More on the abortion debate

This article by Kenan Malik in 2012 explores the issue of abortion, how it raises profound questions about what it means to be human, about when and how do we become human, about the nature of rights, and about who possesses them.

Mehdi Hasan, political director of the Huffington Post UK, has an essay in the current issue of the New Statesman, of which he was until recently the political editor, arguing that the progressive stance on abortion is to oppose it. The article inevitably created a storm on Twitter and elsewhere on the web, a storm at which Hasan took umbrage.  ‘Time to add abortion to the list of issues – Islam, Iran’s nuclear programme etc – that can’t be discussed on Twitter’, he tweeted. He added that he was ‘v disappointed that lefties have confirmed every rightwing prejudice today: we close down debate, we enforce orthodoxies etc’. I will return later to the response to Hasan’s argument, but first a few words on his pro-life argument:

‘Abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and “defending the innocent”, while left-wingers fetishise “choice”, selfishness and unbridled individualism.’

To pose the issues in this fashion is, as Mehdi Hasan must know, to distort the debate almost to meaninglessness. Yes, pro-abortionists talk about ‘choice’, but in slating ‘selfishness and unbridled individualism’ Hasan is willfully confusing the promotion of consumer choice and free market policies with the (collective) struggles that women have had to wage to win the right to make basic decisions about their own bodies. And yes, the right often talks of ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’ but it is striking that such equality and rights seemingly apply in this case only to the fetus and not to the woman.

The right to abortion is important because without the right to have control of their bodies in the way that men do women cannot enter the public sphere on an equal footing.  The defence of abortion rights is, therefore, the opposite of what Hasan suggests: not the assertion of individual selfishness, but the protection of that which is necessary for women fully to engage in collective life and not be tied to the private sphere. In any case, to deny women choice in this context is not to remove choice from the picture; it is simply to assert the right of someone else to make those choices for women.  In what way is that to promote equality? Read the rest of the article here.