Assuming, from your comments, that you’re completely unfamiliar with Dennett’s work you appear to be misunderstanding the content of the book in question based on its title. ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea’ is not a critique of evolutionary theory but an attempt to explain precisely why natural selection is regarded by its opponents as being a ‘dangerous’ idea and gives several detailed rebuttals of many of the more common, and specious, critiques of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis.

What Dennett explores are the philosophical implications of Darwinian evolution, why these scare the bejeebus out of many people, including some eminent scientists and why their efforts to defuse the intellectual hand grenade that Darwin lobbed into mainstream culture are a crock of shit.

What you appear not have got in my original argument is that the position I’m putting forward is not that culture takes human outside the process of evolution but rather that its an evolutionary process in itself, one that is subject to and driven by core Darwinian processes – accumulated incremental variation and natural selection – albeit at a hyper accelerated rate when compared to the slow but steady process of biological evolution.

What Dennett and others (Tooby, Pinker, Dawkins and Hauser et al) have been doing for the last 20 years or so is working towards unifying biological evolution and psychological/cultural evolution with a common Darwinian framework which, it seems to me from your comments, should be right up your street – if nothing else, yI reckon you’d enjoy the chapters in which Dennett sticks it to Gould, Chomsky and Penrose in no uncertain manner.

The F-word in question is presumably “fuming”.

That’s what’s so off-putting about contemporary feminism: so much of it is fuming outrage and how-dare-you?? When that combines with argumentation as feeble as this, it’s not surprising that it alienates a whole lot of people who should be natural allies of equality and women’s rights.

50. Matt Munro

Lee #42
Cath at #43

How can you say that it has no impact on anyone else ? Even if you define life as starting at the point of birth, what about the rights of the father/grandparents to children/grandchildren, siblings to have siblings ? What about the species need to renew itself ? Abortion goes far beyond the impact on the woman, which is why couching it in terms of womens rights is absurd and dishonest.

Unity #48

Apologies, got the wrong end of the stick. I don’t think of culture as evolving neceassarily, although it is obviously cumulative, in the sense that contemporary culture always carries some echoes of past culture.

Right to “have a sibling”? Only children are clearly not having a right violated, this is absurd. By the same token, men can have children by finding a partner willing to have children with them. Nobody is taking away that right. They don’t have the right to use the law to force a woman to carry a child to term when she does not want to.

Current estimates have world population at 12 billion by 2050. The species is doing just fine so we don’t even need to debate that issue. I guess maybe its not white enough for you though?

52. Matt Munro

What makes you think I’m white ???? Don’t see what my comments have to do with ethnicity. My point was that in comparison to the alledged “right to clean air” viz the smoking ban, there are fairly clearly comparable rights for people close to an abortion other than the mother. How would you like to find out that you brother/sister to be was aborted as they weren’t convenient – think it would do you any psychological harm ? Or perhaps by your logic we should just ban children altogether, work until we can’t and then rely on the state to look after us in our old age – or exploit migrants on poverty wages to wipe our arses ?
The species is doing fairly badly actually, we still have an awful lot of poverty, avoidable deaths, the odd war etc etc. Maybe if liberals applied the rights of women not to reproduce in the 3rd world rather than the 1st, some of those problem would be solved, but mysteriously that wouldn’t be about rights, it would be cultural imperialism wouldn’t it………….


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