Ladies, can't you feel the love?
A whole host
of male politicians
and the Self-Appointed Commander Of Wombs!
raising the collective whine "I really care about women and their ability to make a informed choice" - while doing their best to put their own religious / "moral" limits on women's access to safe, affordable abortion. So caring, so loving, so attuned to the hardships of being a woman and having to make all those big important decisions without a gaggle of conservative male authority figures telling you what to do.
So, guess what, the tactics of the pro-life movement have changed. Damn it, they're hardly even using that tag "pro-life" anymore, but instead, they are all about being "pro-woman" and helping women "make life-affirming choices" which are "best for women, and their babies". Like most of Australian neo-conservatism, there is nothing original about it - its proponents have sourced most of their wording, media angles and "research" directly from the US pro-life movement. In the US, the group "Feminists for Life" have registered as trade-marks
the catchy slogans "Refuse to Choose" "Women deserve better" and "It's time to question abortion". http://www.womendeservebetter.com/ads/index.htm Feminism's never been this slick - or had such a seemingly boundless advertising budget.
The selfish mothers versus poor innocent unborn babies thing just wasn't cutting it these days - too many people know first hand the difficulties involved in an unplanned pregnancy to buy into the misogynistism which has long underlain pro-life logic. Besides, why alienate women when they could be some of your best tools in cramping down on women's rights? It was certainly a perverse but popular tactic in conservative resistance to women getting the vote - getting women to speak out against suffrage and to sign Antisuffrage
petitions. Somehow, getting a representative of an affected group to stand up and say "yes! don't give us democratic / reproductive rights - we don't want / deserve / need them" makes it okay to restrict the rights of everyone else.
Hence, we have the newly-branded "Pro-woman" pro-life movement! They even had a
to prove it, though whether its media spokesperson, Rachel Patterson, has paid for the right to use the registered trademark "Women deserve better" is unclear.
And actually, some of their points do resonate with many women in the community - yes, we need more child-friendly workplaces and universities, yes, some women would like to continue their pregnancy but resort to abortion because they don't have the financial and emotional support to rear a child, and yes, if you feel like you've been forced into an abortion by these circumstances, then it would be no surprise if you felt some regrets. The question is - how will restricting safe legal abortion solve these issues? Like most feminists, I'm not just concerned about women's reproductive freedoms. I'm also concerned with, and actively campaigning for universal paid maternity leave, child-friendly workplaces, better pay equity and job security for women, and better availability and education about contraceptives. Pro-life women are welcome to join in these efforts, and help reduce the numbers of women feeling like they have no other choice but abortion. The happy side-effect is, that a society that has implemented these reforms, namely the Netherlands, has the lowest rate of abortion in the world
of 5.5 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age per year.
But it is at this point that the pro-woman rhetoric of the pro-life movement starts to wear thin and some different stripes begin to show through. Because at the core of this "pro-woman" story is the idea that abortion itself is so "bad" that women should never be allowed to even choose it for themselves. Despite the language of helping women make "informed choices", the pro-life movement still steers women firmly towards only one option - continuing their pregnancy. When people like Victorian ALP MP Christine Campbell
say "Parliaments need to find creative life-affirming alternatives for women who often feel abortion is the only option" the subtext is, "you can make any decision you want, as long as it's not abortion".
Traditionally, the "badness" of abortion has been expressed in moral and religious terms, and with reference to the effect on the idea of the body, soul or consciousness of the fetus. The new pro-woman rhetoric instead focuses on the "badness" of abortion for women, then with the traditional "killing babies" tactic thrown in at the end for good measure. Pro-life campaigner, Melinda Tankfull
-of-Old Rice and Monkeynuts
, has made a niche for herself in bewailing the ills of abortion for women - botched abortions ending in perforated bowells, mental illness and the tenuous link between abortion and breast cancer.
In fact, legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures
performed in Australia, and a recent review of domestic and international clinical studies reports by the Newcastle Institute of Public Health
found that "the legal and voluntary termination of pregnancy rarely causes immediate or lasting negative psychological consequences in healthy women". The breast cancer claim
is pure furphy and has been found to have no basis. The heavy involvement of religious groups in the newly-exhumed abortion debate clearly demonstrates that a person's perspective as to the "badness" or otherwise of abortion differs according to their religious, moral, philosophical, or scientific viewpoint. At what stage does a fetus becomes a child? When does it become a human soul? What happens to the soul of abortes fetuses? How do you grieve for your aborted fetus? These are all vital questions, but ones which belong in the realm of belief, faith, metaphysics. You cannot put legislation in place to address the "badness" of abortion without building religious beliefs into legislation, and therefore undermining the people's freedom of religion, and freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.
Secondly, despite re-branding the pro-life movement as "pro-woman", the fact remains that it is chiefly men pushing this bandwagon along - older, conservative, religious men. Although these men are very happy to cite women as being against abortion (eg Ron Boswell begins his tirade
with anti-choice quotes from three women ) and to claim that women are being victimised by the "male dominated abortion industry
" , their appreciation of women's opinions extends only to those opinions which match theirs. Again, it adds up to good, old fashioned paternalism - men who want to "save" women from making difficult decisions over their own lives.
Despite all the nice talk of reducing the numbers of abortions and making sure women are fully informed, for men such as John Murphy, parliamentary secretary to Labor leader Kim Beazley, "one abortion for me is too many
When the pro-life fundamentalists run into the persistent hurdle that is real life women who expect to control their lives and bodies, the pro-woman rhetoric suddenly drops. And there's always someone, like Alan Cadman
, who'll give the game away, and say what all these "pro-woman" fundamentalists have been thinking in their discussions around the bar, that it is women's own "stupidity" getting them "pregnant willy-nilly" and they should focus on the task of pumping out "more home-grown kids". "Pro-woman" my bottom.