Pro-choice means just that: misogyny and the response to gender-specific abortions

A selective cry of “misogyny” for anti-choice ends contributes to a culture which does not see people with female reproductive systems as full, equal human beings. The only person who can decide whether or not a pregnancy should continue is the person who

Once again the Telegraph is hard at work whipping up outrage at abortions that never were. After last year’s exposé, in which two doctors were caught agreeing to abort baby girls because of gender, the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that prosecution is not in the public interest. Cue lots of photos of ultrasounds and pseudo-balanced discussions of “good” and “bad” terminations. So far, so utterly predictable. And now Tom Chivers is on hand to tell all of us pro-choice feminists that we should be "more appalled than anyone by the sex-selection abortion story". Well, guess what, Tom? This pro-choice feminist isn’t. If anything appals me, it’s attempts at emotional blackmail by journalists and politicians. You do not have to agree with the CPS’s decision to recognise that all these attempts to stoke up feminist outrage are in bad faith.

According to Tory MP Sarah Wollaston “selective abortion of girls harms women and reinforces misogynist attitudes”. Does it really? And what, precisely, does forcing women to continue with unwanted pregnancies do to our perceptions of womankind? Is this the only instance in which feminists are expected to play good abortion/bad abortion, or are there others? And as for misogyny – well, it strikes me as pretty shameful that the one time this word is on everyone’s lips we’re applying it to those not yet born.

Women and girls die as a result of misogyny every hour of every day, only we don’t call it that. A man bludgeons his female partner to death and it’s merely “a tragic family incident” or “a crime of passion”. We blame volatile relationships and jealousy. Women don’t dare mention the “m” word – after all, it might make more men hate us. As Suzanne Moore has observed, the only acceptable “m” word these days is “misandry”. Indeed, an accusation of misandry can be hurled at anything from Loose Women to campaigns against lad mags. As for misogyny, well, there’s no such thing, not unless we’re talking about the foetuses.

It is bizarre to speak of a world that hates girl foetuses (or at least foetuses which do not have an identifiable penis) but not a world that hates women. It is ironic, too, since far from protecting every foetus that is developing ovaries, a uterus and a vagina, what one is actually doing is questioning his or her bodily autonomy from the moment he or she draws a first breath. A selective cry of “misogyny” for anti-choice ends contributes to a culture which does not see people with female reproductive systems as full, equal human beings – precisely the kind of culture in which some might wish such people were not born at all.

Pro-choice means just that. The only person who can decide whether or not a pregnancy should continue is the person who is pregnant. We can of course say that gender prejudice is a terrible reason to end a pregnancy that would otherwise have been wanted. But isn’t the same thing true of ending one due to poverty? Yet the Telegraph is not up in arms about wealth-specific abortions, demanding that their legal status be changed. After all, it’s pretty obvious that the problem there is not abortion per se but inequality – and best not mention that. With gender selection, however, it’s different. You also get the chance to play gender politics, the opportunity to make a pseudo-feminist arguments in which good or bad reasons turn into good or bad abortions. This is not right. It should not be that the only good feminism is the one which lets in anti-choice politics by the back door.

The presence or lack of the stubby outline of a penis tells you very little about 20-week old foetus and what kind of person he or she will become. It does, however, tell you an enormous amount about how the world will respond to him or her. This is the real problem. It’s a problem that the right-wing press and conservative politicians show little interest in addressing. For misogyny in action, we should look to those who turn away from abuse, exploitation and pain to focus only on wombs within wombs.

The only person who can decide whether or not a pregnancy should continue is the person who is pregnant. Photo: Getty

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge