Are lefties guilty of ignoring abortion rights?

2:57 am - May 15th 2008

by stroppybird    

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Anti-coathangerAbortion, and of course the wider issue of reproductive rights, still seems to be an area that the left need to be pushed on.

Yeah they will often make the right noises, but they will make excuses for anti abortion men such as Galloway, and yet I can’t see them being quite so tolerant if someone was, ooh let’s say pro-war. But abortion is a women’s issue isn’t it, it’s not quite up there with the serious male leftie men and their real politics about war and arguing the toss over the finer obscure theoretical points of Marxism or who did what when to whom in 1983.

That’s not to say the majority of the left aren’t pro choice and I’m not going to bang on about Galloway as it’s pointless. Back to the subject, the left and pro choice, why should they get their finger out on this?

Much has been said on this, so I will try to focus on what I see as specific issues for the left, starting with the fact that working class women are those who lose out the most when abortion rights are restricted. Money has always helped procure such services from discreet private doctors.

Working class women, pre 1967, had to make do with the back street abortionists and the resultant risks to health, potentially fatal.

Some on the left get caught up by the reasons for abortion and then sympathise with the conclusion that abortion should be restricted or is a bad thing.

Many argue that it’s wrong that women should have to have an abortion because they can’t afford a child. Well yes, but the answer is not to make it illegal, all that does is put those women at risk. The left need to fight for better childcare, benefits, wages.

Even with improved finances some women may still decide that they don’t want more or even any children and that should be their right. And some won’t feel bad about it or suffer psychologically, especially without the guilt trips from others .

An issue that the left should grapple more with is disability rights.
People with disability are often angry that it’s a ground for abortion. Are we trying to create perfection? On the flip side some with a disability, such as the hearing impaired, argue for the right to have a child with the same disability as them.

Now within the world of disabilities there is a wide spectrum. There was a case a while back of a teenager in Ireland who came to Britain for an abortion. She was refused it at home even though the baby would have died very soon after birth so severe were the disabilities. This case illustrates the lack of humanity of some anti abortionists, who would make a young girl suffer like that . No matter what we do, situations that sad will probably always occur.

Greyer areas are more complex. The reality is that, adopting a social model of disability, its society that causes the most problems. People with disabilities have less chances to earn a good wage , expectations of what their life will be like is lower and benefits inadequate. The physical environment is disabling. Many people, the left included, are still patronising and paternalistic to those with disabilities. Parents, and especially mothers, struggle to care for and bring up a child.

So what should the left’s response be to the conflicting views of women’s and disability rights?

I would argue the left must support the current rights women do have and argue for their extension as well as challenging the way disabled people are viewed in society, campaigning for better support for parents and their children with disabilities.

We should challenge what is the norm and the increasing pressure for ‘perfect’ children, to argue for difference and diversity in people. We do not though make it more difficult for women to have an abortion and force them to have a child they do not feel they can cope with.

Finally, some point to left currents that are not pro choice, Nicaragua being one such example.

Nicaragua highlights the dangers of the left going along with religion and ignoring women’s rights. In Nicaragua it is a crime to have an abortion, even if the woman’s life is in danger. A report last year in the Guardian highlighted the costs to women of this law. It hits the poorest:

This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

“Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence,” says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. “Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die.”

For the Nicaraguan rich, a problematic pregnancy need not be a death sentence. You can fly to Miami or bribe a discreet private clinic in Managua. But in this wretchedly poor country most young women do not have money. Their choice is to go through with a pregnancy that may kill them, or attempt a DIY termination that may kill them.

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups.

The anti-abortion camp, in contrast, is euphoric. The new law, it says, is a beacon in the fight to protect the unborn. It is time to celebrate. “Now it is all penalised. And Catholics agree that is should be this way,” says Roberto González, 50, a Franciscan priest in Managua. “The population sees the church as behind the law – behind the pressure that succeeded in getting the government to change the law.”

The stories highlighted in the report show it’s the poorest who are most affected, that young women die and children are left without a mother, often going into care. I expect many of these women were catholic, allowed to die for the sake of a foetus that didn’t even survive.

The left needs to keep this in mind when it bows to religious groups. Where abortion is limited or illegal women die, the poorest suffer the most. It does not stop abortion happening, it does not reduce the causes and reasons for abortion, it does not mean people are more accepting of disability or difference. The left need to focus on reducing the causes, not excuse religious reactionary views on what women can do with their bodies .

The left needs to campaign to improve disability rights, access to good sex education and contraception, tell religious leaders to butt out and work to improve the rights, support and attitudes to disability and difference.

The left should accept that whatever we do to improve the financial situation of women, availability of contraception and quality of sex education, attitudes to disability and support available, that women still have control over their own bodies. That control should not lie with men, the state or any religious groups. It lies with the woman: ‘our bodies, our choice’.

A longer version is posted on stroppyblog.

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About the author
'Stroppybird' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She has been involved, on and off since the 80's, in left/feminist/LGBT/ politics and social policy. She considers herself a stroppy socialist, feminist and an atheist. Is in the Labour Party, just, mainly because she don't see any alternative on the left at the moment. Not sure for how much longer. She also write for Stroppyblog
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Reader comments

Are lefties guilty of ignoring abortion rights

Not if this site is anything to go by! How high does the proportion of posts that are about abortion as opposed to any of the huge variety of other issues thy could be about have to get?

2. stroppybird

Thats because this site is campaigning on the issue and there is a vote in parliament next week.

Its not representative of the left as a whole who tend to be more preoccupied with other issues, as I mention in the post.

3. douglas clark

I’d agree – to a point – that its’ a womans right to decide. It is also, pretty clearly the right of a woman to reject medical advice on a termination if she has beliefs, religious or otherwise, that make her feel that way.

Where I would draw a line in the sand is in deliberately choosing for disability, however narrowly defined. Which, it seems to me at least, that you are hinting at here:

People with disability are often angry that it’s a ground for abortion. Are we trying to create perfection? On the flip side some with a disability, such as the hearing impaired, argue for the right to have a child with the same disability as them.

If it is an outcome of chance, then fair enough. But deliberately engineering it in? I think not.

That is a designer choice too far, I think, and would take dependency culture to a whole new level.

4. stroppybird

Im raising it as an issue as its a debate within some sections of the disability rights movement .

5. V Profane

I think most liberal Brits tend to take abortion rights for granted because we don’t have anything like the kind of anti-abortion lobbying the US has.

“That is a designer choice too far, I think, and would take dependency culture to a whole new level.”

I think that is what it comes down to for me. If a family (or even a community) are prepared to support a hearing impaired child without state intervention (in other words take on the costs of their choice), then I think the parents have a right to select, even for disabilities. But in the context of the welfare state, perhaps it is a choice too far.

7. douglas clark


I take your point, but it is completely grotesque for a potential parent to deliberately select for a disability whether state funded or not. As someone else said, if my parents had done that to me, I’d have sued them and everyone else in the firing line.

Because more noise about abortion means more stigma for women having abortions. When there’s a change of changing policy, that downside is outweighed by the impact of getting a less-bad law. The rest of the time – I think this country has done well from *not* talking about abortion much.

Also: opinions don’t divide down straight left-right lines on this.

I agree with pretty much all of this, stroppybird. Spot on.

Is it not also because (to a point) the pro-choice position is the status quo? I’m not disagreeing with you altogether Stroppy – certainly it’s the case that Galloway’s crew would have all sorts of reasons for drawing a discreet veil over the abortion issue. However it’s also a bit like why there are not massive amounts of general articles on “why we need an NHS” or “people shouldn’t have to pay to send their kids to school”. The NHS and free schooling are existing social facts (albeit not guaranteed in perpetuity), and so unless a specific issue comes up people tend not to mention them.

There’s been a lot said about the vote tomorrow on the Embryology Bill because it’s a specific, and one where there’s at least some notional risk of a setback to abortion rights. Otherwise, rightly or wrongly, I suppose people see the right to abortion as a battle already won.

11. douglas clark

Alan Thomas,

I think that the current consensus is right. Nadine Dorries thinks otherwise. The problem that we have is that Nadine Dorries is an MP and can put up motions that will effect us all. Which is her right as an MP. It is also our right to say that she is misusing her position and bringing parliamentary democracy into disrepute. At least, that’s how I see it.

Incidentally, her ‘arguement’, if you can call it that, is an appeal to emotion, rather than reason. Whilst I have my own views on the subject, it is worth recognising that as well as being anti abortion, the fragrant Ms Dorries is also agin contraception. Ms Dorries is attempting to take on a ‘moral majority’ hat, the likes of which has not been seen since Mary Whitehouse popped her clogs.

12. douglas clark


Apologies. It is all to easy to pick out the thing you disagree with and comment on that. I should have made it clear that apart from the caveat I had, and have, in 3, I agree completely with the rest of your post.

Not sure about calling Ms Dorries ‘fragrant’, but there’s definitely a smell about her…

I definitely agree with the idea that liberals can never accept definitive answers, so I think if anyone on the left is ignoring these questions it must be those on the illiberal left who can’t deal with the complexities of real life.

Douglas I would have thought it pretty obvious that I agree with freedom of choice on the abortion issue, and with all due respect I really don’t need to be taught the bad stuff about Nadine Dorries or the other assorted loons, goons and buffoons who make up the UK “Pro-Life” movement’s great and good. That wasn’t my point.

My point was only that you don’t constantly hear left-wingers talking about abortion rights because, in the eyes of most of the public at least, these are something that we already have. Frankly I’ll fall off my chair if that changes tomorrow, although I accept that it always pays to be vigilant.


I understand what you mean by the status quo but we have to remember the anti abortionists will not give up and go away. any chance they will take it to undermine the rights we have. They may have been won, but they are always at risk.

We can be pretty sure the anti abortionists will have been putting pressure on MPs. Some of them may see agreeing to a time limit as a compromise. Of course the anti abortionists will see that as encouragement to go further. My concern is the left havent been fully behind this campaign and actively making comtact with MPs on this and countering the emotive and scientifically doubtful crap of Nadine Dorries.

And as for the status quo and a right won I would argue what we have is not good enough. We need to campaign for one doctors signature . Im not sure of the figures but im pretty sure lots of women go private for abortions as its quicker and easier . I have to say if i was ever in that position I probably would as contrary to other myths most women want to do it early and don’t wake up at 20 odd weeks and suddenly decide to abort.

If we are always just defending we will see those rights defending, we will always be on the backfoot. And it doesnt help if we have as leaders men who won’t vote to defend and push for the rights of women to control their own bodies.

“If we are always just defending we will see those rights defending”

oops, meant to be “if we are always just defending we will see those rights pushed back”

I see that three Labour Representation Committee supporting MPs voted for 22 weeks, and one voted for 12 weeks.

So why do you single out Galloway?

Was there any discussion on the LRC national committee about mandating the LRC MPs.

Yet we were told it was “shameful” by Tami Peterson , who is actualy on the LRC national committee, that we were not mandating galloway.

Did the LRC steering committee discuss it? Why is it shameful for Respect, but not even worthy of comment about the LRC MPs?

Doesn’t Respect Renewal sell itself as being, like, more left wing than the Labour Party, though? Or does that not extend to questions of womens’ rights?

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