A device increasingly used by those opposed to abortion, is to compare the availability of abortion to an historical event, the more widely accepted as an atrocity the better. I’ve written about this use of the Holocaust here: http://economistadentata.tumblr.com/post/21021104421/holocaust-denial , for example. And today’s comparator is apartheid: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/1030/1224325894262.html
In my discussion of the Holocaust analogy, I began with the qualification that I am not an expert about the Holocaust. But apartheid & its effects I do know something about,having spent considerable chunks of time in apartheid South Africa as a teenager for family reasons , and again as a young adult: my first job post-graduation was working for the Independent Electoral Commission to help deliver the first democratic election there. I hold dual citizenship, proudly.
Apartheid was a total system of discrimination-nobody I know who supports reproductive rights thinksallfoetuses should be aborted. ‘Ah’, I can hear a anti-choicer say,’but by allowing women to choose, you are subjecting the unborn to discrimination by only allowing their lives to continue subject to the wishes of their mothers, whether they are aborted or not.’
It is a response which misrepresents apartheid’s totality; just as people of colour had no choice but to be discriminated against, whites had no choice but to discriminate, or they would face charges. For the analogy to hold every woman would have to actively discriminate against the foetus by aborting it; and rather obviously, this is not the case (the more excitable comparisons of clinics to conveyor belts notwithstanding). To address the piece in the argument more closely:
Like apartheid, abortion is often defended as a necessary evil as when someone says in all sincerity, “Personally I’m totally against abortion but I can’t impose my views on others. For those who want abortion, we should legalise it to make it safe.”
This is just shows what an incoherent messof an analogy this is: ‘Personally, I’m completely opposed to apartheid, but I can’t impose my views on others. For those that want apartheid, we should legalise it to make it safe’.
‘For those who want it..make it safe’. What would that even mean in the context of apartheid? You can’t opt in or out of a total system of discrimination on an individual basis. Apartheid legislation affected both those in favourandthose against. But under apartheid those against did not get a say, despite people of colour being the majority of the South African population. In fact, they were quite literally ‘banned’ (look it up) from voicing any dissent, at all. Those opposed to abortion have every right and ability to voice their dissent.
Anti-choicers often frame their argument in terms of being a voice for the voiceless: and it is this aspect which makes me rage the most against this particular article: because nowhere does it see fit to acknowledge or even mention one of the most loathsome aspects of apartheid-its tacit endorsement of sexualised violence against women of colour and the consequences this had for victims when combined with an absence of reproductive rights.
To be a black woman was to be on the very lowest rung of apartheid South African society, discriminated against on the basis of race and gender. Sexual relations between different races under apartheid were banned, of course: one of the apartheid state’s most strict taboos was sex between black and white, resulting as it could it ‘mixed race’ children; concrete proof that we are all the same under the skin in our common humanity. But, of course, whereas an assault on a white woman was regarded with disgust and punished severely, assaulting a woman of colour was if not approved of, tacitly accepted.
In addition to which, white women had choices, albeit limited: they were able to seek an abortion outside the country, or pay for a discreet ‘procedure’ at a clinic; whereas women of colour were very rarely able to travel outside South Africa, as once they had left, there was no guarantee they would be allowed back in-and of course, they lacked financial resources. So, an African woman subjected to assault could be forced by her colour, her place of birth and her poverty, to carry to term a child forced upon her body by a beneficiary of the system which oppressed her and any children she had chosen to have. The rancid cherry on top was that even if she were to report the assault she would either be disbelieved or punished for breaking apartheid laws; usually far more severely than her ‘partner’.
For the avoidance of any doubt: I am not wishing people of mixed race away. I am not endorsing the often-voiced racist viewpoint, uttered in terms of supposed sympathy, that as ‘neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring’ ‘Coloured’ people were better off not existing. Not every mixed-race child was the product of rape, despite the risks. But the mothers of children conceived in racist violence should have had the choice, just the same as any other woman. Instead of which, a fatal web of race and gender held them fast.
And it was arguably this terrible inheritance that led to the strongly pro-choice attitude of the liberation movement. The women of the liberation movement, having experienced this most intimate oppression were determined that never again would a woman be forced to continue a pregnancy against her will. The repeal of the anti-abortion laws were one of the first acts of the new dispensation.
And there is one further outrage nestling in the conclusion: the writer, who positions himself as someone opposed to apartheid, not only compares women seeking abortion to those collaborating with a racist system, but says that they, together with their doctors, are worse. Worse than apartheid. For seeking control of their own bodies.
I have held my temper for the most part in writing this: but let me clear- the evocation of humanity’s worst moments as a debating point, in the pursuit of denying women control of their own bodies is specious bullshit of the most disingenuous kind. And like the historical horrors the anti-choice lobby are so fond of evoking, it will not stand. Right will prevail.