Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Abortion Rights and the Left

Abortion rights are once again under attack with amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill.

The left need to unite behind the defence of the 24 weeks limit. They also need to work with feminist groups to push for a liberalisation of abortion law ,as a minimum a move to one doctor’s signature and preferably abortion on demand.

Abortion, and of course the wider issue of reproductive rights, still seems to be an area that the left need to be pushed on. Yeah they will often make the right noises, but they will make excuses for anti abortion men such as Galloway, and yet I can’t see them being quite so tolerant if someone was, ooh let’s say pro war. But abortion is a women’s issue isn’t it, it’s not quite up there with the serious male leftie men and their real politics about war and arguing the toss over the finer obscure theoretical points of Marxism or who did what when to whom in 1983.

That’s not to say the majority of the left aren’t pro choice and I’m not going to bang on about Galloway as it’s pointless. Those who support him will just get defensive and start going on about what the SWP did when they were in Respect blah blah blah and that we are all hypocrites blah blah blah. That of course misses the fact that those who are critical are not all SWPers (I have never been a member) and have been raising these issues well before the spilt.

So let’s not get diverted. Galloway will be off to his lucrative media career in a few years anyway.

Back to the subject, the left and pro choice, why should they get their finger out on this?

Much has been said on this, so I will try to focus on what I see as specific issues for the left, starting with the fact that working class women are those who lose out the most when abortion rights are restricted. Money has always helped procure such services from discreet private doctors. Working class women, pre 1967, had to make do with the back street abortionists and the resultant risks to health, potentially fatal.

Some on the left get caught up by the reasons for abortion and then sympathise with the conclusion that abortion should be restricted or is a bad thing.
Many argue that it’s wrong that women should have to have an abortion because they can’t afford a child. Well yes, but the answer is not to make it illegal, all that does is put those women at risk. The left need to fight for better childcare, benefits, wages.
Even with improved finances some women may still decide that they don’t want more or even any children and that should be their right. And some won’t feel bad about it or suffer psychologically, especially without the guilt trips from others .

An issue that the left should grapple more with is disability rights. People with disability are often angry that it’s a ground for abortion. Are we trying to create perfection? On the flip side some with a disability, such as the hearing impaired, argue for the right to have a child with the same disability as them.

Now within the world of disabilities there is a wide spectrum. There was a case a while back of a teenager in Ireland who came to Britain for an abortion. She was refused it at home even though the baby would have died very soon after birth so severe were the disabilities. This case illustrates the lack of humanity of some anti abortionists, who would make a young girl suffer like that .No matter what we do, situations that sad will probably always occur.

Greyer areas are more complex. The reality is that, adopting a social model of disability, its society that causes the most problems. People with disabilities have less chances to earn a good wage , expectations of what their life will be like is lower and benefits inadequate. The physical environment is disabling. Many people, the left included, are still patronising and paternalistic to those with disabilities. Parents, and especially mothers, struggle to care for and bring up a child.

So what should the left’s response be to the conflicting views of women’s and disability rights?
I would argue the left must support the current rights women do have and argue for their extension as well as challenging the way disabled people are viewed in society, campaigning for better support for parents and their children with disabilities. We should challenge what is the norm and the increasing pressure for ‘perfect’ children,to argue for difference and diversity in people .We do not though make it more difficult for women to have an abortion and force them to have a child they do not feel they can cope with.

Finally, some point to left currents that are not pro choice, Nicaragua being one such example.

Nicaragua highlights the dangers of the left going along with religion and ignoring women’s rights. In Nicaragua it is a crime to have an abortion, even if the woman’s life is in danger. A report last year in the Guardian highlighted the costs to women of this law. It hits the poorest .

This central American country has become the third country in the world, after Chile and El Salvador, to criminalise all abortions. It is a blanket ban. There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or life- or health-threatening pregnancies.

"Nicaraguan doctors are now afraid of going to trial or jail and losing their licence," says Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of General Medicine. "Many are thinking that instead of taking the risk, it is better to let a woman die."

For the Nicaraguan rich, a problematic pregnancy need not be a death sentence. You can fly to Miami or bribe a discreet private clinic in Managua. But in this wretchedly poor country most young women do not have money. Their choice is to go through with a pregnancy that may kill them, or attempt a DIY termination that may kill them.

As a result of the blanket ban enacted last November at least 82 women have died, according to advocacy groups.

The anti-abortion camp, in contrast, is euphoric. The new law, it says, is a beacon in the fight to protect the unborn. It is time to celebrate. "Now it is all penalised. And Catholics agree that is should be this way," says Roberto González, 50, a Franciscan priest in Managua. "The population sees the church as behind the law - behind the pressure that succeeded in getting the government to change the law."

Abortion has long been illegal in Nicaragua but there had been exceptions for "therapeutic" reasons if three doctors agreed there was a risk to the woman's life.
It is a grim irony that this is happening under a Sandinista government - a movement whose ranks once included advocates for feminism and abortion rights. That was in the 1980s, when the Sandinistas were secular marxists, wore combat fatigues and fought a bloody civil war against US-backed Contra rebels. Things changed. The war ended and the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, lost the presidency in a 1990 election. Church and state were supposedly separate but clerics wielded political clout, none more so than Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. His hostility sank Ortega's attempted comebacks in 1996 and 2001 elections.

In the run-up to last November's election, the cardinal spearheaded a campaign for a blanket abortion ban. Ortega, desperate to regain power, mobilised the Sandinistas behind the cardinal's campaign and helped get the ban enacted just days before the poll. The former revolutionary, now reinvented as a devout Catholic, was rewarded with the presidency.

The stories highlighted in the report show it’s the poorest who are most affected, that young women die and children are left without a mother, often going into care. I expect many of these women were catholic, allowed to die for the sake of a foetus that didn’t even survive.

The left needs to keep this in mind when it bows to religious groups. Where abortion is limited or illegal women die, the poorest suffer the most. It does not stop abortion happening, it does not reduce the causes and reasons for abortion, it does not mean people are more accepting of disability or difference. The left need to focus on reducing the causes, not excuse religious reactionary views on what women can do with their bodies .

The left needs to campaign to improve disability rights, access to good sex education and contraception, tell religious leaders to butt out and work to improve the rights, support and attitudes to disability and difference.

The left should accept that whatever we do to improve the financial situation of women, availability of contraception and quality of sex education, attitudes to disability and support available, that women still have control over their own bodies. That control should not lie with men, the state or any religious groups. It lies with the woman ‘our bodies, our choice’.

Also a guest post over at Liberal Conspiracy as part of their Coalition for Choice campaign.

Update :It seems some on the left feel that even if a woman would die, well so be it . Btw this is a man, who will never be faced with dilemas as being raped and then pregnant or dying in childbirth.So he would watch his partner die when she needn't? Hey, these religious types are so compassionate aren't they. Oh and its also a CLP blog.