Why must we demonise our opponents in this debate?

Jackie Ashley in today’s Guardian portrays the argument on abortion as being one between progressive liberalism and the forces of religious zealotry. What irks me as much as the dogmatic short-sightedness of the latter is the smug arrogance of the former. In a private conversation three years ago with arch pro-choice MP Dr Evan Harris, he told me: “I expect you would deny IVF treatment to a woman who had terminal cancer?” Well, duh. It was only afterwards that I realised he was being critical!

I’m a Christian, so I suppose I’m vulnerable to the accusation that I’m allowing religious dogma to dictate how I vote tomorrow. That’s not the case. I’m trying to make an objective judgment based on science and, yes, morality. Why is it that if someone feels the number of abortions that take place in this country is too high, he or she is accused of being a mysoginist?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Why must we demonise our opponents in this debate?

  1. James H

    Tom

    The main advocates for a cut in the time-limit cite scientific evidence to back their case, but despite this their main motivation derives from their religious beliefs. Progressives, such as Jackie Ashley, are rightly angered that people of faith think that it is appropriate to tell people who do not share their beliefs what to do. The medical community does not support a cut in the time limit. If we want to cut the number of abortions that take place in our society we need to look more carefully at providing high quality sex education in the family and school, and we also need to review the availability of contraception. But, of course this doesn’t fit snugly with their world view either.

    At the end of the day this is about progression v regression. Religion should be personal not political. It seems that an increasingly vocal minority is having an ever bigger sway over our body politic.

    Of course you are not a misogynist for wanting fewer abortions. The question is: what is the right way of going about this?

    In the meantime, progressives (whether they are liberal or social democratic in my case!) have a right to be deeply concerned and frustrated.

  2. James,

    As both you and Tom acknowledge this is a difficult debate and one that would best be done without name-calling and attacks on those that disagree.

    Regardless of your stance I do have a problem with the idea that people should somehow be denied an opinion – or the right to express that opinion – simply because they happen to be religious.

    Your argument that ‘people of faith think that it is appropriate to tell people who do not share their beliefs what to do’ could logically be applied to any personal beliefs people may have? For example you may believe in social democracy, possible redistribution of wealth, but does that give you the right to impose it on other people who may think otherwise?

    In a democracy we all get to have our say and hopefully reach a decision which is reflective of the majority’s views, whilst not riding roughshod over an individual’s rights. However, given that there are no issues where everyone is in absolute agreement inevitably laws will involve some people feeling they have lost out depending on what decision is taken.

    The only way to change would be to come up with an entirely new democratic system (whose existence I’m unaware of) or to break up what we call society into small, isolated communes. I’m not convinced either of those is likely.

  3. Andrew F

    Evan Harris, he told me: “I expect you would deny IVF treatment to a woman who had terminal cancer?” Well, duh. It was only afterwards that I realised he was being critical!

    As a young member of the Labour party, I can’t help but feel ashamed of your recent entries. While many right wing Christians claim that religion is not influencing their voting choices, you must accept that there is, therefore, a rather inexplicable correlation. Moreover, you must accept that without religion, you seem to have nothing to tie your deductions to. The premise that life begins at conception – and thus, every moral conclusion that can be drawn from it – is only to be found within dogma.

    It is fundamentally unethical for you to sit up on your high-horse and say that it’s a “personal judgement”, and then refuse to subtantiate your votes in logic when they affect the lives of other people.

    I want our MPs to be accountable for their decisions, yes; but I don’t want those decisions to be made on the basis of what makes them comfortable or what fits with their world view. You’re not there to satisfy your own biases and then dress it up with laughable assertions that you’re being objective. Unless you can tell me, in universal terms, how the concrete negative consequences of giving that woman IVF outweigh the concrete positive consequences of doing so, you should consider yourself an embarassment to the legislature.

    And now I shall get back to revising for my AS exams. When I take my politics papers on Friday, I’ll be sure to include you as an example of the failings of parliamentary democracy.

  4. James H

    I am not seeking to deny people the right to express their opinion. What I am asking for is greater clarity in how and when we can force our opinions on other people who do not share them.

    As a social democrat I vote for candidates at elections who views (outlined in their manifestos) are the closest to mine. If they fail to win, I accept the will of the majority (although I might crumble about it!). However, when it comes to votes of conscience, do we know in advance how our representative is likely to vote? At these times politicians often fall back to their personal beliefs. The question is – are they right to vote along these lines or should they seek to represent the will of their electorate? If they seek to represent their electorate then they should then consider that the overwhelming majority of their electorate have no connection with any religion or church.

    People are entitled to think that women shouldn’t have abortions or that homosexuality is a sin – that is part of living in a democracy. However, democracy also means that these people should not be able to force their minority opinion on the rest of us (unless of cause they stand for election on that ticket and win).

  5. Andrew F – I’m sorry you consider me an embarrassment to our party. I should point out that I have never said anything like “life begins at conception”. As I’ve said on this blog before, I support a woman’s right to have an abortion. However, if society – and parliament – have decided that that is a right that must be limited by time, then the debate is not about whether the right should exist, but about what the time limit should be. As far as the terminally ill woman being given IVF treatment, I’m not sure if you’re winding me up or if you actually believe such treatment should be administered to a woman who won’t be around to look after any child that’s conceived as a result of the treatment. My view is that the rights to and of the child come before the rights of any individual to have a child. Having a child is a privilege, not a right.

    Good luck in your exams, by the way.

  6. Andrew F

    Thank you for the reply and the clarification. And my apologies about the less than civil tone of my initial comment; I’m slightly disillusioned with New Labour of late, and so any apparent move to the right is difficult to take.

    On abortion: it just seems that the sentiment that “there are too many abortions in this country” is placing a moral value on the act itself, rather than the way the act is carried out. Perhaps public consensus is that abortion is best avoided where possible (I’d subscribe to that, certainly). However, once we bring that into our discourse in relation to the law, we’re no longer speaking in reasoned terms about how abortion should be facilitated – but instead about how it can be avoided. In that sense, it distorts the process, and imposes this “life begins at conception” dogma on the population at large.

    With regards to IVF, I’d ask you this: Would you want to prevent a woman who had contracted some other terminal illness from concieving naturally? Of course you wouldn’t. We can’t start making arbitrary decisions about who gets to reproduce and who does not.

    Thanks.

  7. Andrew F – I think you have a point, though not necessarily one that would change my mind on this. To answer your last question: of course I wouldn’t stop a woman conceiving naturally in those circumstances. But the point, surely, is that when the state is asked to intervene in a particular way, it has a duty to make a judgment – on whatever criteria – about whether that intervention is justified. In this particular (fortunately hypothetical) case, I would conclude without any reservation at all that state intervention would be not only unjustified, but morally wrong.

    Maybe we’ll just have to disagree on this.

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