Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

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

Joanna Tacon comments on Dominic Lawson’s recent article on abortion time limits, but it provides a good response to Medhi Hassan’s piece on a similar theme in in the New Statesman too.

Independent journalist Dominic Lawson has gifted us all with his wisdom on abortion time limits, in an article full of irrelevancies, bad logic – and a barely-hidden sympathy for anti-choice arguments.

Despite Lawson’s facetious claims that men aren’t allowed to voice opinions on abortion (“Any man who steps into this moral minefield is asking to be blown sky high”), the pro-choice movement is made up of people of all genders, and no gender. Therefore his concern that possession of a “Y chromosome” makes his views irrelevant when weighing up his intervention into the abortion time limit row, which has flared up so spectacularly in recent days, is unfounded – and rather insulting, as it happens. (Also, Mr Lawson, a newsflash for you: not all men have a Y chromosome, not all women have two X chromosomes. Do some reading up on trans* issues and human biology before you blithely conflate “XY” with “maleness”, thanks.)

Hunt’s comments on his desire to see the abortion time limit lowered to 12 weeks have, deplores Lawson, elicited “blow-back” from pro-choice groups, and from other sections of the media. Lawson decries the furious reaction, adding: “Perhaps Hunt will become much more of a bland autocue minister”.

Frankly,the wider issue of the “blandification” of political discourse is rather less pressing to millions of us than the reminder that the health secretary – in charge of a multi-billion pound budget, and with ultimate say-so over the future dispensation of NHS resources – is, essentially, in favour of dramatically restricting the right to choose. It’s impossible to know how long Hunt will stay at the Department of Health; but however long he is there, the damage he could potentially inflict on pro-choice causes is immense. And in any situation in which abortion rights are restricted, it is women who will bear an outsizedly disproportionate share of the harm that will inevitably ensue.

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

Hunt claims to be just looking “at the evidence”. Has the evidence changed? Does pregnancy now take place outside of the bodies of individual women? Is the short- and long-term impact of being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term suddenly of no consequence? I am genuinely interested to know. Because compared to abstract musings on when human life begins – which for all I care could be at the very moment of conception – this seems pretty important. Jeremy Hunt, we need to know!

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

What Lawson doesn’t seem to grasp, though, is that being pro-choice is the pro-woman position, given that  the damage caused by restricting abortion hits women hardest. The anti-abortion/pro-lower time limit views of large sections of women are, frankly, more or less irrelevant; anti-choice women are not a recent phenomenon, and as pro-choicers we reject their arguments just as thoroughly as we reject all arguments that seek to limit the right to choose. 99.9% of women could be anti-choice, and being pro-choice would still be the pro-woman stance to take – even if no-one ever exercised the right to an abortion.

The logic which Lawson uses to argue that abortion causes a reversal of ‘normal’ political stances is also deeply, deeply flawed. He says: “This is where the abortion debate appears to be an unusual one in which ‘the right’ argues for some sort of societal good and the ‘left’ for a kind of atomised individualism: pure personal choice before all other, wider human considerations.”

No, Dominic, no, no, no. The inescapable consequence of restricting abortion is that – on a societal level – women‘s options and lives are unnecessarily curtailed, damaged, and blighted, as it is women on whom the burden of childcare disproportionately falls, women who are far more likely to be single parents, women who must bear lifelong the physical and psychological after-effects of a crisis pregnancy which they are forced to carry to term (as Glosswitch notes, twelve weeks is “[a] point at which, if you’re experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and have an irregular menstrual cycle, implantation bleeding or just lose track of these things, you still might not even know you’re pregnant”).

What societal good comes of banning or restricting abortion? None whatsoever. And yes, the pro-choice movement is so named because we believe that no-one should have the right to force another person to remain pregnant – but, pray tell, which “wider human consequences” does this position of respect for the individual come ahead of? That sounds suspiciously like a sneaky statement in support of the anti-choice position.

Lawson’s true views on abortion slither out in the insinuations of statements he makes later in the article. Regarding Caitlin Moran’s position on her choice to terminate a pregnancy being less time-consuming than deciding “what worktops to have in the kitchen”, he comments: “Obviously, consideration of giving up such an unwanted child for adoption was not possible in less time than it takes to choose pine-effect over formica.” This quotation shows a quite staggering lack of empathy. Pregnancy takes a huge toll on the body; adoption can be an immensely complex emotional issue. A woman in the public eye, like Caitlin Moran, would be hounded relentlessly by the press were she to appear in public while pregnant – then to give up the baby for adoption. Lawson seems utterly oblivious to the many, many issues which adoption entail.

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

A version of this article was first published by the f word.