Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Men talking about women's right to choose

In his controversial New Statesman article on Sunday, Mehdi Hasan wrote that he believed you could still be lefty and anti-choice (I refuse to use the term ‘pro life’ as it’s a lie). He wrote:

Abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and “defending the innocent”, while left-wingers fetishise “choice”, selfishness and unbridled individualism.’

He argued, like Christopher Hitchens before him, that the pro-choice stance of ‘my body, my choice’ is individualistic and more akin to right wing notions about the importance of individual choice, than the left wing aims of equality and giving a voice to those who are silenced. He goes on to clarify this with:

Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?

The decision to have an abortion is an individual decision. But that doesn’t make it a selfish one. In fact, I believe that Hasan has made a huge mistake in his argument in that he has conveniently forgotten that being anti-choice is an individual decision too, and it’s a decision that’s inherently selfish. Because it’s that decision, if taken to the anti-choice aim of no abortion (Hasan doesn’t actually call for a ban on abortion, I should make that clear), that has an impact on the lives of half the world’s population, silencing women’s voices and denying women the basic right to bodily autonomy. Isn’t that more selfish? To think an individual, personal belief is more important than the human rights of 3.5 billion living women and girls? 

In my view, the decision to be anti-choice is to make the decision that an individual, personal belief on abortion is more important than the universal human right to bodily autonomy and a woman’s right to have control over her own body. Therefore deciding to call women’s bodily autonomy ‘selfish’ only makes sense if you don’t think women’s rights over their body matter, if you don’t think that women’s rights count.  

Since the article was published, Hasan has complained that he has been the victim of sexism, as women reacted with anger and upset over his words. He bemoaned that it showed how men aren’t allowed to talk about abortion, that the reaction wasn’t fair. He seemed to not understand that the anger arose because once again, men are telling women what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to do with their bodies. And I for one am sick of men telling women what they can and can’t do with their bodies – from telling us we can’t walk outside at night, to telling us we can’t drink, to telling us we can’t decide for ourselves whether to have a baby or not.  

And anyway, despite both Hasan and Dominic Lawson complaining about the fact that men aren’t allowed to talk about abortion, they seem to be doing a jolly good job of getting their views aired. Men are so much allowed to talk about abortion that the Today show even had two men and no women debating the subject a couple of months ago. As it stands, I don’t mind men talking about abortion per se. What I do mind is having women’s voices erased from the conversation. 

What I object to is the lack of consideration taken for our bodies, our rights and our views on the subject. I’m sick of abortion being reduced to an ethical debate as left and right wing men treat our bodies as a ping pong ball to score points off. I’m fed up of our bodies being talked about in abstract terms, as ethical battlegrounds that deny us our voice and humanity. And I’m pretty pissed off that our right to our bodies is being framed as a selfish choice, and not as a basic human right. 

Men can talk about abortion if they want to. But to be honest, I’d rather they just listened. Because, fundamentally, it’s selfish for anyone to tell anyone what we can and can’t do with our bodies based on a personal opinion. 

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