Get your “liberal” rhetoric off my damn body and get a clue.

// 4 March 2008

Oh I am fuming. Absolutely fuming. Just… this:

But “pro-choicers” aren’t short of poor arguments themselves. One goes a bit like this: “Male control over birth rights, over women’s bodies, has been a tool of patriarchal oppression for centuries.” True, but any reasonable ethics only allows remedial action against the oppressor. Most of them are long dead, none of them are foetal – so what’s the relevance to an abortion in 2006? Even if the medicalization of terminations in America involved (male) doctors claiming power over (female) midwives, this is irrelevant. History should only carefully be a guide to justice – and only if it suggests a just remedy. Thin-end-of-the-wedge arguments are usually weak, and this is no exception. DonaldS

Oh looky there: a man belittling my argument by telling me that male oppression is a thing of the past. How’s about getting yourself a female reproductive system and then trying that one out for size again?

Tell me, Donald, how can you possibly claim that male control of women’s bodies is a thing of the past, that it is irrelevant to abortion today? Are men dead, removing the world of all the sperm? Or have the nasty feminists gone and chopped all their dicks off? Are 80,000 women not dying every year because their male dominated governments refuse them access to safe, legal abortion? Can you spell Nicaragua?

Your turn to listen up. Abortion is not some kind of fun little ethical conundrum for you to hone your liberal arguments on, for you to play rhetorical games with. Women’s access to safe, free and legal abortion, along with contraception, is essential to our liberation from patriarchy. Without recourse to abortion we are vulnerable to male control, unable to freely determine what happens to our bodies and, ultimately, the course of our lives.

We’re not just talking about control through rape or the withholding of contraception and abortion. Women are biologically vulnerable because we are the sex that can be made pregnant. Simone de Beauvoir suggested that this is why men initially gained control over women and became the dominant sex, and I think her’s is a valid hypothesis. Access to contraception and abortion allows women to neutralise the biological advantage men have over us and, contrary to your assertions, this advantage has not been consigned to the history books: it never will be.

To claim that the key feminist argument in favour of abortion is poor displays not only incredible arrogance, but deep ignorance of the fact that it is feminists who have successfully fought for women’s access to abortion across the globe. Without the recognition that abortion is a tool of women’s liberation, women would never have been put first in the debate, and we all know that the consequences of that line of thinking are dire.

So excuse me if I get a little pissed off when I read a man constructing his shiny “liberal” arguments on women’s bodies, but I really think that we’re the ones who get to decide what is and isn’t a good argument for abortion, and freedom from patriarchy sounds just dandy to me.

Comments From You

Daniel // Posted 4 March 2008 at 6:26 am

I agree with your thoughts completely. However, before i was engaged to the love of my life i was terrified that if i got a girl i was dating pregnant she could destroy my child without me ever knowing that i helped make a life. Sure the lessers of my gender tend toward control, and I also believe in legal safe abortion and contrception, yet not all of us are out to padlock vaginas, some of us simply don’t want to miss a chance to be a good daddy.

Holly Combe // Posted 4 March 2008 at 8:39 am

Daniel: I find the phrase “destroy my child” a bit troubling. “Destroy” seems deliberately over-dramatic (though I accept that, yes, she would essentially be “destroying” the pregnancy). Also, I find your use of the word “child” to relate to a foetus misleading. It suggests you think the foetus gains human rights as soon as conception occurs and, personally, I find it hard to believe that someone with that particular viewpoint would agree with Laura’s thoughts “completely.” I think clarification on your position is needed.

You say you don’t want to “miss a chance to be a good Daddy” but if you had a partner who was pregnant and didn’t want to be, what would be the alternative? Forced pregnancy, surely? I don’t think there’s any getting away from that, as the fact is that you couldn’t carry the child for her. I genuinely wish you could, as it would obviously solve a lot of problems. However, just as it is not your fault that you can’t get pregnant and give birth, it is also not our fault -as women- that we can. Perhaps you need to make your concerns clear to anyone you are considering having pregnancy-risking sex with. Then you can make the decision *not* to take any pregnancy risks (i.e don’t agree to or suggest vaginal penetrative sex) if they don’t share your wish not to miss out on parenthood if contraception fails and they accidentally become pregnant.

Well said Laura. I agree with Donald S that access to early abortion needs to be free and easy but implying that patriarchal control over women’s bodies is a thing of the past or irrelevant within this particular debate is just plain disingenuous.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith // Posted 4 March 2008 at 9:14 am

What I find worst about the above quotation is the combination of pompous rhetoric and pathetic, circular argumentation. The suggestion seems to be that women have control over their own bodies nowadays, therefore women don’t need to have control over their own bodies nowadays. Great. And let’s add to that the hint that abortion is some kind of revenge women take against men or even foetuses, “action against the oppressor”. As though every decision a woman makes has to be coloured by her relations with others in general and men in particular, and not, say, her relations with her own body.

It’s maddening when self-appointed liberals see abortion as the chance for intellectual posturing in order to demonstrate how finely balanced and nuanced their perspectives are. However impressive they may think it is to show an awareness of the “grey areas” in the debate, there just aren’t any grey areas when it comes to whether women own what’s beneath their own skin.

Anyhow, must go now and feed my son (who, funnily enough, I don’t see as “the oppressor”, but as a delightful baby I, quite rightly, chose to have …).

chem_fem // Posted 4 March 2008 at 9:25 am

Sorry it is lazy, but I only have time to say ‘I agree’.

Mia // Posted 4 March 2008 at 12:48 pm

So.. what he’s saying, in essence, is that because women are no longer repressed, it is fine to repress them. Hm.

Kate // Posted 4 March 2008 at 4:55 pm

I too picked up on the highly offensive suggestion here that crazy, ranting feminists are somehow seeking revenge for years of patriarchy by killing innocent foetuses. Women are not seeking ‘remedial action’ against anyone particularly, just the right to safe abortions in a non-judgemental atmosphere. The argument may well go (with good reason)”Male control over birth rights, over women’s bodies, has been a tool of patriarchal oppression for centuries” but this doesn’t mean that attempting to move beyond such a suggestion has anything to do with punishing men or anyone else for that matter. This just reads like another attempt to demonise feminists to me.

DonaldS // Posted 4 March 2008 at 5:20 pm

Hmm, given you’ve constructed this piece on a misunderstanding or misreading of what I wrote, it’s difficult to know how to respond.

First, and most obvious, I made it clear (in text and several links) that I was writing about the UK, now. So, Nicaragua, 80,000 annual deaths, withholding of reproductive rights on a mass scale, and so on are outside the piece’s remit. For removal of any doubt, I clearly state my support for free and easy access to abortion and contraception.

Second, on the core of the paragraph you don’t like. My point is simply this: whatever the status of male/female relations, now, historically, or in the future, the ethical status of abortion (from a rights-based perspective) swings on the status of a foetus. Taking remedial action for oppression that critically affects something/someone who both 1. isn’t the oppressor and 2. has rights, clearly isn’t reasonable. Of course, if you assign no rights to a foetus, at any point during pregnancy, then it’s completely consistent. Ditto if you believe that the rights of the woman carrying the foetus, always and in all circumstances as far as birth (or even beyond?), trump the right to life of a foetus. I respect your view, but tend to disagree – again, for reasons I spell out.

You seem to have read my offending paragraph as “men don’t oppress women anymore” – which, as you graphically spell out, would have been a silly thing to write. (Though it would have been even sillier if, Mia, I had honestly written “because women are no longer repressed, it is fine to repress them”. Writing that would surely have provided cause to bring back the death penalty.)

As I made clear, I support easy, free (i.e. non-medicalized, or at least non-doctorized) access to abortion up to (maybe beyond) the current 24-week limit. I think we both know, anyway, that demand for it beyond that time limit is vanishingly small; only “pro-lifers” obsess about late abortions. But, for reasons I spell out in the piece, I would not support such ‘unlimited’ access to abortion. If you assign no ‘rights’ to a foetus, I can see that that poses no ethical problem. Again, I disagree.

Also, this:

Finally, if you really are saying, as you appear to be, that only women get to debate abortion, then… first, I disagree, obviously. And second, go right ahead and delete this comment. No hard feelings and all that.

DonaldS // Posted 4 March 2008 at 5:46 pm


> I too picked up on the highly offensive suggestion here that crazy, ranting feminists are somehow seeking revenge for years of patriarchy by killing innocent foetuses.

Sorry, we cross posted or I’d have commented on this. I think for you to use “picked up” justly, there would have to be a suggestion that I intended it to be read that way. You may have read that interpretation into the piece, but I’ve read the darned thing back several times, and I just can’t get that reading of it, unless we’re to assume that writers no longer write in good faith and in fact mean precisely what they don’t say.

I’m trying to anticipate the final clause of Laura’s original piece here (a not uncommon position): “a good argument for abortion … freedom from patriarchy sounds just dandy to me”. I just can’t find it in myself to consider that a good argument for any abortion. Not from a rights-based, liberal perspective anyway.

Laura // Posted 4 March 2008 at 6:27 pm


“a good argument for abortion … freedom from patriarchy sounds just dandy to me”. I just can’t find it in myself to consider that a good argument for any abortion.”

And that’s exactly my problem with your piece: you can’t see that it’s a good argument because you have nothing to lose if abortion rights are taken away.

“Not from a rights-based, liberal perspective anyway.”

How about women’s rights?

Clearly we aren’t going to agree on women’s rights trumping supposed foetal rights so I won’t go on; I just wish you could put yourself in the position of a woman and FEEL the sense of fear and impotence that I for one get when I imagine living in a world where I cannot access abortion. I feel it already to some extent because I know that I don’t have the right to abortion on demand in the UK.

My anger in the above piece comes from the very depths of my body – I physically shook as I read your piece. I know you support abortion, and I appreciate that, but to assert that women’s freedom from patriarchy is not a good argument for abortion leaves me livid.

DonaldS // Posted 4 March 2008 at 7:04 pm

> you have nothing to lose if abortion rights are taken away

Really? We all lose if the foundations of liberal society are eroded. Abortion rights are an essential part of those foundations, and an essential element of women’s liberty. Abortion should be free, easy, uncoerced by illiberal opinion, and so on. If those rights go, I do lose. Otherwise, why would I bother to campaign against detention without trial? I’m not currently detained – nor likely to be in the near future.

>you can’t see that it’s a good argument…

I can’t see it’s a good argument because so far all you’ve made is an assertion, not an argument. I completely agree that abortion rights are essential in the fight against patriarchy, historical oppression, and so on. These rights and the very foundation of a just society. What I seek to define, by argument, are the limits of those rights. All rights have limits – where they impinge on those of another. I can even kill my next door neighbour under certain circumstances: his right to life isn’t absolute or unfettered.

> we aren’t going to agree on women’s rights trumping supposed foetal rights

On the contrary, we are in complete agreement up until the point when the foetus has significant traits common to our understanding of what makes us human. Until that point, the foetus has no rights. Removing it is analogous to having a tooth pulled.

> How about women’s rights?

Define them and I’ll address that question.

> I physically shook as I read your piece

Fair enough, but I hope I’ve shown in my long comment (5.20pm above) that most of your anger (and so most of the resulting words in your piece) was based on a misreading and/or misunderstanding of the scope and message of my article. Given you haven’t replied to those points specifically, I’m assuming so anyway.

Lynne Miles // Posted 5 March 2008 at 4:13 pm

Laura – have you seen this follow up by Unity at LC?

Holly Combe // Posted 5 March 2008 at 6:55 pm

I would say that a woman’s rights *do* trump those of the foetus, as it is growing inside *her* body. Obviously, that gap closes gradually as the pregnancy develops and I’d say that’s another good reason for abortion on demand (i.e women need need to be able to stop any already unwanted pregnancies from spiralling ever further out of control and into more ethically fraught territory). Ultimately, I think there is always a gap (however small) right up until birth. I would therefore say that the rights of the foetus (as a factor that has played no part in gender relations past and present) should not cloud the part that relations between the sexes have to play in this debate.

If “patriarchal control” is defined purely by whether men’s control of women’s wombs is the law then Unity’s point about context (in the latest post about this issue on Liberal Conspiracy) seems reasonable. However, if it can be defined more socially, it seems obvious that such control continues to be a problem in the UK. Despite the fact that a pregnancy generally only ever develops in a woman’s body, there are still some men who use patriarchal ideals in order to berate some women into carrying pregnancies to full term against their wishes. For example, isn’t it true that some men still experience feelings of ownership or entitlement to a foetus (i.e “don’t kill my baby”)? Does the notion of carrying on the family name no longer hold any sway whatsoever? There are still plenty of socially approved ways available to a man if he wants to emotionally blackmail a woman into not having an abortion and, even socially unacceptable methods of coercion (such as the threat of violence in a situation where there is already domestic abuse) are all too common.

Sure, it wouldn’t be fair to say that only women get to debate abortion (though I don’t think that’s what Laura was saying) and, yes, I do agree that we all indeed lose if “the foundations of liberal society are eroded.” However, the fact still remains that Donald S does not have to live with the day to day burden of possessing a womb and that means he will never ever potentially experience the double threat to his autonomy of being pregnant against his will and then being made or expected to go through with it. That means abortion rights, on balance, have less direct consequences for him than they do for many women. That doesn’t in any way negate his right to comment but, IMO, it does suggest women’s concerns should be at the forefront of this particular debate.

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