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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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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