Politicians on Abortion
Jacob Rees-Mogg recently made some frank statements about abortion on the programme ‘Good Morning Britain’. The most controversial was admitting that he thought abortion was wrong even in cases of rape and incest, in accordance with his Catholic faith.
His statements remind me a little of Tim Farron’s resignation from his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats earlier this year. Tim said he found it impossible to live as a Christian and lead the party. According to him, the press hounded him because of what they considered to be prejudices that inevitably flow from his evangelical Christian faith.
There was some evidence of this alleged hounding. In a number of interviews he was grilled about his views on abortion and gay relationships. He wasn’t allowed to get away with saying he supports people’s freedom to do what they want to or that he voted for this or that freedom or that it was his political views, not his personal beliefs, that were relevant to his campaign.
Nope. He was asked to state categorically whether he thought these things were wrong. He was quoted scripture and asked whether he believed and accepted the quotes. Just answer the question, Tim, do you believe in this, yes or no. Simples. Perhaps a bit too far but the silly, sad and immature part of me chuckles inside when (some) Christians decide to graciously and liberally admit something or the other is a matter of personal conviction and not state or even societal censure. To our bitter amazement, we find that our new position is not enough, times have moved on and we are now required to endorse whatever it was that we thought went against Christian teaching. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I’M STILL A BIGOT?!? I ALREADY SAID GAY PEOPLE WOULDN’T NECESSARILY BURN IN HELL!!!” (silent, internal screaming of course). I’m working on being a better person.
I suppose Rees-Mogg’s answer had the superficial merit of dealing with the abortion issue precisely although I note that he firmly shifted the responsibility for his response to the Catholic church and its teaching instead of his personal understanding of Christianity and the Bible.
Being a Christian, I’m not going to pretend to be shocked by Rees Mogg’s views (even though I strongly disagree with them – let’s make that clear from the outset!). Neither will I pretend that I’d find it easy to answer a question on abortion. If I was asked about abortion, I’d have to say that my answer has 6 parts and I’m afraid I’d have to dogmatically insist on outlining each part in every interview.
The first is what the Bible says about abortion. Nothing, as far as I know. It does affirm the sanctity of life, starting with the commandment “Thou shalt not kill’ – but this is in the context where many many lives are taken seemingly with God’s permission or complancency (much like today but it’s more complicated than that really). There is also a strange story in the Bible of a man ejaculating outside his dead brother’s wife (while having sex with her obviously or else the story wouldn’t really be strange at all).
The second (and third) is I would describe myself as pro-choice but (apart from the obvious exceptions like health of the mother, rape etc) probably also a little anti-abortion. I absolutely do not want to live in a society where choice is taken from women but would rather they chose not to abort. I don’t think, for example, it’s wrong to speak to a woman about other options if she has asked for an abortion and wants to listen. I don’t think abortion is killing a baby; I do think that provided a certain age of the foetus – it’s ending life – or at least a tiny spark of life.
Incidentally, extreme members from both the left and right don’t think you should mention exceptions. The left think that any mention of exceptions suggests that some abortions are more deserving than others and chips away at the inalienable right to the choose and the right think that nothing justifies ‘killing a baby’ – not what happened to or what would happen to the mother. Both sides are mad.
Fourth: Abortion shouldn’t be but is politicised and I do not want to live in a world where the people who want to criminalise abortion get their way. A lot of them are largely interested in controlling women and with their constant campaigning for removing or reducing welfare, sex education and access to contraception; they are also mad.
Fifth: My views on ending a life involve, I must admit, a healthy dose of ignorance on my part especially the science bit. I’m very vague on this issue. I don’t for instance think taking the morning after pill is ending any sort of life. I start thinking that way when the embryo/foetus is around 6-8 weeks and has passed some kind of test in my head.
The second area of vagueness has to do with late abortions (which I understand are very much in the minority) and the brutal way it has been described. I can’t help but wonder if the foetus suffers pain. I ought to look it up but I’m afraid if I do, I will be drawn to one of the more extreme camps – probably the anti-abortion people. I think the law in the UK probably contains the right balance:
“Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –
- (a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or
- (b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
- (c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated
- (d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”
Yes, a foetus’ life may be important but so is the mother’s, in terms of the physical and mental effect of continuing the pregnancy. And also, at the risk of sounding dramatic (and unoriginal), I do think we have to question the outrage at a Western rape victim terminating a pregnancy if we are willing to accept the risk of refugee children, babies and unborn babies perishing at sea because of immigration laws and statistics.
Finally: An analogy. Between my children, I had a miscarriage. I opted to remove the foetal matter by a D&C. So muddled was my mental state that I actually wondered if I was in fact having an abortion. I’m mad.
It became clear that the embryo/foetus was dead when I was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant. It turned out, from its size, that it had in fact died at 5-6 weeks. The reaction to my miscarriage is probably how most people would reasonably react to the termination of a pregnancy if the thorny (and very relevant) issue of choice wasn’t involved.
Even my most Christian, anti-abortionist friends (I’m not going to call them pro-life because really who isn’t pro-life?) didn’t treat me like I had lost a baby. Even the most convicted pro-choice/abortion people didn’t act like I had simply removed a bunion. There was a recognition that a huge part of my grief was about my hopes and aspirations for the pregnancy and baby. But there was also an acknowledgement that I had lost something outside of myself – the beginnings of a life or a child.
I suspect that had I had a still birth (defined as losing the foetus after 28 weeks of pregnancy) and the closer I got to term, the more I would have been treated as if I lost a baby. And if I had lost a baby, then I guess I would have just lost a baby.
I wonder, had I chosen to terminate at the same time, say between 5 and 11 weeks of pregnancy, because of the viability or health of the foetus, would my (alright!) pro-life friends have accused me of killing a baby? I usually try to be even- handed but I can’t think of a comparable example for my pro-choice friends.
The Art of Criticism
M. I. and Osagie Alonge’s discussion on the recent Loosetalk podcast episode has caused a bit of conversation. When I write about people, I try to imagine them reading it (even though at the moment there’s not a hope in hell…never mind) and I hope this helps me to avoid being too vicious. For me, in that episode, M.I. was a vivid reminder of the human face at the other side of every critical article or review.
So I know what I got from the discussion but I’m still trying to understand what either party achieved, especially by airing what appeared to be an unedited version. M.I. obviously came out better than Alonge in many respects. I don’t think there’s any need to dwell on Alonge’s sweary outbursts as I’m sure he’s still ‘conking’ himself in private about that. I did find it amusing (alright, very funny), that when M.I. started to criticise one of Ayomide Tayo’s articles, he was met with loud hysterics before he even got to line 2 of his critique.
No one really likes criticism. It’s disingenuous to pretend that despite his friendly, chilled online persona, M.I. is in reality a raving egomaniac (just) for objecting to the treatment his music has received from Pulse Magazine. Some of the same people tweeting that if M.I. cannot take criticism, then he shouldn’t release music, will either send you a snappy retort (along the lines of ‘go and write your own!’) if you disagree with their tweet or produce a long thread on how you are trying to erase the validity of their experiences and existence. No one likes criticism. It’s just that we have accepted or assumed that part of a viable music industry includes a credible music critiquing/reviewing arm.
However, I don’t agree with M.I. when he says that critics should 1) understand the difficulties he has gone through to produce a record 2) somehow pay homage, in every critique, to his or 2face’s legacy in pioneering the current Afropop/beat/hip hop movement and 3) should criticise with the objective of supporting (not ‘bringing down’) the Nigerian music industry.
All that is suspiciously close to sycophancy. Music review in Nigeria should be the same as everywhere else. It’s not easy to define but, apart from avoiding gratuitous rudeness and insults, what I expect is some expertise both of music and the market and some level of objectivity. I’m not saying a reviewer is not allowed to have an opinion of the artist but I’m a bit cautious about reviews when it is clear that the reviewer either adores, idolises or hates the artist.
Alonge is very knowledgeable and unrivalled in his passion for hip-hop (particularly African) but some of his statements about M.I. and other acts make him sound like a deranged obsessive fan. I’m very familiar with ‘the deranged fan’ being one myself (and currently having an object of my obsessive fandom). The deranged fan has moved on from simply liking, loving or approving of the music and now wants the artist to do exactly what he or she thinks they should be doing (despite, like me and perhaps unlike Alonge, not having a clue about making music). I mean he was talking to M.I. like M.I. was losing him, personally, money by the way he was running Chocolate City record label.
I’m also not convinced by the justification for harsh criticism which is that it is needed “to make our artists do better”. The “we love them but we just want to make them better” narrative is bit too paternalistic for me. I suspect that we don’t all really have any vested interest in making artists better as such. If we don’t think they produce good enough music, we are free to drop our opinion and spend our money elsewhere. Presumably, it was this instinct to make our artists “do better” that drove Nigerians in their hundreds to Simi’s Twitter page during the AMCVA awards earlier this year to tell her they didn’t like her dress.
Speaking of Simi, I’ve bought the album Simisola and it’s fantastic! Now I’m off to listen to the album obsessively until I can find something in it to write a good, long, moany article about. Have a good weekend!