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.