I was asked on Twitter what I made of an article asking why pro-choicers aren’t asked ‘hard questions by the media’ in apparent contrast to pro-lifers. The link to the full article is :
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/10/24/10-questions-a-pro-choice-candidate-is-never-asked-by-the-media/ but here are the relevant questions:
1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?
2. In 2010, The Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?
3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support any restrictions or parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?
4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?
5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?
6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?
7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that Black and Latinos represent 25% of our population but account for 59% of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?
8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?
9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?
10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?
Being game for a challenge, I said I’d have a go at responding myself, so:
1. I would restrict access to contraception and abortion in the same way I would any other medical or surgical intervention: no-one should be coerced into undertaking either a course of treatment or a surgical procedure or allowed to access either in cases where there is a doubt over personal competence. In addition to which, of course, I would expect the current laws expressing the democratic will of the people to be respected.
2. ‘Gendercide’ or less sensationally, sex selective abortion is not caused by access to abortion. No, really, it isn’t. The choice to abort a female foetus is caused by the belief that women are lesser beings; in the context of a gynophobic society it’s a perfectly rational choice. It is prejudice against womenthat causes sex selective abortions and that prejudice will not be addressed by removing women’s reproductive rights. So, yes, this phenomenon does pose a problem for me (declaration of interest: I’m a woman), but I don’t support the withdrawal of reproductive rights to solve that problem.
3. Having to seek parental permission before a school nurse can give a child an aspirin is absurd anyway in my opinion, but to address the question as posed:
No-one has the right to force someone, not eventheir own child to carry a child to term. Now hang on, I can hear some pro-lifers saying, in response to question 1, you said access to abortion should be restricted where there is a doubt over patient competence and minors are not normally deemed competent to give consent for medical procedures; you can’t have it both ways. The crucial word here is ‘normally’.
The consequences of a lack of access to abortion (or contraception) are felt most keenly by the person who would, were they denied access, have to continue with an unwanted pregnancy. I cannot imagine that an ethical professional would not at least try to encourage a young person in that situation to at least consider telling their parents (if said sensitively, ‘They’re your parents. They will love you no matter what’ strikes me as an good place to start); but some will simply not be able and to say to a minor who cannot or will not inform their parents that they must continue a pregnancy, risks pushing them into backstreet or self-administered solutions.
This is where the professionals’ ethics come in: they should not (and I believe would not) allow a minor who was clearly not competent (or who was being coerced), to undergo such a procedure, in the same way they would not allow any non-competent or coerced person to do so. So the restrictions on access for minors are already in place: They reside in the judgment exercised by professionals concerned with that minor’s care.
4. When does life begin? Honestly? I don’t know. I don’t know, I only have my own experience of pregnancy to go on, and it is preciselybecauseI don’t know that I am profoundly uneasy about assuming my own experience holds true for everyone. This is why I’m pro-choice.
5. This question is question 2 revisited. Abortion of a foetus with any sort of abnormality doesn’t prove that access to abortionis wrong; it proves that we live in a society where disabilist prejudice is rife. Address that, and I suspect the prospect of caring for a disabled child would hold fewer terrors. The use of ‘eugenics’ in this context - is it actually fair to suggest, even elliptically, that women choosing to abort after a disability has been detected should be associated with Josef Mengele? I feel people alleging a eugenicist intent should consider the ultimate, rather than proximate causes of abortion on the grounds of disability, if they want it to stop.
6. This is a tricky one for a Brit to address, as it is an obvious reference to contemporary US debates about how and by whom medical services should be funded. But to address the question in general terms:
If by ‘providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception for employees’ you mean ‘not discriminating against those with different beliefs in your provision of medical insurance’ well, I’m sorry, but if the alternative is employers dictating to employees what medical treatment they may access, then consider me a conscience-violater. I’m not happy about this, btw, at all, but it’s the lesser of two evils, not least because it prevents those with more power visiting the dictates of their conscience on those with less. Imagine if our government ( the provider of medical services via the NHS) was trying to dictate what reproductive services women could access. I mean, justimagine.Oh.
On the related topic of employee rights in the NHS: I know there are professionals working in OB/GYN services who believe abortion to be murder (to put it bluntly). There are two possible responses to this: Tough, it’s a public service, they’re there to serve the public, if they cannot be sure they can do that they should go elsewhere. This response makes me uneasy on the practical grounds that while these people may be unwilling (or as they would see it unable) to undertake abortions, they may well be extremely valuable if deployed elsewhere. Furthermore, it needs to be remembered that anti-choicers represent a segment of the public too. The way forward has to lie in some sort of compromise. Not easy to resolve, but the important things rarely are. Yes, I know it’s not a satisfactory answer. Sorry.
7. Oh dear. Here we go again. If the ‘charge’ (rather loaded term, that), is that more clinics providing abortions are found in areas with a high BME population, then the answer is not ‘access to abortion is to blame’. The context within which the demand for the clinics exists is responsible (I don’t like the normative implications of the word ‘blame’). Fix that, then see what happens. Until then, respect the choices women make in the context of their lives.
8. I don’t describe abortion as a ‘tragic choice’. But to answer the implied question regarding restrictions: I am a ‘safe, legal and rare’ pro-choicer. Not because I think there is a magic number of abortions above which total access should be restricted, but because where a pregnancy is unwanted it suggests something went wrong with the measures used to prevent it. I’m a ‘de minimis’ pro-choicer: I support access on demand to abortion (subject to the restrictions in 1), but I’d rather women didn’t experience unplanned pregnancy in the first place. I’d characterise abortion as primarily a surgical procedure with associated moral issues for the individual concerned.
9. Define ‘viable’. Does it mean ‘more likely than not to live a normal life’ (define a ‘normal life’) ‘able to breathe unaided’, ‘with a respirator’, ‘on life support’, ‘with a projected lifespan of days/hours’? Every case is different. Every woman is different. Another reason why I’m pro-choice.