Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 9. 1st May 1974
Attack cause And symptoms
Attack cause And symptoms
Despite the subtitle given to Pip Desmond's article against abortion, I found nothing fresh in her arguments at ail; it will take more than a few feminist-sounding phrases to convince me that anti-abortionists are becoming any more enlightened.
The article consisted of a string of debater's points, which confuse and obscure the issue, rather than offer a clear alternative position to the case for repeal of the abortion laws.
In saying that women have an "absolute right" to abortion, the WONAAC submission explains That this right should not depend on the fulfilment of other criteria, such as danger to mental or physical health, pregnancy caused by rape, etc. But Ms Desmond takes this "absolute right" to mean forcing doctors to do abortions. WON AAC his never advocated th this.
Pip Desmond says that because of a man's contribution (a sperm), he also has a right to decide what happens to a pregnancy. Where does this place the rapist? Since he contributed the all-important sperm, should he have this right?
What does 'a man's right to father a child' mean in real terms if the woman's right to decide is not given precedence? Does Ms Desmond think a man should be able to force a woman to bear a child? If not (in her words, "maybe not") then this male 'right' is meaningless.
I am sure men will have a voice in such matters. The point is, should it be a decisive voice? In the event of a conflict of opinion, somebody's say must be decisive. You can't have half an abortion, or half a child! We say that the final decision must be that of the woman, whose body is involved.
Desmond seeks a definition of "wanted" and "unwanted" pregnancies. We don't presume to be able to decide these things for individual women. By assuming that there is a "problem of definition" in this matter, she expresses the patronising attitude that women have a childlike irrationality (especially when pregnant) and must have decisions made for them. (It is ironic that many anti-abortionists call for more "responsibility" among women, yet deny them the responsibility of making important decisions for themselves.)
Desmond charges WONAAC with seeing the foetus as the enemy of women's liberation. We have never thought it so. Women's real enemies are the establishment and its upholders such as the Catholic Church hierarchy, who are fighting tooth and nail to deny women freedom in this area of their lives.
As to the question of whether a foetus is alive, individual, and human, we go further than Desmond, who thinks that these characteristics begin at conception. Science tells us that even before conception they are present; in the sperm, the ovum, and indeed in every human cell. But in attempting to find a scientific cover for their stand, anti-abortionists are not interested in consistency — they only want to use the bits that prop up their beliefs. Then they add a few non-scientific embellishments like "the moment of conception" (no such "moment" actually exists)
However, the crucial question is, as Desmond admits, "when does a foetus become a human person?" She has no answer, but concurs that widespread contemporary opinion agrees with WONAAC that a human person comes into being at birth, when we begin life as social entities.
In order to get out of this tight spot, Ms Desmond introduces the bogey of euthanasia. She suddenly switches from talking about social interaction as the criterion for human personhood, and proceeds to use the words "human achievement", which is quite a different thing. Then it is an easy step for her to discuss the implications abortion could have for all people who are not up to "certain standards of achievement".
Desmond asserts that social and economic problems are the main motivation for women seeking abortion. That makes it easier for her to say that society should treat these problems rather than and instead of considering individual solutions to individual cases. But why shouldn't society do both? Individual women are involved, after all.
Her solutions to the problem of unwanted pregnancy include free contraception (which is no use if you're pregnant). I will believe she is genuine when I see her campaigning for free contraception as vigorously as WONAAC does. Perhaps she should start within her own church.
She advocates "financial and personal assistance", which she sees as everything women need "to make a real decision", to have "some genuine options". What kind of an "option" is it if you're not allowed to opt for abortion?
"Abortion is not the solution to women's problems. We must look to the wider social issues....., she says. WONAAC has never said the right to abortion is the answer to all of women's problems, but it is the answer to a very important one of those problems, especially for women who cannot afford to pay their way around the present laws.
As a socialist, I don't just "look to the wider social issues" — I am fighting for a complete transformation of this inhuman, exploitative society. Desmond thinks that we have to get at the cause of repression, rather than attack the mere "symptoms": but it is absurd to counter-pose the two.
Far from "closing everyone's eyes" to the real problems in New Zealand society, the struggle for the right to abortion is helping to open women's eyes to the nature of the forces ranged against them, and to the need for militant and uncompromising political action to bring about meaningful change.