Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to reopen the abortion debate (not exactly as pictured above) will not end well for anyone.
I dislike writing about abortion for a number of reasons.
No matter what I write, someone is going to be furiously calling me a baby killer or a misogynst. There was a time when I would have been called both.
It is a commonly held idea in journalism that if both sides are mad at you, you must be doing something right. It is an idea commonly held by people in my field who favour glib centerism, false dichotomies and nonsensically balancing arguments in a "he said vs she said" manner for the sake of false objectivity.
Those are the same people who bring us stories along the lines of: "People have agreed for centuries that the Earth is round, but local street person Mr. Angry McTrafficyeller says he had a dream that Earth is shaped like a giant burrito. Who's right? The answer is unclear." They are a plague upon the profession. Having both sides mad at you might mean you've wisely taken the middle ground between two equally repellant extremes, but it might also suggest that both sides are mad at you because you are an idiot who is either unwilling or unable to judge the merits of the evidence presented or principles espoused and make a decision.
On the issue of abortion, there are two very clear sides taking absolutist positions. To the so-called pro-life side, life begins at conception and any abortion is murder. On the pro-choice side, any attempt to interfere with a woman's control over her own body is a form of enslavement.
With courts in the U.S. and Canada striking down the outright ban on abortion, pro-life right-wingers are increasingly seeking to impose as many humiliating conditions as possible on the pregnant woman and her doctor in an effort to make abortions virtually impossible to obtain.
The pro-life campaign has seen doctors performing abortions driven out of many jurisdictions by a combination of local legal barriers and intimidation tactics ranging from clinic protests intended to harass staff to bombings and assassinations.Women seeking abortions have had to overcome barriers in some jurisdictions ranging from efforts to mislead with fake counselling centres to bans on insurance funding to waiting periods and lately, even mandatory ultrasounds.
And by mandatory ultrasounds, we are not talking about the doctor smearing conducting gel on the woman's belly and running a probe over it -- we are talking about doctors being required by law, on pain of losing their licence to practice medicine, to insert an electronic device into a woman's vagina and show her a "picture" of the fetus. The woman is required to submit to this gross violation, which some have called state-mandated rape. The law says she must look at the display screen - before an abortion can be performed, no matter what the circumstances, even if the procedure is in response to a rape or needed to save her life.
On the pro-choice side, many are fighting to ensure access for all in the face of the sustained anti-abortion onslaught. Most of the more extreme legal barriers described above involve antiabortion campaigns in the U.S. but Canada has hardly been immune. There are demonstrations and bombings and even assassinations. There are no doctors performing abortions in Prince Edward Island and the Wild Rose Party is promising to defund abortions in Alberta.
As my esteemed colleague Dr. Dawg has put it, there are can be nuances in the abortion debate - things like the role of public funding in a private health care system and parental notification for underage girls come to mind - , but there are no grey areas in a woman's right to choose. Not to get all philosophical on you dear reader, but She either has it or She doesn't, and I defy you to prove any human does not have the right to make a choice, even, or perhaps especially, if the choice is between life and death.
Forget about abortion for a moment and consider the principle of choice more generally. We may not have a legal right to choose what we choose, whether it is the choice to drive over the speed limit, smoke marijuana or machine-gun a bus load of nuns, but we can make a choice to break the law. Some people make a choice to give up their own lives to save others (we call them heroes), others make the choice to defy or obey the law for all sorts of reasons.
We know that women will make a choice about abortion whether the law allows it or not. When it comes to abortion, other than providing an iron-clad absolute legal recognition of this right to make a choice (and thereby rendering the consequences of the choice legally valid), the only possible role any law can take is to restrict the innate right of choice.
In the case of abortion, we know that choice will be made - one way or another - by women every day. So to recognize reality and mitigate possible harm and generally promote the common good, I would argue that the progressive position should be that the state must support the right to choose -- and recognize that it is an absolute right.
Simply put if you have a moral objection to abortion - and I recognize that many do - then by all means don't have an abortion. That is your choice.
Now, to get all inside-blogger on you gentle reader, there is a battle royale raging through Twitter and the Canadian progressive blogosphere concerning a possible boycott of Prog Blogs by the bloggers at Dammitt Janet and others.
They are upset about posts by a few member blogs to the effect that they were okay with Stephen Woodworth, the conservative MP for Kitchener, reopening the abortion debate in Canada by prompting a Parliamentary discussion on the legal personhood of fetuses -a more fulsome description of which can be found here.
I have some sympathy for the bloggers who set off the fury with their posts about 'discussion' - clearly they didn't realize the minefield they were stepping into. I disagree with what was said over at Canadian Soapbox, but I have some sympathy for the blogger who thought he was being reasonable in favouring discussion.
He, and many others, were shocked and offended by the angry tone taken by Fern Hill. I think they were surprised at the vehemence with which she made here case and the abrasive tone she took, when they felt they fundamentally agree with her position. Having interacted with Fern Hill many times in the past, I will stipulate that she is definitely both vehement and abrasive and can seem to be very thin-skinned with a hair-trigger. (These are things I like about her, but more about that shortly)
I'm sure more than a few people felt Fern Hill and her supporters were overreacting and going after what looked like minuscule molehill-sized differences in approach between allies with a gigantic mountain-cracker thermonuclear shithammer. I mean, after all, abortion is legal. We all agree it should be legal. This is a settled matter, right?
And that is exactly the point. Why open a settled matter - one that was settled one agonizing step out of the Dark Ages at a time? Who does it possibly serve to discuss whether water is wet or the sky is blue or women have the right to make a choice? In the words of Billy Crystal: Why don't you just give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? Yes, by all means let us discuss whether women can make choices, let us go tap dancing through that mine field!
No, Fern Hill's response - instantaneous angry indignation - to having supposed allies mention that they are open to discussing giving up her rights is pretty much pitch perfect and to be respected.
To lift the vocabulary of the other side, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom and extremism in the defence of liberty is no sin and all that jazz, because there is a slippery slope, this is the thin end of the wedge. By agreeing to any related discussion, we cede the notion that a woman right to choice is a settled matter.
There are people out there who want Woodworth discussion to go ahead because for them it is the first step in a long game. It gives them a chance to reframe the debate. If we are going to discuss legal personhood of the unborn today, tomorrow we are going to be talking about putting women in prison for murder for killing unborn persons.
This is something that people need to be thin-skinned about, something that deserves a hair-trigger, massive response. It is only way to keep the forces of oppression from gaining a foothold.
And as much as I hate the notion of infighting at a time when progressives need to be united in the face of the never-ending conservative campaign, if it takes a boycott of Prog Blogs to make people understand that, well, so be it.
On a related and much more darkly humorous note, Kari Anne Roy nails it in McSweeny's with "An Open Letter to the Tiny White Man the Republican Party has Sent to Live in My Underpants"