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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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”