Anti-choice rhetoric: the dog-whistles and the overt

Two stories have cropped up this week, both being examples of a shift towards anti-choice rhetoric. They are both part of the quieter war on choice.

The first is overt, unreasonable and will doubtlessly succeed at anchoring the debate closer to the anti-choice position. A letter was written to the Telegraph, demanding a ban on abortions if the foetus would have disabilities as a person. The Telegraph have given position prominence. Oh, and apparently this is important because otherwise YOU’D BE ABORTING THE PARALYMPICS YOU MONSTER or something. Basically, it’s a desperate attempt to piggyback on the success of something that was on telly.

There’s a lot wrong with the letter. Most notably, it was not signed by any groups led by people with disabilities. Most of the signatories were the usual suspects for anti-choicers: groups like Life and the Pro-Life Alliance, and Catholic bishops. The one disability group mentioned was a research group for Down’s Syndrome, which is not led by people with Down’s Syndrome. The voices of people with disabilities in this matter have not been represented, which is rather distasteful since they’re the ones who would be affected by this, rather than a gang of uterus-obsessed fascists.

Perhaps people with disabilities don’t think this is the way forward because they’re busy campaigning to make life better for people with disabilities and fighting against a government that is determined to destroy their futures–a far more pressing concern. The thing is, that’s how the anti-choice lobby works. They don’t give a flying fuck about people, just control of women’s bodies.

As much as the anti-choice lobby may scream about eugenics, it is in fact they who still subscribe to this medical model of disability, while disability rights activists are focusing more on the social model. We need a society that is set up to make life easier for people with disabilities, not harder. We don’t have that yet, and it’s a long way off. If the anti-choice lobby really wanted to stop abortions of foetuses that might turn into disabled people, they need to work with the people who are already alive. And they won’t do that, because it’s all a smokescreen for what they really believe: destroy bodily autonomy.

The second story is less overtly anti-choice on the face of it. A woman has been jailed for eight years for self-inducing an abortion at 39 weeks of pregnancy. The reporting of this has been absolutely terrible, screaming lurid details about the woman’s life: her previous pregnancies, her affair. As Twitterer @MarthaRRobinson put it, if one changed the gestation dates, all of the news stories could have easily been from 1910.

And even people who would normally call themselves pro-choice are falling over themselves to demonise the woman, using logical somersaults to try to justify themselves by saying it wasn’t really abortion because of the dates, or whatever. Yet it was abortion, and it was a desperate woman with no other options and no support. She is now in prison, serving a longer sentence than many serve for molesting a real, living child.

To be truly pro-choice, we must empathise with her, rejecting jail sentences for what happened to her, and working to build better services so nobody has to go through what she did. We must not hang her out to dry.

We pro-choice people must stand firmer than ever against these assaults from the anti-choice camp. The two ministers responsible for women’s reproductive health are both already moderately anti-choice, and will likely use any shift in discourse away from choice as an excuse to legislate their way into our uteruses. We must not let this happen, and we must be loud and united in our support of the right to bodily autonomy.

12 thoughts on “Anti-choice rhetoric: the dog-whistles and the overt”

  1. The first lot are super clever you know…only 3% of disabled people in the UK have had their disability since birth, so what they’re really saying is you can’t abort any foetus as they all have the potential to become disabled, but doing it in a way that patronises disabled people as well as being frothingly anti-choice…

    (please read this comment in a sarcastic tone while eye rolling gently.)

  2. Depressingly we often have the same logic being used to keep abortion legislated and therefore unattainable here (Ireland) what is so frustrating is that it never becomes discussion on why some women choose to abort disabled fetuses – Could it be that we as a society shit on people with any form of disability? That you have to fight tooth and nail so you can get the same basic rights as everyone else? The added cost of bringing up a child who is a little different is huge? While a woman should NEVER have to justify why she chooses abortion, is it really a choice when your motivation is economic no matter the potential ability of the fetus? Shouldn’t you be choosing not to have children because you don’t want them and not because you can’t afford to? I blame capitalist on this on 😛

    While I would say 39 weeks is far far too late, for a whole host of reasons mostly medical, if a woman waits until the last week to abort there has to be something else going on. No-one in their right frame of mind would endanger themselves like that and needs help not punishment. She got a longer sentence than most rapists which I think says it all.

    Many of those engaged in the fight against abortion, seem only to give a shit about potential people instead of actual people.

    1. Your point you make about economics is a big one and kind of what I was driving at. We need to create an environment where there genuinely is a choice rather than abortion being the “least bad” option for many. Unfortunately, the anti-choice lobby don’t really care about that because it doesn’t let them peep into our uteruses!

  3. After reading your tweet I had a thought about the OMG we are aborting paralympians faux argument. Surely we therefore should start more wars, since so many of our successful athletes are former servicemen and women?
    I have already written about Sarah Catt, I do think it is is a grey area, however far more importantly (in my mind) I think it shows the desire to use prison as a solution to complex problems fails people over and over again.

  4. If “pro-life” are really pro-life & not just against body autonomy, why do they focus so little on the 20,000 children who die each day from starvation? Why not campaign for a fair international foreign policy & against local corruption rather than “aid” which will never change the situation. Are actual babies who have been born of no interest to them? I can’t understand caring so much about abortion when there are plenty of ignored, starving, dying babies already here.

    1. They also ignore the rising tide of preventable stillbirths in impoverished areas (like mine).

      Wanted babies are being born dead while they’re trying to enforce unwanted pregnancies!

      Also, in deprived communities like this, raising any child is hard enough, but one with disabilities? Forget it. Often the mothers can no longer work, state benefits (for the few that even qualify any more) are fucking pathetic. Social service assistance? Haha, no way!

      My local council now caps housing benefit at half of monthly rent. They’ll provide care and assistance only to pensioners. Existing child clients have had their services slashed. The council have closed residential care homes for old people who now need services in the community. It’s disgraceful. I’ve been lying in one spot for a year, and I’ve finally. saved up enough to buy a used hoist so that I can get out of this bed. Local social services basically laughed in my face.

      So even as a disabled person with congenital and acquired conditions, I wouldn’t hesitate to support someone wanting to abort a foetus who’d be born disabled. Thanks to the unelected govt hurling us back into the 1970s it’s getting ever harder to live as a person with disabilities. In 2012 I shouldn’t have to choose between nappies (for myself) and food.

      Paralympians are outliers, but even they often struggle with affording food, managing toileting needs etc.

  5. “To be truly pro-choice, we must empathise with her, rejecting jail sentences for what happened to her”

    I agree completely that the media coverage of this case has been, by and large, appalling and unpleasant to read. However, I have to disagree with you regarding the significance of the actual verdict in question. In the sentencing remarks (quoted from Jack of Kent):

    “Had he been born safely within a matter of days, and had you killed him after birth, you would be facing a charge of murder. Had that been the case you would have faced life imprisonment and I would have to set a minimum term to be served in prison with a starting point of 15 years, less discount for the plea and any mitigating factors.”

    The judge lays out the reasoning for the sentencing very clearly. Sarah Catt knowingly broke a law that carries a very high maximum sentence. She broke it so close to term that in order for the law to be maintained (as it has to be, since it was enacted by parliament) she warrants a high sentence (12 years was his calculated amount, although later reduced). He also grapples with the fact that if the infant were born days later and killed at that point, the *minimum* sentence he could give would be 15 years.

    Ultimately, he gave her 4 years in custody. This is not an insignificant amount of time, but given how the law needed to be interpreted, I think it was reasonable. It reflects the numerous mitigating circumstances surrounding Mrs Catt’s situation while acknowledging that she did break the law knowingly.

    Support does need to be given to women in similar situations to make sure they are never confronted with the choice Sarah Catt had to make. It is also shameful that her offence is deemed worse than those of paedophiles and rapists – this should be changed. However, I think the right decision was made in the sentencing and I do not believe it has any bearing on abortion law. The biggest effect this should be allowed to have is to reinforce the desperate need we have for increased support for pregnant women.

    1. I have to agree, there was a failure on many statutory bodies here, one which because she has been demonized will not it seems be investigated. I wrote of my concerns about this case because it seemed to be polarizing people, ignoring the woman at the heart of it. Yes, we all have bodily autonomy, but that does not mean we refuse treatment to the anorexic or the person who self harms. We accept as a society that there are situations where someones desire to do something to themselves is not ultimately in their best interests and intervene.
      Sometimes we need to look beyond entrenched positions and forget about buzz words and consider the underlying causes of any particular act. Was Catt helped after concealing other pregnancies? Was any counselling or therapy offered? Did anyone try to get to the root of what was going on?
      This is a grey area, and the pro choice movement would be stronger for recognizing that fact rather than following the right into the realm of unthinking obedience.

  6. Pro-lifers are planning major, lengthy “vigils” at 9 locations around the UK, as part of a co-ordinated international campaign: This shit seems worth getting the word out about. Feel free to break the link if you don’t want to link directly to hostile sites, but for the record the vigils are planned to take place in Birmingham, Brighton, London / Bedford Square, London / Brixton, London / Whitfield Street, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Oxford and Southampton.

  7. It’s very clear that Sarah Catt is a deeply troubled woman. In my view she deserves empathy and, in all probability, therapeutic support rather than punishment.
    However it’s also clear that the judge was not neutral in this case , but is a former. Ice-president of a conservative Christian group the Lawyers’ Chrisitan Fellowship which campaigns for more restrictive abortion laws. He was not ‘setting out the issues clearly’ but giving voice to his prejudices. It’ outrageous that she was charged in the first place and I hope Sarah Catt finds the strength to appeal against the sentence.
    There is a grave danger that the exceptional circircumstances of this case will serve as pretext for a further attack on abortion rights. Crudely put, attacking women’s control over our fertility at a time of attacks on jobs and services is another attempt to atomise us and undermine our confidence and ability to resist across the board

  8. I’m very late to the party here, but meh. What galls me about this in particular is that these anti-choicers are inferring that women chose to abort potentially disabled foetuses simply because said foetuses are disabled. Thus their whiney eugenics arguments.

    Whilst that may be true for some women – for example, my mother became pregnant with me in her 40s, and (correctly, in my view – not that I’d be around to know nor care) determined that were I disabled, she’d abort me – I fail to see why it’s so much less acceptable to abort a “disabled” foetus over a “non-disabled” one.

    Women exercise choice for many different reasons – social, psychological, physical, whatever. The status of the foetus vis a vis the woman’s concerns is, and should be, irrelevant.

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