There’s a danger among the politicised that ideology is allowed to rule over ideas instead of the other way around. Ideology is just a way of loosely grouping people together by their beliefs, facilitating political organisation. It is not a straightjacket that once chosen can never be taken off. It is not a religion that should be accepted unquestioningly and defended to the death. Although university teaches us that there is a marxist way of viewing the world, or a feminist way of viewing the world, that doesn’t mean you need to view everything in the world that way. Writers and campaigners forget this sometimes. They try to frame every debate in their favoured ideology, turn every hot issue into a problem that can only be solved by their ideology and sometimes I begin to wonder if our real beliefs – real, honest human reactions – get lost in the need for political point scoring.
This week’s abortion debate illustrated the point perfectly. First Mehdi Hasan published a column titled being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty in which he argued that his pro-life stance was the true socialist one since anti-abortion campaigners are giving a voice to the voiceless. Pro-choice rhetoric of “choice, selfishness and unbridled individualism” (his words) normally belongs on the right. Hasan does have a point there, but he’s arguing semantics and pretending it has ideological significance. Ideology is more than a few buzz-words, or at least it should be.
The rebuttals are drawn in along left/right lines too. Also published in the New Statesman was Abortion, reason and the left: why Mehdi Hasan is wrong. Caroline Criado-Perez attacks Hasan for his use of the emotive term “pro-life”. Semantics, again. It is a ridiculous and heavily loaded term, but it is the established way of describing those who do not support abortion. We all know what it means and in the absence of better terminology I’m using it too. Meanwhile, Kelly Hills tells us in The Guardian that Yes, being pro-life does make you less of a lefty. Hills does a fantastic job of de-bunking Hasan’s claim that a 12 week legal limit is the norm across Europe and I applaud this important point. But sadly Hills then heads off along the left/right divide as well, making sweeping generalisations about those who hold pro-life attitudes. She tells us: “Those who are anti-choice… tend to oppose sex education in schools and resist easy access to contraceptives”. But I wonder how well this would stack up if we could consider the opinion of the millions who don’t shout about their views. Are the rest of us really as comfortable with abortion as those representing the pro-choice left would like to think?
A frank and rational debate on abortion is needed, free of the need for political labels and point-scoring. Those who speak publicly do not speak for me because the truth is most of us normal folk, those of us without a political or religious drum to bang, occupy the grey area on this one.
The pro-choice need to acknowledge that it’s ok to be concerned about the sheer number of abortions being performed. There were 189,100 in the UK during 2009. The early foetus may not be a life but it’s more than a clump of cells. It’s a potential life. Without intervention it’s a probable life. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Around 1% of abortions are carried out because the child would be born disabled and only 2% are performed on underage girls. The majority of those choosing abortion are grown-ass women, most of whom should in theory be able to avoid unwanted pregnancy, so something somewhere is going wrong and we need to find out what. In 2009 3,648 were at least the fourth abortion for that woman. We can’t turn a blind eye to that. We need unbiased research on the real reasons behind unwanted pregnancies – is contraception not available enough or not effective enough? Is rape and coercion more widespread than we know? Are women afraid of losing their place in the workplace? It’s important to know the answers because while abortion is a choice it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) an easy one. It’s morally responsible that we do everything we can to avoid being in the position of having to make that choice. Now we have this last line of defence have we as a society taken our eye off the ball when it comes to contraception?
Pro-lifers need to stop pretending we live in a world where all women can carry each pregnancy to term without negative consequence. Work with us to break down these barriers. In a perfect world abortion wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t exist because unwanted pregnancy wouldn’t exist. Rape and coercion wouldn’t exist. Contraception failures, economic insecurity and gender inequality wouldn’t exist. And stigma against those who give up a child for adoption would not exist. If you want to see an end to abortion then help us to move towards that ideal world, because as long as these things exist the case for termination must be based on the individual circumstances of that particular pregancy. And the only person with an adequate understanding of that is the woman carrying it.