What we can’t agree on isn’t fact, but opinion. You’re convinced that a divine spark of life begins at conception and must not be snuffed out, and I believe that the process of becoming a whole person with rights takes longer than that and cannot be applied to a jelluloid ball of cells. That’s the binary that we can’t get beyond. We have no rational way to prove which one of us is right, if in fact either of us is – but until that time, when one or both of us is doubtless going to feel damn silly, we’re arguing phantoms.
So let’s say, for point of illustration, that you win. Let’s say that someone manages to push through a bill severely restricting women’s right to legal abortion in the UK, or banning it outright. What happens then?
If you’re right, then it has been statistically and historically proven that the actual number of abortions taking place will not change that much. What will change is that far more women and young girls will seek illegal, unsafe abortions, damaging their physical and mental health in the process. There will be a huge boom in black market abortions and shipping of vulnerable women out to countries that do offer legal abortion, leading to massive increases in crime – and not only in crime, but in crime that specifically targets the poorest, most vulnerable and scared members of society, as rich women will always be able to find ways to have abortions, as they always have. Women will be increasingly stigmatised for the sexual and reproductive choices that they will continue to try to make; sexual health and reproduction will become more taboo, returning us to a dark age of social superstition and ignorance. We may, however, save a few thousand christian souls per year, even if we’ved only saved them for lives of poverty and resentment by parents uncared for themselves and unwilling to bear and raise a child, and our consciences as a society will be that much clearer. .
But what if I’m right? What if real human life is contingent upon upbringing and brain development rather than just cell fusion and division? What if the choice to continue a pregnancy really is the choice to make a life or not, rather than the choice to terminate a life that’s been forced upon you? If I’m right, and that’s the case, then young women will be shunned, stigmatised, criminalised, wounded and left vulnerable and bleeding in backstreets – and all for nothing. All for nothing at all rather than the moral high ground of a few people with pretty religious delusions who happen to be in power.
As I explained to the students outside the CMF, I respect your right to your opinions – as long as they don’t turn into law. I respect your right to believe whatever you want to believe, no, more than that, I’ll stand up and shout for that right of yours – as long as you don’t try and take away my own right to decide for myself. I think religious fanaticsm is an impediment to useful wielding of political power, and frankly I’d rather vote for my local acid-house to be given majority Commons representation.
Gaia vs. the Divine Seed.
And again we come back to the big spitting point, the staking post of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate: does life begin at conception, or does it begin when the woman decides to continue a pregnancy to term and raise that child? And what does that distinction mean?
I’ll tell you what it means. To argue that life begins at conception is implicitly to argue that the sperm – the penetrating seed – is what causes life to happen. Not the formation of a blastocyst, which the sperm catalyses, but life itself becomes contingent upon the entry of that male sperm into the woman. The woman is seen as no more than a baking tray, a patch of bare soil, fertile or unfertile, where the divine seed can grow. She has no agency; she has no autonomy. To act with any such is a heinous, possibly a criminal act if she decides that she doesn’t want to play the compliant window-box anymore. To argue that life begins at conception is to argue that life is man-made, that that divine seed comes from man alone, that woman is a convenient incubator and nothing more.
To argue, on the converse, that the woman has a say (indeed, the final say) in life-formation and in life-creation throughout her own pregnancy and beyond is to acknowledge something unthinkable: that women wield the power to create life, a terrifying, world-destroying, frightening power. Acknowledgement of this level of female power is unthinkable in most patriarchal societies, and so the balance is shifted to demonise and criminalise women’s excercise of that power, turning us conceptually into scared, subservient baking-ovens.
Knowing our enemy.
The truth is that women have always had abortions; women have aborted pregnancies, safely and unsafely, for as long as women have had babies, and there is, in fact, precious little the patriarchy can do to stop us having either. They can, however, impose their fear of our power onto our bodies, they can make our choices harder to access and criminalise us when we try to exercise them.
The moral and religious right’s lobby for so-called ‘life’ is nothing to do with the rights of the unborn child: if it were, they’d pay more attention to the rights of the many thousands of born children living in poverty and suffering in the UK. The pro-life movement is not even about stopping abortions, since they know full well that abortions happen anyway. The pro-life movement, in fact, not only about restricting and criminalising women’s sexual and reproductive choices but about retaining a social paradigm that denies women’s essential power, a power which is intimately bound up with the choice to have children – or not to have them. Yes, you can be against the notion of abortion; yes, you can believe, if you’re female, that should you fall pregnant accidentally you would continue the pregnancy, and you can be proud of that intent. But if you dare to try to take my choices or my power away from me, or my friends, or my two baby sisters in school; if you dare to frame us as passive trays of fertilisable soil unable to make our own moral and spiritual choices; if you dare to stamp your regressive laws across our bodies, we’ll be there to fight back, and you will see us as we can truly be: fully realised, fully sexual, fully confident, fully informed and frankly fucking terrifying. Bring it.