The Guardian this week uncovered a story about the SPUC giving an anti-abortion talk in a school.
The school justifies this as part of a ‘range of speakers’ which then allows students to make their own minds up. Now I’m a big fan of debate, and I’m a big fan of children being taught this skill in school. Learning to listen to alternate viewpoints and make your own conclusions is a vital skill.
My problem is that SPUC isn’t an alternate viewpoint but a crock of lies.
The anti-choice lobby frequently resort to lies as they know that otherwise their argument falls flat on it’s face – if they were truly concerned with child welfare they would spend a little time helping children in poverty and supporting pregnant women. Their argument comes down to their desire to punish women and “make them live with the consequence of their actions”. Pure and simple – which everyone can see is a bigoted and mean way to live.
So instead they spout lies that abortion causes cancer (it doesn’t), abortion causes depression (when studies show it doesn’t, but women already depressed are more likely to need an abortion) that abortion can kill you (which it doesn’t – ignoring medical advice has on one occasion caused death) and completely ignoring the damage to both women and children of going through with unwanted pregnancy, and all the complications and trauma that pregnancy can cause.
Allowing someone to go into a school and spout these lies is a particularly appalling thing to do. Children are taught in schools to respect teachers and BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY – which is kind of the whole point of teaching. Children therefore are likely to believe that adults coming in to the school to give a talk are at worst not absolute liars.
Inviting a feminist to attend the talk and give an alternate viewpoint doesn’t mitigate this state of affairs. It actually adds credence to the SPUC viewpoint – that someone has to stand up and argue against it could be taken as evidence that points need to be argued against – when they don’t, they were just complete lies. The school acted entirely irresponsibly by allowing someone to come and lie to students. The school should not have allowed this speaker to talk when they had pointedly refused to allow the school to see what they were going to say in advance. The school has an even greater duty of care when this is an issue which could well be affecting young people at that time. Teaching debate is useful; giving children facts about sex education is also a complete no-brainer. But allowing someone to come and promote lies is appalling behaviour.
The anti-choice lobby has recently been stepping up activity in the UK, holding US style rallies and protests. The media describes this as highlighting a debate. It’s not a debate. If there were points to genuinely debate, the anti-lobby wouldn’t need to resort to lies and untruths. This is purely and simply about controlling women – or letting women control their own bodies. By giving the anti’s the right to put their arguments across as equally valid you are giving them way more power than they deserve.
If ever an anti wanted to stand up and truly promote their viewpoint – that sex is a sin that women should be punished for – I’d be happy to see them debate it in public, and see how many people they convert. While they continue to hide behind lies, they don’t deserve a platform to speak from – least of all within a school.
This weekend, twitter offered once again a glimpse into the nasty underbelly of misogyny with #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend trending all day Sunday. Most of the tweets keeping it trending were people saying how awful it was, with another big chunk saying that feminists should get a sense a humour. But the remainder were a pretty shocking indictment of attitudes towards women. And the bit I found most shocking were the % of tweets citing pregnancy as a reason to beat your girlfriend.
Both preventing and dealing with pregnancy appears to be solely the responsibility of young women. The number of retweets of ‘because she’s pregnant’ really staggered me. I know that these tweets weren’t meant to be taken literally (and yes, I know I shouldn’t have even looked), but even so, this idea prevailed that pregnancy was a women’s problem. It was something that your girlfriend did to you.
And this reminded me why contraception and abortion are feminist issues. I’ve always argued that a woman’s right to control over her own body is a fundamental feminist principle, and the what about the men argument has always made me grind my teeth. But actually here was evidence on a massive scale that these are women’s issues. Here were young men in scarily high numbers repeating the idea that pregnancy wasn’t just their girlfriend’s problem, it was a problem their girlfriends were to blame for.
I am sure it’s a heartbreaking situation to be a man that wants a baby whose partner doesn’t. But lets count the number of times this happens. Against the number of women who find themselves blamed for falling pregnant and at best abandoned, and at worst trapped in abusive relationships, or murdered for their sin of falling pregnant. It might take two to make a baby, but society sees pregnancy and children as women’s problems.
There are many, many reasons why I’m prochoice. But this nasty trending topic reminded me of another one. It’s not feminists that are making abortion a woman’s issue, it’s society. And those people trying to reduce access to contraception and abortion services are deliberately, thoughtlessly and carelessly trying to limit women’s lives. I’m angry that so many people thought this was a fun hashtag to make jokes around. But I’m furious that people don’t see the reasons why prochoice policies are absolutely vital.
I really don’t understand this. Privacy seems to have become a favourite thing of the courts these days. Super-injunctions abound, from protecting big corporations (Trafigura) to preventing people kiss-and-telling even many years after the events (Howard Donald) or even protecting children from finding out their Dad’s a cheater (unknown actor).
And yet, the high court have now decided that women seeking late term abortions, and the doctors treating them, aren’t deserving of privacy. The court aren’t denying that releasing these “statistics” would identify the women and doctors involved. There’s no public interest argument, as the group seeking the information (ProLife Alliance) are openly campaigning against ALL abortion in the UK. There’s no public interest as we already know this covers just 130 cases per year. And the government aren’t trying to deny the statistics, they are just aggregating them either by type or time period (e.g. 5 years of stats in one go) to avoid identifying individuals.
And yet, these same courts that will happily prevent the privacy of famous men who can’t keep it zipped, will deny privacy to women undergoing a hugely difficult decision under medical advice.
I’m sure this is largely a money issue. Big companies and the rich and famous can afford expensive lawyers. But I can’t help feeling there’s a lot of misogyny at work here too. I think the court judges can sympathise with men who shouldn’t be publicly flogged for a small slip in judgement anyone could make. But a woman, choosing to control her own body, to save her own life or prevent the suffering of her child. Well…
The line between privacy and freedom of speech is always a difficult one to toe. And that, I thought, was why the UK courts were encouraged to use the “public interest” test. Now just because public interest is distasteful, doesn’t mean that any sordid secret should automatically not be public interest. Yet at the same time, it’s in the public interest to defend vulnerable people – and women and families having to take the decision to have a late-term abortion are vulnerable. And it’s in the public interest to keep the sanctity of doctor-patient confidentiality. Which releasing these figures would undermine.
This argument isn’t actually about the rightness or wrongness of late term abortion (where I clearly disagree with the ProLife Alliance). This is about the courts acting fairly. Court judgements shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. But especially, men and women should be assured that they are being treated equally as citizens before the law.
And I really don’t see equality in this decision.
Zoe Williams wrote a great article on the Guardian Comment is Free today about the High Court ruling on medical abortion.
We all know that these articles always bring out the trolls. That there are strong feelings on both sides, and arguments felt perhaps more than on any other topic.
And yet, I was still shocked at the comments that were appearing, and especially that these comments were on CiF. They weren’t on the Daily Mail, or from middle America, but in my heartland.
One of the strongest arguments seemed to be “but what about the men’s view?”. So… what about the men?
Firstly, this argument seems to be based on the assumption that there is an army somewhere of men desperate to be fathers if only heartless women would let them. I’m not convinced.
Secondly, that these uber-ready fathers-in-waiting are “double-bagging” to do everything possible to prevent an unwanted pregnancy (which they secretly want) but are somehow being caught out by careless women. Not sure how that works.
And thirdly, that all women are making this decision alone. Actually, I think an unexpected pregnancy is scary. Few women chose to go through it alone, and they discuss it with a family member, a close friend, or perhaps even their partner. Yes, many people, even women who have abortions, can sometimes be in responsible adult relationships. And they can decide together if they want to have children.
Finally, I’m thinking that for every man wishing to let a pregnancy go full term but being over-ruled, there’s a woman wanting to have her baby, but under pressure and threats of “no money from me” feeling she has to abort. And I’m equally sure that some women who know that they’re really not ready for a baby, or don’t want children at all, or know that they shouldn’t have children with the man they’re with, are bowing to pressure to go on with a pregnancy and have a child.
So, what about the men? About the same as for the women at a rough guess. But without the final responsibility, and without the pain and humiliation of either abortion or childbirth.