Now that’s out of the way, let me make one thing absolutely clear: I love babies. Not that I’m getting down on my many fine friends who have no maternal impulses whatsoever, but I’m not one of them. In fact, my IQ seems to decrease exponentially in the presence of one of these small, snuggly bundles of fun, transforming me from a Chomsky-quoting faux-intellectual to a gibbering, cooing puddle of fourth-wave feminist goo. And I intend to have one or two of my own someday, when I’m good and ready.
I’m also a socialist feminist – or, more specifically, a socialist with a strong feminist agenda who believes that one cannot, fundamentally, be a socialist without a feminist agenda. I believe that the ‘Pro-Life’ stance is antithetical to feminism, and I want my daughter, when I have one, to be able to grow up in a world where her choices are absolutely and incontestibly her own, where she is allowed full control over her own reproductive system as far as the technology of the day is allowed, and where the words ‘knitting needle’ will imply only a relaxing hobby.
In a society where the media wields unimaginable political power, the ‘Pro-Life’ lobby is a mass media gift – hysterical in its approach (quite literally), the cause cries out to be illustrated with graphic shots of fetuses clutching at doctors’ fingers, fetuses lying in bloody pools on metal slabs, fetuses, well, doing what fetuses generally do – gestating . It’s also crammed with opportunities to publish horror stories about babies who were ‘nearly’ aborted, or trauma tales of women who have regretted terminations. The Pro-Choice Lobby has no such easy, graphic grab-’em content. All it has is the majority consensus and an agenda for truth and justice.
Moreover, even the positive-sounding term ‘Pro-Life’ is deeply misleading. A cursory analysis of the term exposes it as a propaganda hook concealing a fundamental and troubling value judgment: ‘Pro-Lifers’ are, in fact, ‘pro’ the life of the child at the expense of the life of the mother. Not only is this value judgement an arbitrary one which, completely coincedentally, just happens to demand the termination of womens’ right to control their own life choices, it ignores the fact that abortion is, and has always been,a fact of human life: legislating to criminalise them would not stop abortions, but merely lead to a dramatic increase in the waste of human life and potential from unsafe backstreet and amateur home terminations. I do not want my daughter to be denied medical and psychological care, to have to fumble for her cervix with a metal skewer.
Moreover, the value judgment upon which the ‘Pro-Life’ lobby depends harks back to the days when an unborn child who might potentially be a son was considered more valuable to society than the life and future of its mother, who was already known to be female.
The ‘Pro-Life’ agenda is violently misogynist both at root and in intent. One can be a feminist and decide to keep an unwanted pregnancy. One can be a feminist and press for a reduction in the rates of unwanted pregnancy. One can even be a feminist and be personally against abortion – as long as one doesn’t actively oppose other women’s legal right to terminate pregnancy. One cannot, however, truly call oneself pro-woman whilst believing that women’s right to control their own bodies should be suspended.
We on the young left should not countenance a return to the dark days of coat-hangers and closed doors. As such, we must be constantly vigilant against the increasing threat to our reproductive rights and those of our sisters and friends, as MPs discuss, for example, reducing the time limit on late-term abortions. Constant vigilance is needed, as well as constant re-evaluation of our arguments and priorities as technology changes. This battle, like so many before and since, has been hard-won; it is the responsibility of our generation, now, to safeguard the rights won for women forty years ago. We cannot risk complacency.