As Ireland decides whether to relax abortion law, there is nothing progressive about voting 'Yes'
'It's the smart thing to do.' That's what The Edge, guitarist for U2, said, when asked why he was voting 'yes' to repeal the Irish constitution's eighth amendment, which places equal value on the lives of the mother and the unborn child. And, yes, I guess that it is the 'smart' thing to do if you are a well-to-do white male. But it's pretty disastrous for everyone else.
As Elaine Storkey pointed out in her excellent piece for Christianity Today, abortion has proved to be wholly misogynistic in practice, resulting in the deaths of far more women than men. And my wife, who worked for many years in a crisis pregnancy centre, would say much the same thing. She lost track of the times that women who wanted to keep their babies were pressured by the men in their lives to 'get rid of it'. So, yeah, I guess it's 'smart', if you're a man, to come up with the money for an abortion instead of taking responsibility to raise a child for the rest of her life.
But you'd better be a white man, because if you are a person of colour you stand a disproportionately higher chance of never emerging from your mother's womb, in the first place. And heaven help you if some prenatal test discovers that you have a disability. Because the 'smart' people won't. They have somehow sussed out that it would be better not to be born at all than to have to live that way. I'm assuming we haven't been talking to the same disabled people, however, because the disabled people I know are horrified by the idea that someone else should determine whether or not their life is worth living. Sally Philips, in the documentary about her son, demonstrated powerfully what happens when one group of people decides what is 'normal' and 'ideal' and 'perfect' for everyone else: children with Downs Syndrome get eliminated in ever increasing numbers.
So, if abortion has proved, in practice, to be sexist and racist and ableist, why do so many progressives, like The Edge, take the pro-choice position? It can't be because it's inclusive. Because it's not. If a member of UKIP or the BNP should argue that immigrants and refugees are inconvenient and expensive and put a strain on our infrastructure, most progressives I know would reply that, even if that is the case, we have the responsibility to accept them and care for them. But strangely, when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy (which is also inconvenient and unexpected and expensive) they reverse course and argue for the right to put those human beings to death. 'Ah, but the foetus is not human, or not yet fully human,' they argue. And again, there is nothing progressive or inclusive about that, at all.
I don't know where your story began, but mine didn't start when I emerged from the womb. I was alive, and I was a human being, long before that. That's why my mum talked to me, and took pains to care for me. And, beyond that, it's what my DNA said, the moment I was conceived: 'This is a unique human being, never before seen in this world.' That's the science. And given the frustration that most progressives I know experience when they have to deal with climate change deniers, you would think that the science would count for something in this issue, as well. But questions of foetal development, the moment at which human life begins, the age at which the heart begins to beat, and any mention of foetal pain are often just brushed under the carpet. For example, do you know what happens in a late term abortion? 'Ah, but that is a rare procedure,' many progressives argue, 'accounting for only 1.5 percent of abortions'. Sounds like a tiny number, doesn't it? But when you consider that there have been 9 million abortions in the UK since it was made legal, that means that something like 135,000 children have been terminated, alive, in the womb. Not such a tiny number, after all. 'Ah, but you can't say things like that!' They argue. 'You will upset people as they struggle with this awful decision.' And, of course, there have been moves lately to limit even prayers in front of abortion clinics.
When you consider, however, that most progressives will join a march against war at the drop of a hat and show no reluctance to holding up signs depicting the horrors that might ensue, it seems just that bit hypocritical, doesn't it? And think about the photos of torn up foxes that accompanied all those hunting protests. Even wildlife seem to get more sympathy than the unborn child.
Don't get me wrong. I admire what progressives stand for. I admire their compassion and their concern for justice, which is why I find it so hard to understand why they have mostly fallen on the pro-choice side of this issue. Progressives have long been known for broadening our understanding and appreciation of our fellow human beings. When slave owners saw their slaves as mere possessions and somehow less than human, it was progressives who argued for freedom on the basis of the essential humanity of those slaves. That position is at the heart of progressive ideology and manifests itself in the constant push for equality. But in the area of reproduction, and in that area alone, all of that is abandoned, indeed reversed, so that this unique human being becomes nothing more than a kind of consumer product, a lifestyle accessory - to be treasured, if wanted, and disposed of, if not. That view is absent from every other progressive position. People are not things. People are to be valued. Violence and death are never the answer. Those are the core beliefs I think of when I think of progressivism. So why does that hold true everywhere but in the area of reproductive rights? And what has that one exception done to us as a culture?
Sadly, I think it has established the taking of life as a baseline for behaviour. If someone gets in your way, if their existence threatens your way of life, your prosperity, your future, your plans, then you can simply dispose of them. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest that this is what is happening with our young people in our cities. When one child stabs another because they are 'in the way', is it in the end, simply a matter of them having learned the lesson that we have taught them: life, ultimately, has no value apart from the value attached to it by the one who holds the knife.
We can do better than this. We ought to do better than this. If you live in Ireland, please vote 'no'. And if you live in the UK perhaps the time has come to reconsider our laws, too, to move forward to a more inclusive, more compassionate, less violent future. Because that's not just the smart thing to do. It's the progressive thing.
Bob Hartman is an author and storyteller.