Friday, 29 June 2012

We need to talk about misoprostol: on talking with pro-lifers

The hippie-dippy pollyanna-scented idealist in me desperately wants to believe that if we could all just get together and talk about This Stuff, surely we could work it out. I mean, if I got my chance to explain exactly why I support the right to abortion, surely every pro-lifer within hailing distance would gasp, clasp their hands against their hearts, and thank me for opening up a whole new world to them, right?

Well no, obviously. Because they think exactly the same thing about me. There seem to be some issues which cut too deep, which seem so self-evident to us, that there is virtually nothing anyone can say to change our minds on them. It's like arguing about religion with a devout Christian: it's not like there's one fantastic line of argument that will make them see the light. (Or, rather, the lack of light...)

EdinburghEye has engaged in a blog-swap with a pro-life campaigner in Ireland. They've given each other the chance to explain their views calmly and fully at each other's sites, and then discussed points where they, ah, differ somewhat. EdinburghEye's is here, CoraSherlock's piece, which I'm mostly going to focus on, is here.

They've both stuck to the brief astonishingly well: gone through their points of view, how they arrived at them, and how they would respond to counter-arguments; all without resorting to name-calling or even colourful language. (Me, I would have got through about a paragraph before trailing off into "BUT BUT IT'S JUST REALLY FUCKING MEEEEEAN, ARGH TITWANK".) Things get rather less congenial in the comments (didn't see that coming, did you?), especially when a nice lady named Jean started calling everyone bigots for objecting to her calling us "Dumbies". But for the most part, it's basically the best way this conversation could have gone.

And I don't think anyone involved has changed their views one iota.

I may not live up to these high ideals, but I do try to base my beliefs on objective evidence. So, for example, pragmatic reasons I support the pro-choice position include:

  • Studies consistently show that the rate of abortion remains fairly stable whether or not it's legal - illegality just makes it more dangerous
  • Every reputable medical authority in the known universe agree that "Post-Abortion Syndrome", a sort of PTSD/depression hybrid, does not exist
  • When performed safely and legally, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures you can experience - just to pick a random example completely out of the sky, it's safer than carrying a pregnancy to term.
So I was trying to think of some evidence that would actually change my mind on this issue. Leaving aside the philosophical/moral arguments for a moment, what practical evidence would make me think that abortion should not be legal?

I've got nothing. Even if a water-tight, impartial study demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that women who had abortions were more likely to experience mental illness (although, more likely... than whom?), even if it were proved that abortion is more dangerous than having a tooth pulled... fuck it, even if the hardcore antis were right and abortion does cause breast cancer: I would still defend its legality. There are a million things which are legal and yet bad for you, we just let people make their own damn minds up. If someone knew all of that and still couldn't stand the idea of continuing with her pregnancy? No one should stand in her way.

Which, incidentally, was the thinking behind the two landmark legal decisions of the late 60s - legalising abortion and homosexuality. It wasn't that the decidedly unswinging Parliament had taken a collective chill pill and realised that, hey, gay people are just people! And women need to be able to control their fertility if they're ever to achieve equality! Rather, they went along with the prevailing social mood, which suggested that private decisions - like who you fuck, or how big your family should be, were not proper matters for the state to intervene on. Mainstream opinion still held that gay people were poor, sad individuals - just that they should be pitied, rather than locked up. And it still held that abortion was a dreadful thing, but better a woman make that decision with two responsible and logical and probably male doctors, and have the procedure in a clean and competent environment, rather than jamming a knitting needle into her own cervix.

There is one pro-lifer who I've managed to have a meeting of the minds with, though. She believed that abortion ends a human life and would thus never have one herself. However, she realised that this was a belief: not a fact. Being a libertarian and not a fan of outlawing stuff in general, she also believed that she - or indeed the government - had absolutely no damn right to make that decision for anyone else. Which ultimately becomes a pro-choice position (because, hey, we're not actually pro-abortion), nicely demonstrating that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.

Anyway. I still firmly believe in Talking About Stuff. This might be my arrogant/optimistic side, but I think that the majority of people in Britain are pro-choice - and probably more pro-choice than they realise, and that, if we talked about it more, if we had a nice, calm, level-headed discussion such as the one EdinburghEye and CoraSherlock are attempting, we could move on. We could remove the ridiculous two doctors rule. We could help Northern Irish women win their fight for the same healthcare (for the same taxes!) as everyone else in the UK. We could put a stop to Nadine Dorries' campaign against anyone having sex, anywhere, ever again, and chuck her insulting counselling proposals in the midden where they belong. (This would involve the Daily Mail staying out of the debate, though.)

There are a lot of issues which debate can solve, or at least ease. There are some issues on which some people will just never agree. But that's okay; people can believe what they want, as long as they extend the same courtesy to others. I suppose that's sort of the point.

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