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Who really controls fertility? With reproductive politics, violence has a way of creeping in

Marie Stopes was very keen on controlling fertility. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty

Marie Stopes was very keen on controlling fertility. Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty


January 14, 2021   6 mins

Is it possible to be free and also a mother? Sort of. Virginia Woolf famously called in 1928 for women to have “a room of one’s own” in which to pursue the life of the mind. But for bookishly inclined women, it’s less essential to have your own physical room than time and space — both of which are in short supply when you have young children.

Mothers do all sorts of things to solve this dilemma: I start work by 5am most days. In earlier times, women in search of “a room of one’s own” adopted even more extreme measures in pursuit of peace and quiet. Many opted to give sex the swerve altogether by joining a monastic community: in the Middle Ages there were some 138 nunneries in England.

Over the millennia, doubtless many more women have felt ambivalent about motherhood than is recorded. My grandmother, who worked as a doctor before World War II, told me once that she wasn’t that bothered. But having married, as she put it, “it was rather expected of one”.

Certainly, many of the women who wrote to early birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger found their fertility burdensome. In 1928, Sanger published Motherhood in Bondage, a collection of these letters which describe grinding poverty, struggles with physical health, multiple miscarriages, malnourished children and constant money worries. Frustrated, impoverished and still stubbornly fertile, women pleaded for greater control over their own reproductive biology. One wrote:

“I have been married six years, at the age of seventeen. Am twenty-three now. It seems I can’t keep out of the family way. Have had six children, four living and two dead… every year there is another arrival. I don’t have any enjoyment out of life, staying at home all the while. I will not have anything out of life but worry, children and cares.”

Sanger saw her cause as a progressive one, and reproductive healthcare remains cast in the same light. Recent celebrations in Argentina over the legalisation of abortion, and protests against its restriction in Poland, were led by feminists who understand the constraints imposed on women by our reproductive biology. As Sanger put it: “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”

Thus control over fertility has been a central plank of women’s emancipation, more or less from the moment it became medically feasible to do so. Having fewer children really does afford women greater freedom — and as a culture we really do place a premium on freedom. As Mick Jagger sang in 1965: “I’m free to do what I want, any old time”.

But as I’ve argued before, motherhood cuts across this in ways you can’t really change. The moment you become pregnant you aren’t free to do what you want. You’re not free to drink or eat what you like, and you get progressively less free in your movements as the bump gets bigger. When babies are tiny, you aren’t free to sleep uninterrupted. You can kiss goodbye to the freedom to have a lie-in for a good decade, and to the freedom to spend your money as you please pretty much forever. At best, freedom — in the Rolling Stones’ sense — mixes uncomfortably with kids.

In the same decade as Jagger sang about liberation, women gained an unprecedented new freedom with the legalisation of the contraceptive pill. It was made available in 1961 to married women, then in 1965 extended to all. At that moment, women gained a form of freedom that had previously been the preserve only of (irresponsible) men: the freedom to have sex with limited consequences. To be free, as the Stones put it, “any old time, to get what I want”.

Even more profoundly, the Pill delivered the freedom Sanger sought for all women: the freedom to choose motherhood consciously. Fast-forward a few decades, and Sanger’s campaign has been realised. Barring the odd accident, in the West motherhood is largely something women opt into, rather than struggle for ways to opt out of. And it turns out that more women were ambivalent about it than anticipated: birth rates are collapsing across the developed world, leading researchers to warn of a ticking demographic time bomb.

This connection between emancipation and childlessness seems to work both ways. In the West, an emphasis on individual freedom in the women’s movement has depressed fertility among high-flying career women, with egg-freezing rising five-fold in the UK since 2013. In China, meanwhile, the current flowed the other way: the “one-child policy” fostered an explosion of career women.

Thus freedom, feminism and fertility have long been nested issues in progressive politics. But historically, there has also been another, darker aspect to reproductive technology: the vision of using it to improve the human species through selective breeding. In fact, eugenics enjoyed widespread popularity in the early 20th century as a progressive cause, and was discussed by both Margaret Sanger and her English counterpart, Marie Stopes.

For as soon as one can control fertility, the question arises: who gets to do so, and to what end? Stopes argued that reproductive technologies should be used in the interests of improving humanity by eliminating the stupid, the weak, the disabled, those she considered morally deficient and those belonging to racial groups she thought inferior. In the interests of the greater good, all such human specimens should be sterilised:

“When Bills are passed to ensure the sterility of the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased, and to provide for the education of the child-bearing woman so that she spaces her children healthily, our race will rapidly quell the stream of depraved, hopeless and wretched lives which are at present ever increasing in proportion in our midst.”

Such casually dehumanising language rightly appals us today, and the foundation started by Marie Stopes recently changed its name to MSI Choices to downplay the association with a eugenics advocate. It was an understandable effort to untangle the acquisition of women’s freedom afforded by reproductive technology from the horrifying potential of such advances. And yet the genie is out of the bottle. Stopes’ nightmare vision of eugenics as public policy is a reality today, in the programme of forced sterilisation being perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party upon Uighur minority women in Xinjiang.

Revulsion at such a monstrous policy is instant and instinctive. Yet similar methods are embraced as liberating in a vastly different context. And that’s how the CCP was able this week to throw the thin moral gruel of individual freedom back at us, in an attempt to reframe a campaign of genocide as a grotesque story of feminist emancipation. In a post which has since been deleted by Twitter, the Chinese Embassy in the US shared a link to an article in a state-run newspaper which said that, as a result of being sterilised, Uighur women were no longer “baby-making machines” and therefore had “more autonomy”.

The way out of this bind is to be franker about the nature of reproductive healthcare, something usually only done by people who oppose it. I support the legal availability of contraception including abortion but, but as one anti-abortion campaigner Lila Rose starkly put it: “Abortion is violence”. Inasmuch as it interrupts and terminates the normal biological process of gestation, it’s hard to disagree: there is an inescapably violent aspect to abortion. Yet Rose soon found herself accused by a pro-choice activist of “violent rhetoric” and “domestic terrorism” – for stating something that is factually true. Liberal, freedom-minded defenders of sometimes objectively violent reproductive healthcare procedures here sought to forcibly prevent further mention of that violence. It seems that where reproductive politics is concerned, violence has a way of creeping into the picture.

The women’s movement that took off in the same decade as the introduction of the contraceptive pill asserted that the personal is political. Today, we should perhaps acknowledge the extent to which the political is also personal. We nod sagely at the insistence that babies should be solely a private matter, but how can human fertility be solely a private matter?

On an intimate level, reproduction is about love, bodies and family continuity. For women, it’s also about what happens inside our very bodies. Motherhood is, literally, a visceral question. At scale, though, fertility is a question of the future workforce, growing or shrinking economies, immigration policy, competing ethnic groups, even of the survival (or not) of a people or culture. These are not small questions. We should not pretend they can be treated as purely private matters.

I believe abortion and contraception should be safe and legal. But it should also be understood as a grave action. There is, inescapably, violence implicit in bringing technology to bear on the creation of new human life, and we can’t bat away that violence away with talk of ‘freedom’. By failing to grasp this nettle, we risk inviting a loveless and easily politicised science into the heart of our society, whose face – behind the surgical mask – is the stuff of nightmares.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Simon Cooper
Simon Cooper
3 years ago

Isn’t abortion for disability (including cleft palate, club foot and downs syndrome as per current UK abortion practice) eugenics by any other name?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Cooper

Don’t forget abortion for being female, as well.

Blue Tev
Blue Tev
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That would hardly be pregnancy, more cultural suicide considering how important a balanced gender ratio is.

And the intention is not eugenics, countries like India and China saw a shift to smaller families, but retained a grasping desire for sons due to a. Lack of social security (and expectation of son to support parents in old age) b. preconceived notions on males being needed for bloodlines

If you look at educated families in those same countries, it’s normal to have just a single girl child…but abortion for disability still happens

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Blue Tev

Abortion for being female happened as well in huge numbers. And that is indeed eugenics.

William Shaw
William Shaw
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

On a much much lesser scale there is also the “abort all boys” feminist movement.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Cooper

It’s a mirror image, in much the same way state communism and capitalism are mirror images. In the approach the eugenicists the early 20th century eugenicists like Sanger proposed, the state, or the medical establishment, pushed the decisions. In today’s approach, we have individuals who make the choice, supposedly freely – though of course no such choice is made outside the context of the society where it happens, and its values.

Both make judgements about what kind of people should be valued, and what kind of life is worth living, and avoid the necessity of accommodating differences that we may find impinging on us in some way.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

“Is it possible to be free, and also a mother ?”

None of us is ever entirely free, we all live within constraints – our bodies, personalities, environments, finances, family circumstances, sometimes religion as well.
There are a great many books and testimonies that explain to us that discipline, especially self discipline, can in fact make us more free.

I don’t know, having children has enriched my life in so many ways, loving them, being furious with them sometimes, I’ve had so much fun with them and cried torrents over them. I only managed two, I’d have liked four or five. Everybody is different, but I recommend having children, if you can provide for them, they’ll bring you more joy than you ever thought possible.
They’re well worth giving up a bit of so-called freedom for.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

I do find it odd that a certain type of woman is keen to lecture men constantly on men’s wickedness in killing women, yet reacts with rage if you point out that women kill 100,000 females and 100,000 males per year in utero. Apparently, this isn’t the same.

It’s a version of the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, I suppose: it can’t be violence if it’s women doing it.

Regardless, this article for me misses half the point. There is gross reproductive inequality now in that women can decide when and whether to have children and can do so without reference to, or any knowledge of their decision by, the potential father. They can be on the pill (jab, whatever) while maintaining they aren’t, or not on it while maintaining that they are. In the latter case, if deceit is involved, they can steal a lifetime of child care resources from the father. Not only is this somehow not considered equivalent to rape, it’s not even recognised in law as a crime at all.

Men have no such reciprocal ability and will not until there is a male pill. At that point men will have the same control over men’s fertility as women now enjoy over men’s fertility.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Can’t your deceived father just walk away?

Also ” a man who is worried about being tricked into fatherhood could always wear a condom, no? Not quite sure what the male pill would add here…

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

No, a man can be held legally liable for paternity.

And no one would dare suggest that a woman should take the pill if she wants to avoid becoming a parent. She always has the option of abortion. A man, however, can be held legally liable for her choice to become a parent.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

And not only. In the time frame of their narrative of the classic period (pre-1961) of patriarchal oppression and for quite a while thereafter, when the marriage contract was judicially severed, the mother was invariably awarded custody, the house, and maintenance. Any cultural anthropologist would tell you that signifies matriarchy. It’s all cockeyed as hell.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

Pre-1961, many married women didn’t work and were homemakers. So when the marriage contract was severed, as you put it, should she have been left with nothing after caring for their children unpaid? That doesn’t seem like matriarchy to me. And of course, men would still have been legally obliged to support their children. As they should be, but often are not, today.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

First of all, she was paid. What your ideology construes “a man’s wage” is specious. It was always “a family wage”. Cheaters were shamed.

I’m agreeing with J. Jones and Tyrone that feminism and its justifying narrative of male oppression, “sexism”, is patently spurious and tendentious, used to get a power advantage, plagiarizing the legitimate African-American plea.

My point is that both genders equally have a problem that’s deeper than the Patriarchy v Matriarchy argument. We’ve been thrown into a neo-Malthusian world, even replacement reproduction is destructive. It’s a species problem that transcends the battle of the sexes. Sex and mating and gender generally have to uncover new meaning, … and the tech fetish is emphatically foolish.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

What is a family wage? Women didn’t get paid family wages. That’s preposterous. Another one shouting feminist rather than assuming control of your own life.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

Traditionally, a married working man’s wages were considered as belonging to both him and his wife. It was the norm in many places (and still is in some parts of the world, eg. in Japan) for the wife to manage and control the family finances. Back when men were still paid in cash, it was the expected thing for him to hand over his “pay packet” directly to his wife after he got paid, which she would then use to pay rent, bills, set aside a certain amount for food and other household expenses, etc., then (if he was lucky) give him a small allowance which he could use to have a pint after work on Friday.. So yes, it was actually considered “family wages”; the law and custom entitled a married woman to have access to this money, as she usually had no earnings of her own. A marriage was seen as an economic partnership of sorts, in which both parties had different but equally vital roles. Obviously, it didn’t always work out that way, if the trust and mutual understanding in a marriage broke down, or was never there to begin with, with either partner throwing away the money on unneeded things, putting the family in penury. But this was always heavily frowned upon. Everyone understood that the money a married man earned wasn’t just “his” money; it was his family’s money.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Actually traditionally men’s wages were considered to belong to him and the wife got an allowance, the amount of which the man determined. That’s not family wages at all. Nor were women paid family wages of any kind. Women could not even open bank accounts in their own name and credit cards were not available to women alone until the 1970s.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

What was “traditional” depends on the time and the place. As I mentioned, it’s the tradition in Japan, and still the common practice, for the wife to control the family finances and to give her wage-earning husband and allowance. But it’s always been widely understood everywhere that the wages of one working member of a married couple belong to both of them. That’s part of what the contract of marriage entails. And your assumption that women had no financial independence or freedom whatsoever prior to the 1970s is laughable. For one thing, almost no-one, men or women, used credit cards before then. If they used credit at all it was with small local businesses where they were trusted to keep up their payments because they shopped there regularly. My mother, who raised me and my three siblings at home all through the 1960s, would have laughed at the idea of getting an “allowance” from my dad. The money he earned was their money, not just his money.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

No one is talking about Japan. And no, it has not been widely understood everywhere that men’s wages belonged to both partners in a marriage.

Nor did I say that women had no financial independence before the 1970s. Some women never marry and that was true even in the 1970s. Stop trying to argue things I haven’t said.

Your family has no bearing on anything.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

“Not widely understood”? Then you should talk to my mother, and the many women of her generation who were homemakers in a single-income household for years, even decades. Married women in western countries prior to the 1970s were not slaves, or chattles, with no rights. They were in a partnership. It was understood to be a partnership, a mutually voluntary, serious, and lifelong one. Legal marriage ceremonies still acknowledge this fact. Both partners give up their economic independence when they agree to marry.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

Your mother doesn’t define widely understood. She speaks only for herself just like anyone else. No one said anything about slaves or chattel. And even in the 1970s many did not see marriage as a lifelong partnership. Hence the divorce rate. I’ve not given up my economic independence and I’m married. Proves your theory wrong.

Kathleen Gerber
Kathleen Gerber
1 year ago

My grandparents grew up in the 1920s and 1930s. In the “partnerships” between their parents, their fathers were violent alcoholics and my grandparents, their siblings, and their mothers simply had to endure the abuse because a man was the king of his castle and there was nowhere to go for help. If they had even dared to ask for help they would have been sent back home.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

The depth of your ignorance is astounding.

First of all, single women have always had the right to own property . It was only after marriage that a woman ‘s property became her husband’s- and that’s because he became legally responsible for her debts, which is also why she couldn’t sign contracts, because her husband was responsible for paying.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Oh look a fellow who can’t read. Who said single women could not own property? In fact, where did I say anything about property period? Re-read my post and try hard to grasp the words. Come on boy, you can do it.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

In my experience many women consent to sex only as long as they also control the contraception. If she says she’s on the pill, and you say you’re going to use a condom anyway, that consent will often vanish instantly. It happens on her terms or not at all. In reality, men can choose between that, and celibacy.

A male pill would equalise the situation but would, I reckon, actually result in less sex. Many women will simply not give up control.

In my (admittedly limited and not that recent) observation, it’s an age thing. Women under 30 are afraid they’ll get pregnant, those over 30 are afraid they never will.

The latter can’t be trusted actually to use the birth control they say they’re using. Given the consequences a man is best advised to avoid them, unless he was there when they had the jab, or the coil fitted, or whatever. If not, and if he then says he won’t have sex with her without a condom, he will likely find he doesn’t get to do so at all.

Women are entitled to decide how many children they have, of course, but many also seek to decide how many children their men must have.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Nope, you can easily make that choice. As you mentioned, wear a condom. If the woman says no, then your choice is to abstain or take the risk. Personally, I can’t imagine why any man would choose to engage with a woman who refused to allow him to wear a condom. In reality sex happens on both partners terms, not just the woman’s. What you mean is that some men accept a woman’s terms but that’s their choice, isn’t it? Any man can always say no.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

“I can’t imagine why any man would choose to engage with a woman who refused to allow him to wear a condom”

Well, one who’s married to her, for example. He stands to lose his home and his other children if he doesn’t comply with her orders. Condoms (which are not reliable) and abstention are then both equally out of the question.

More generally, to insist on a condom when you’ve been expressly told you don’t need one is an expression of distrust of her that amounts to a constructive accusation of lying. Not many relationships survive that, especially if the accusation is correct. Both are engaging sexually on the assumption that no pregnancy is intended, but the woman is lying and wants to become pregnant and to secure the resources that go with that. She attempts this by deception, and if he tries to keep her honest, he is of no further use to her.

It’s only women who wouldn’t do this themselves who can’t believe other women do. I can’t imagine why any man would kill a woman, but they do, and my personal incredulity doesn’t make it go away. Feminist ultras have a habit of romanticising womankind as wholly virtuous and incapable of manipulation or duplicity, but that’s a deeply naive view not shared by many men older than about 20. The handwaving away by feminists of what women actually, frequently, do is a major reason why feminists have so little credibility on the whole with men.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

You’re ordered to have sex without protection? Poor you, absolutely FORCED to have unprotected sex with a woman you don’t trust. Abstention is never out of the question, married or not. And condoms do fail but so does the pill so that’s no excuse.

Is a relationship in which you believe there to be the potential to trick you “surviving” in your view? Because it sure isn’t in mine. You should be more careful who you marry. Again, these are your choices and no one else’s. If you have to worry that your wife is trying to trick you into pregnancy every time, where do you think you made your big mistake?

As I said this has nothing to do with feminism. Clearly there are women who would do this but men don’t have to become victims. Stop shouting feminist and portraying yourself as a hapless victim and start controlling your own life. There are other choices which you refuse to acknowledge. Men who don’t want children can find a way not to have them. I gave you three ways, including vasectomy. Sorry, no whining, just take responsibility for your own actions.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

As I said before, Annette, “More generally, to insist on a condom when you’ve been expressly told you don’t need one is an expression of distrust of her that amounts to a constructive accusation of lying. Not many relationships survive that, especially if the accusation is correct.” I’d add that abruptly insisting you’re going to abstain or start using a condom are also strong indicators of infidelity, with the same consequences for you.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

That depends on how badly you don’t want another child. If you’re okay with her terms, go ahead without a condom but that’s you making a choice. Don’t blame anyone else. You can always get a vasectomy too.

And clearly there is already distrust so I’m not sure what you could be talking about in that regard. You don’t have a relationship if you can’t trust a woman you’re sleeping with not to trick you into another child. You have much bigger problems than infidelity starting with who you chose to marry. You are responsible for your own actions, including who you marry and how to chose to engage with that person.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Just as a woman can always say no. But no one argues that because women have those options, that they therefore have no right to abortion, do they?
Yet you somehow believe that because men have options before sex, that somehow precludes them having a right to reject parenthood after pregnancy.

This is a sexist double standard.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Unless she is raped, then of course, she can’t say no, can she?

And of course lots of people argue there’s no right to abortion. Many people consider it murder. Are you encased in a vacuum of bubble wrap where you never hear other opinions?

Men have a right to reject parenthood. Don’t get any women pregnant. Ta-da! You’ve just rejected parenthood. Take responsibility for your own actions and stop blaming others for what you do yourself. Are you somehow unaware that many men (and women for that matter) reject parenthood and never have a child?

It’s not a double standard to say that any man or woman who creates a child is a parent. Whether they want to be or not.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Perhaps indiscriminate fun isn’t the way to go then. If you’re sleeping with women you don’t know very well, or those you are not in a committed relationship with, maybe that’s a bad idea. If you know someone well enough to be sleeping with them, have you not already discussed this? If you’re unsure of her intentions, maybe find another woman or at least wear a condom.

And of course the pill has been suggested to women since it was an option.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Reverse the genders and make the dame argument then.

If you’re sleeping with a man you don’t know very well etc. etc.

But no one makes these arguments to women to explain why they can’t have abortions.

Therefore what you are proposing is a sexist double standard. If women can avoid the consequences of not following the very good advice you give, then men should have the same right.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Okay I’ll be happy to reverse the genders ……for women perhaps indiscriminate fun is not the way to go. How’d I do?

Where did I argue that women should be sleeping with men they don’t know? Giant fail. There are plenty of men who will have unprotected sex and then walk away from a child that results. Women who choose these men are making the same mistake I’ve heard repeatedly here that men are “forced” to make.

Men always have the right to avoid pregnancy. Three ways, abstinence, vasectomy and condoms. I have never heard such victim hood in my entire life. Who would even want to sleep with a man who considered himself a victim?

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

It’s amazing how you manage to misunderstand the issue being discussed so frequently.

The issue, once again, is that after pregnancy, females have an option that men do not. The means you suggest to avoid pregnancy are available to both genders. But women have the right to avoid those consequences after pregnancy, while men do not. Continuing to insist that men can utilize the options you suggest before pregnancy simply misses the point.

Again.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Don’t cause a pregnancy. Do you honestly not know how to do that? How do you suppose so many men avoid a pregnancy?

And your assumption that all women have options once there is a pregnancy is total bs. For one thing, not all women are pro abortion. So that is not an option. Nor can you have one at any time during a pregnancy. Some women don’t even know they’re pregnant until it’s too late to have one.

Stop blaming others for your own choices.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Men can decide when and whether to have children as well. After all, you do know what causes it. If what you really meant is that men can’t decide when and where to have children and still have all the no messy strings (like condoms) fun they want, yes indeed. But that’s much different than saying men can’t control their fertility. They certainly can although many men may not want to take the steps necessary.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

If a man carefully uses a condom every time he has sex, his chances of being “stolen from” by an unprincipled woman who tricks him into fathering a child are extremely low. If he gets a vasectomy (a procedure that’s usually reversible), or just abstains from sexual intercourse altogether, those chances are zero. So it’s not like men don’t have choices. I do agree it’s despicable for a woman to trick a man into fatherhood, but still, I don’t think that amounts to “gross reproductive inequity”. Women still assume all the physical risks of both abortion (at the very least, a nasty, painful procedure) and childbirth, along with all its risk of serious and life-threatening complications, blood loss, tears, post-birth infections, and lingering pain. Many women don’t feel physically normal for months after giving birth, even with no complications. One of my great-grandmothers died of post-birth infection after giving birth to twins, at age 18. Even breastfeeding, something we all know is best for babies and supposedly totally natural, can be a nightmare of complications for a lot of new mothers. Perhaps men and women are equally unfree of consequences, when it comes to biological reality.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The problem Kathy is that men are not at liberty to start wearing condoms or abstaining without consequences. It is disingenuous to suggest otherwise. If he does so, it’s either because he does not trust her, with or without justification; or because he is being unfaithful to her and wants to avoid being detected in this by passing on an STI to her. There are no other reasons why he would start doing this.

He will also struggle to get a vasectomy without her finding out – in the US, for example, surgeons will often require the wife’s consent for him to do this, and it requires a couple of days to recover.

The answer is a male pill that works like the female one. Both partners will then have the same opportunity to deceive, or protect themselves from being deceived by, their spouse.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I’m struggling to understand your argument. “Not at liberty”; do you mean, men who are married, and have to explain to the woman they’re married to that they don’t trust her not to trick them into fathering a child? Are men not “at liberty” to choose not to get married at all, if they’re so afraid of being so deceived?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

You’re at liberty to stroll naked into the men’s toilets in a nightclub and open your legs. There’ll be unpleasant and perhaps life changing consequences, but you’re at liberty to do it. So that’s all good, yes?

If a man informs his wife that he intends to wear a condom because he considers her untrustworthy, he can kiss goodbye to the marriage, to contact with his exiting children and to much of his net worth. These are the consequences of his exercising his liberty.

This applies even if, in fact especially if, he is right to be suspicious of her – for example, because she is pregnant by another man, and wants to deceive him into thinking he is the father. If he cannot be, that plan is wrecked. Liberty is not liberty when it comes with consequences.

You need to grasp that the equivalent crime to rape, by women, is to force paternity on someone by deception so as to steal from him the cost of the child’s upbringing. It is extremely common; I know of at least two instances, and also of a divorce when the wife realised her husband wasn’t up for another pregnancy. Part of her divorce case was then that he’d stopped sleeping with her. That’s what happens when you exercise your liberty.

Women face no such problem and are at liberty to kill any unwanted children, which they do in the UK at a rate of about 205,000 per year.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

Yes, but your entire argument misses the point. Both sexes have equal rights before sex to abstain, use birth control etc.

The difference is that after pregnancy ensues, only women have the power to end a pregnancy to avoid parenthood. No one ever says to women “you can’t have an abortion, because you didnt take precautions etc.

Men, however, are told that they have no choice but to accept the woman’s decision, a decision which forces him into parenthood.

True gender equality will only be achieved when both sexes have equal rights to avoid unwanted parenthood.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

A good article which overlooks an important issue: when do men get to have the same rights as women in the fertility debate? After all, if a woman can choose whether to become a parent, why can’t men be given the same option?

The answer, of course, reveals the deep self-contradictions within feminism. Apparently the underlying assumption is that equality is a one-way street. The pill allows women the choice of whether to become a parent- but no one seems to have realized that the feminist position that men must finance female decisions is a form of sexism.

Whenever I raise this obvious point, I am usually met with outrage: how dare I suggest that men should be able to “duck their responsibility” by asserting their own fertility rights, as if the feminist argument weren’t built on exactly the same premise.

And this is why we never actually discuss this issue: because it leads to two outcomes. Either we accept that men should have the right to eschew paternity by signing away both their rights and responsibilities as fathers, or accept that feminism is pursuing a sexist agenda.

Because neither option is considered politically correct, the issue itself remains forbidden.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Agree. And when do men get the (willful adolescent) right to “do what I want”?
During Sanger’s time most men worked 10-12 hr days, 6 days a wk in factories, mines, mills, and farms, giving up their health and a 10 year longevity to their wives. This “Sex and the City” female adolescent idyll has only ever been available to the idle rich.

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
3 years ago
Reply to  robert scheetz

Yes, in Sanger’s time most men did indeed have the life you describe and their wives bore multiple children and took on the heavy domestic tasks of the time, often working too (viz my grandparents) which also wrecked their health. Both men and women were fulfilling their biological and social duties. Things are very different now.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago
Reply to  Dawne Swift

They are. There’s a huge baby surplus. Both sexes have to resolve their biological destinies to another creative level. Sex & the City, Wilhelm Reich, Bloomsbury, … are just barnyard behaviors with lipstick; regressive, shallow, destructive behaviors that obviate any possibility of intimacy, of The Other and growing in spirit. Hence, “the pill” has proven the opposite of liberating; debased sexuality, destroyed marriage, family, parenthood, and levelled the culture into a repulsive mindless and soulless “scrimmage of appetite”.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

The issue is forbidden? Millions of men and women negotiate the issue daily all over the world. A man can choose whether to become a parent unless he doesn’t know what causes pregnancy. Here’s how to eschew paternity….
1) abstinence
2) vasectomy
3) condoms
All three are fully within men’s control and are used by millions of men who don’t want children. Stop blaming others when this is fully within men’s control. Some men don’t want to take the steps necessary to ensure that they don’t have a child and that’s on them. This has zero to do with feminism, it has everything to do with taking responsibility for yourself. If a man is sleeping with a woman voluntarily without taking either step 2 or 3, then he is accepting the risk of pregnancy.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

I’m sorry, but your response completely misses the point.

Women have exactly the same options to abstain from sex or use birth control- but no one argues that because of that they shouldn’t be able to have abortions. Both men and women have the right to avoid sex or to take precautions- but only women have the right to avoid parenthood once they become pregnant.

A man, on the other hand, have no such power. Allowing them to sign away their responsibilities and rights to fatherhood merely levels the playing field.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

So you have basic biology figured out, have you? So since women can avoid having a child (sometimes, not always) once pregnant, you believe men have somehow lost control of whom they sleep with and how they do it. Not buying it. No man is forced to have unprotected sex and if you do you’re accepting the risk. What you do is your responsibility. Stop the victimhood.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

The fact that your responses are so often sarcastic is a good indication that they lack substance.

Nor is your response logical. The fact that women can choose abortion has no bearing on men choosing whom to sleep with, anymore than it has on whom women choose to sleep with. That simply isn’t the issue at hand, because regardless of the behaviour of men or women before sex, after sex, only women have a choice of whether to become parents or not.

Since men don’t have the same right to choose, the only relevant issue is whether we need to change the law to give men equal rights. You can’t simultaneously believe in equality, but reject equality for men whenever it is inconvenient for women.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Awww you don’t like it when others speak to you the way you speak to them? Is that it? Maybe if you communicated differently it would not happen? Again, responsibility for your own choices is the theme of the day.

It isn’t who a man sleeps with, it’s how. Men who really want to avoid becoming a parent can and do figure out how to avoid it. All the time. You ARE making a choice when you choose to sleep with someone without taking the necessary steps to avoid a pregnancy. You have made a choice. How can you not see that? So stop talking about men not having a right to choose. They have the right every time.

James Suarez
James Suarez
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Men also don’t have the ability to conceal non-permanent contraception if they are being coerced into parenthood by a pushy or abusive partner (think ‘Educating Rita’ hiding her pills from her husband – but in reverse).

I disagree this is necessarily about feminism, thinking it is mainly about minimizing welfare spending. No-one in government wants to give men the ability to opt out of supporting their children leaving women, who whilst pro choice, are unwilling to have an abortion themselves.
An equal solution may be to give the father a veto to an abortion, but that’s never going to happen.

Spiro Spero
Spiro Spero
3 years ago

The lesson really in all these relatively recent social ‘experiments’ in the industrial/post-industrial West, and now everywhere else effectively, is that Mother Nature knows best. Mess with her and live with the consequences. What is more natural and essential to life than reproduction. The fact that it is now referred to as a ‘choice, burden, violence’, whatever is profoundly depressing and extremely worrying. Some feminists made great strides for women in our era, but the radical feminist yoking of an unquestionable ‘right’ to abortion to the women’s cause was (I think) a serious mistake on their part, long-term. Ms. Harrington is spot on, these are serious issues that are never going to simply ‘go away’ by silencing people. Look how abortion has toxified US political discourse, never mind it’s effects on presidential elections. The feminists achieved these social ‘victories’ by yoking their cart to the proverbial asses of consumer capitalism and radical individualism. Men and women have been reduced to economic and social competitors and the preborn (millions of them) are the bloody, sacrificial ‘offering’ that pay the price to keep ‘the show on the road’ at all costs. One wonders how this will all end? Male and female are in many ways equals, but ultimately they are different (presumably for a reason). They should compliment one another, not compete.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
3 years ago

Replace motherhood with fatherhood in the phrase, “Motherhood is, literally, a visceral question”. A woman who falsely and despicably says she is taking the pill, but does not, becomes pregnant. Who ends up paying for it?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Smith

Women’s right to obtain advantage through similar dishonesty runs through a great deal of the law.

If you buy a fridge because the salesman said it was reliable when he knew it was a model known for catching fire, then when your house burns down, you’re entitled to compensation. Lies and omissions induced the contract so you’re entitled be put back into the position you were in beforehand.

A marriage contract is uniquely different. If you marry an alcoholic ex-prostitute with gambling debts who’s been sectioned, and who lied about and hid it all, all you can do is get a divorce. You can’t have the contract retrospectively voided for mendacity. You can only divorce her on the same terms as if it had been you who had told all the lies.

Furthermore, that divorce won’t be in line with the law as it stood when you married her. It will be based on what the law says now. So the terms on which you’d be divorcing are unfathomable.

You may never really be divorced. There was a case a few years ago of an ex wife who squandered her settlement. Meanwhile, long after, her husband made a fortune. So 20 years later she came after her ex again for more money. She won – she got another £200k. When that’s gone she’ll presumably do it again.

I’m always amused by these divorce claims where the ex-wife claims that her input was essential to her husband’s success, and that’s why she should get 70% of the money. I always wonder why, if she has such a magic touch in getting spouses rich, she doesn’t find a few more blokes and use that talent to make all of them rich, too. Then she wouldn’t need to come after the ex for his money – a win-win.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Many interesting points which we could discuss at considerable length. I was married for over 20 years but only lived with my former wife for 3 of them. As you state the rules change continually and the man is entirely impotent in the court room. That I gave all of my equity for the benefit of my child was not even considered by the judge. The mediator (a woman) insisted that I support my child through university. Where does that stop I enquired: bachelor, master, doctorate. No answer.
Luckily I’ve been very happily married to an Asian woman for the past 15 years. A completely different body and mind set.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Smith

The guy who didn’t wear a condom.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
3 years ago

Why should he if he has been told by his wife that she is taking the pill when she really wasn’t?

That is deceitful and despicable. Would you stay married to someone who lied to you over such a fundamental issue especially when you had made your position quite clear that you did not want a child until financially stable to enable that child to have a decent upbringing and schooling?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Smith

Why should he? Because he doesn’t want to have a child. Men who don’t want children avoid having one all the time, it can be done. If you’re okay with maybe she is lying and maybe she isn’t then you are accepting the risk if you go unprotected. That’s your own choice.

You don’t have a birth control problem. You have a marriage problem in that you married someone you don’t trust. That has nothing to do with birth control. Don’t want a child? Take the necessary steps. If you don’t, that’s your own fault. We are all responsible for ourselves, even as part of a couple.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

Articles such as this leave me with the impression that motherhood is has become a major obstruction to a fulfilling life for career oriented middle class women.

First it was fathers who were a major hindrance. The twin devices of artificial insemination and financial independence provided a solution to that little problem. Add damning “proofs” of patriarchal society’s toxic masculinity into the mix and you have a sure fire method for keeping any man from spoiling a mother’s life with fatherly demands.

Still not enough though. Now career driven women find child-rearing itself is an annoying burden diverting them from the interesting and fulfilling things in life. What to do? Perhaps full-blown surrogacy is the answer ““ pay other women to bear your children and also take on all the more tiresome chores of motherhood. Rather like a halfway version of “Brave New World” but with babies created inside a human womb rather than in a glass tube.

Self-fulfillment, freedom from discomfort and, above all, convenience. What more could you wish for in this brave new world?

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

I didn’t get that impression from the article. To me the writer was saying that, in just the same way as men’s attitudes to having children are different, women differ in their desire as to whether to have children or not, and that this has probably always been the case, but has been shown as a recent phenomenon due to the availability of contraception/abortion.

Admittedly from a personal vantage point, but all of the young women of my daughter’s peer group (30ish) want to have children. They have all qualified into professional/decent jobs because in the UK affording a family and a home means a necessity to have 2 incomes, and if they’ll have to work outside the home while raising children they might as well have a decently paid job rather than a rubbish one on minimum wage. Most women want children. There are however some who do not have a maternal instinct.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

I’m not sure anything is quite as pointless a debate to have as this topic. Not because it’s a lousy topic but because the two camps are so entrenched in their positions that genuine debate is impossible. All we get, at least in the US, is “abortion is murder” or “my body, my choice” with a growing move to make abortion okay at any point in a pregnancy for any reason. Not even the Roe decision went that far; it established a window in the first trimester or so. Since then, individual states have either chipped at that window or tried to extend it.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I think where it logically leads is to legal infanticide up to the age of say five years old. I really do struggle to see any difference between aborting a viable foetus and aborting a six-year-old child. In fact, it might make euthanasia more palatable if we spoke of “aborting” the elderly.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The governor of VA, a doctor by profession, created a stir when caught on tape talking about making a newborn “comfortable” until the parents, presumably in consultation with the doct, decided if that newborn would see another day. You bring up “viable,” which is a term that used to factor into the discussion, but no more. We’ve zipped right past it from a decision that used to confined to the first trimester or so to a belief that it’s okay at any point for any reason.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Well, if we’re going to talk about “zipping right past”, how about the new standard of “zipping right past” adult responsibility upon having sex, for both men & women? The true issue is people’s mindlessness upon f-ing… I don’t think any decent human misses the contrast between convenience (e.g. “I thought we were in love, but was mistaken”…) and murder. Personally I like the standard conditions of “only in case of legally demonstrated rape” or “risk to the mother’s life”. And of course, safe & effective contraception means must be made available to absolutely anyone, period.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Or indeed an adult who will at least be more deserving of it. Remind me what exactly is wrong with genocide or ethnic cleansing

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yes, the way in which the progressives in NY lit up the Empire State Building to celebrate the legalisation of ‘full term abortion’ was pretty repulsive. Of course, I believe abortion should be made available. But it should never be celebrated and it should be as early as possible.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

A substantial proportion of the population take a more nuanced approach, being fairly liberal on early abortions, but reluctant to sanction late ones except in medical emergencies.

Unfortunately, those who scream the loudest are not these people, but the extremists on both sides.

stewart.lizzie
stewart.lizzie
3 years ago

Forced pregnancy and childbirth is violence and a violation of bodily autonomy on par with rape.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  stewart.lizzie

Forced paternity by deception too?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Ever heard of condoms? Or if you really don’t want a child, there’s always abstinence or vasectomy.

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
3 years ago

This is a very interesting and I think balanced article. Abortion though…. I’m just thankful that I was never in a position to need to think about that for myself. Having had 2 children every instinct tells me that it’s murder; at just 16 weeks you can feel the baby moving inside you. But if the baby is profoundly disabled what would one choose?

Lang Cleg
Lang Cleg
3 years ago

And this is before we get to the sterilising of GNC kids currently happening at the Tavistock or the push for commercial surrogacy through which men will once again “own” women’s reproductive labour in a contract. Both these things are, we are told, in service of “equality”.

Central feminist campaigns (other than preventing both the above horrors) should be on shorter working weeks for all and on extending Child Benefit and Carers Allowance. I saw you mention a “third axis” of civil society the other day. It should be central to any feminist understanding.

Lang Cleg
Lang Cleg
3 years ago
Reply to  Lang Cleg

How odd that everyone else thinks this article is only about whether abortion should be legal or not!

Guy Priestley
Guy Priestley
3 years ago
Reply to  Lang Cleg

A fair point; but I think that is largely because it encapsulates most of the other issues such as eugenics and surrogacy. If we could reach clwar agreement on the moral parameters for abortion (hinging ultimately on whether self-determination or continued existence takes priority when the two conflict) we would have much less difficulty with the others.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Lang Cleg

Many of the responses are to the one-eyed way in which feminist ultras look at pretty much everything. It’s like how for the SNP, everything is about Scotland, and if something that’s good for Scotland is also good for England, then it’s actually bad.

Sometimes it can be helpful to take off the blinkers and look at things through someone else’s perspective.

For example, you raised the matter of “commercial surrogacy through which men will once again “own” women’s reproductive labour in a contract”. One might equally note that infertile women are co-beneficiaries of surrogacy arrangements, in that they can get other women to have their babies for them; this advantage they share with men. Only women have the economic opportunity to profit by being a surrogate; this is an avenue to earn money that is wholly unavailable to men.

It follows that surrogacy provides either the same or more advantages to women than it does to men. Your objection appears to be that it provides any benefit to any man at all, because if it does, it’s bad. If you spout easily-exposed bigoted rubbish like that, you should expect to be challenged, no?

Lang Cleg
Lang Cleg
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

The main push for commercial surrogacy in the UK is coming from wealthy and connected gay men. That’s what I was getting at there. And I think you’ve missed Mary’s point more than I realised if you’re going to describe commercial surrogacy as an economic opportunity for women!

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
3 years ago

Think it is interesting that all the contributions so far , including my own , seem to be male .

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago
Reply to  Ray Hall

C’mon Ray, don’t tell me you are surprised. We’re bringing up a host of disgusting profiteering by women in court… why would they bother commenting on it…

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

A good article, Ms Harrington. As I read it, it couldn’t help but feel that this is what happens when a shallow ideology like feminism eventually encounters the consequences of its own internal self-contradictions. Apparently it never occurred to feminists that there could be any unforseen consequences to unravelling the connections between men and women forged over the last two hundred thousand years of pair bonding.

One of those consequences is that men are choosing to remain single, having been freed -almost- as much as women by the pill. If women are now free to pursue consequence-free sex, then so too are men, the result being that fewer of them need to marry, because there is now a pool of young women looking for sex who no longer demand marriage as a safety net if pregnancy ensues.

In fact, that may be the reason why so many women are forced to freeze their eggs- beyond a certain age, they discover that men are no longer interested in them. The Guardian now publishes articles vainly trying to convince women that they are really much happier childless and alone. The rising rates of anxiety and depression among women tell a different story.

The next step, of course, is for men to demand equal rights not be to forced into parenthood, a right that currently only females possess. Strangely, for all their talk of equal rights, feminists still cling to the notion that men shouldn’t have the same choice that women enjoy not to take up that burden, but it is the only position consistent with feminist principles- which is why we never talk about it.

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
3 years ago

‘At scale, though, fertility is a question of the future workforce, growing or shrinking economies, immigration policy, competing ethnic groups, even of the survival (or not) of a people or culture. These are not small questions. We should not pretend they can be treated as purely private matters.’
I disagree. I have not had any children and I really don’t care if the whole human race dies out. That’s my private view and don’t you dare tell me I shouldn’t hold it.
But I fear that at some point the state will tell its subjects whether, when, and with whom to have children. Or take over the whole process as described by Huxley in “Brave new World”.

Guy Priestley
Guy Priestley
3 years ago

An aspect of the abortion debate that troubles me is that there is no longer a debate. Currently one is either pro-life or pro-abortion; and hence there is a widespread unwillingness to recognise explicitly the moral stance society adopts through its laws. This is far from unparallelled – for example, someone in the White House during the Vietnam War once asked ‘how much is the life of a US soldier worth?’ to crystallise the tension between ensuring total safety of each GI (effectively infitnite) and the reality that there are limits to how much can actually be spent. Likewise with the NHS: should spending be unlimited, even when a great expense buys a minimal extension of life? In the latter case we largely farm out the decision to NICE, who become our sin-eaters.

At one end of the debate is the stance that life is sacrosanct from the moment of conception: the cellular agglomeration has no self-awareness, can feel no pain, and hence the only loss is one of potential. At the other end, one might logically entertain abortion the day before the child is due, if the mother’s autonomy over her body is absolute until the umbilical cord is cut. Perhaps the mother’s situation has changed, perhaps it is a choice between the life of the baby or the mother. We flinch from such decisions, but they do occur. If society is to consider that it is unacceptable to kill the baby immediately after birth (which some societies have done and still do); and flinch from doing so immediately before birth, then at which point between conception and birth does the mother’s ‘right to choose’ take precedence over the child’s ‘right to live’?

I am, of course, aware of the issues attendant upon this decision: absolute viability of the foetus, assisted viability, ability to feel pain/self-awareness and so on. However, not only have these decisions been further complicated by modern medicine, but there is no longer any meaningful debate or review of the issues – perhaps bacause of Western societies’ aversion to abhorrent but unavoidable choices. More broadly, this aversion is troubling for the body politic, as it facilitates a superficial societal appearance of agreement whilst concealing deep disagreements. After all, although Mary Harrington says that ‘Such casually dehumanising language rightly appals us today’, her statement begs the question of why it is ‘right’ to be appalled: it may be merely a logical extension of extreme individuality, and eugenics as a concept if not a word has been with us since the dawn of time. There is no logical reason it should not return: in a mechanistic, Darwinian universe it is only a quasi-religious expression of faith.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Guy Priestley

Eugenics was a necessary concomitant to the socialist nirvana. You can’t have equality unless everyone’s equal, and cripples and lesser races aren’t, so they have to be killed otherwise there will be too many to support.

If you look at what side of the political spectrum eugenics came from, it was from the left.

steve eaton
steve eaton
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It still is In my opinion. i don’t see too many Abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood offices (Sanger’s creation) in the wealthy largely white suburbs. It is I suppose a coincidence that they all seem to be centered in the poor areas of the cities, where the skin tones are more often darker.

nyambi2000
nyambi2000
3 years ago

The right to sexual freedom (license) requires and demands the pseudo right to abort in order to take care of the unwanted consequences of a simple biological fact! Pope Francis has likened abortion to hiring an assassin to resolve a problem.

Hitler felt the Jews were a problem and planned the final solution to resolve the Jewish problem . So did Cain and Herod… Now our babies are a problem! And later we complain of declining population and demand foreign labour to fill up vacancies in Canada and many other western countries.

Being human entails facing really weighty moral choices as you rightly pointed out: Motherhood is, literally, a visceral question That is why the silent Holocaust of abortion is so tragic. Were we obliged to observe the ultrasound images of an abortion procedure, none of us would dare to deny the violence and tragedy involved in it.

It is noteworthy that Hitler who sanctioned the Shoah hardly ever spoke about it. The code of silence surrounding the Holocaust was finally broken when the Nazi’s were defeated. It was then that ordinary Germans at last confirmed what many had always suspected… The same enlightenment needs to happen with abortion. Ideas have consequences especially for us finite creatures.

Abortion does not have to be the only way to resolve an unwanted pregnancy. With the rise of childlessness, there has been a rise in the number of couples seeking to adopt children. However the prevalent cultural attitudes in the West makes this option rather problematic.

Blue Tev
Blue Tev
3 years ago

It is probably fitting that the name of the person who invented the pill is not mentioned, in an article that goes on and on about the miseries of pregnancy

conall boyle
conall boyle
3 years ago

More sloppy use of ‘Eugenics’ to score debating points! We are ALL eugenicists now. Who doesn’t test for Downs? Or Jews testing for Tays-Sachs?

Sanger and Stopes expressed a hope which if it worked would be hugely acceptable. It didn’t work (shows you must test the science, common-sense not a good guide). It was Galton, the arch-villain of Eugenics who spotted the flaw. Regression means that ‘imbeciles’ breed less imbecilic offspring.

Ask any dog-breeder, pigeon-fancier or Darwin himself. They know that to make Eugenics work you have got to ‘breed many, cull (kill) most’. Sanger, Stopes, H G Wells, G B Shaw never believed in that degree of slaughter. They were not true Eugenicists.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  conall boyle

Sanger took eugenics a bit farther than that. She argued for the elimination of delinquents and dependents. Here is a quote from her.

“Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease. Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents.”

Who do you think she meant by delinquents and dependents? What do you think she meant by “constantly increasing numbers of”?

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
3 years ago

Leaving aside the very important issues of personal finances, lifestyle and aptitude for nurture etc.. I’d say that if a person doesn’t actively want children they most likely shouldn’t have them, they’ll probably make a third rate job of it. The anti abortionists fetishise lives they’ll do nothing to care for once they enter the world and don’t seem to have anything useful to say about the kind of lives unwanted children often lead. There needs to be an open legal and hygienic door to terminate an accidental pregnancy. A moment of violence to save a potential lifetime of unhappiness.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

‘ “Abortion is violence”. Inasmuch as it interrupts and terminates the normal biological process of gestation, it’s hard to disagree: there is an inescapably violent aspect to abortion. Yet Rose soon found herself accused by a pro-choice activist of “violent rhetoric” and “domestic terrorism” ““ for stating something that is factually true. ‘

In the sense that any surgical or invasive medical procedure is violent then the above is true. Chopping a leg off to prevent the spread of gangrene is violence. Allowing a pregnancy to go full term when you know the baby will not survive beyond birth or the birth will bring about the death of the mother is violence. So, I’m not really sure what point is being made.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Where the baby will survive beyond birth and the birth is safe for the mother, abortion is certainly violence – intentional physical harm. Or are you saying that the violence against the baby doesn’t count until he or she has been born?

Actually, I don’t think it is fair to say that allowing a dangerous pregnancy to go full-term is violence – it’s inaction. Perhaps what you are trying to say that in such a case abortion may be the less damaging of two negative outcomes?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

So, can inaction ever be violent? I’d say it can. If you have the power and ability to prevent an act of violence against someone else occurring and you choose not to then that is equivalent to committing that act of violence. In the same way as encouraging or ordering acts of violence physically undertaken by others is still violence.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Sorry, can’t agree there. I would agree that inaction can have negative consequences, but it is not violence itself nor it it equivalent.

For example there is no legal penalty for failing to stop an assault.

But this does highlight a real problem in political speech – when words are used in a way that’s inconsistent with their literal meanings. Time for me to re-read Orwell’s “Politics and the English language”!

So you second point might be better phrased as “ordering acts of violence by others is morally equivalent to violence”?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

I’m happy with that moral equivalency argument.

‘For example there is no legal penalty for failing to stop an assault.’ I think, in England, Joint Enterprise law is increasingly used to prosecute people by association which in some cases does mean failing to prevent an assault.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Thanks, it’s been an interesting discussion.

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Interesting that you’ve gone straight to the extreme case. The implication is that abortion would be wrong in principle and should never be done in anything less than the most desperate circumstances. Is that what you’re saying?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

Not at all. I’m saying that the definition of ‘abortion as violence’ in any circumstance, as the writer proposes, is problematic.

In my own view it’s not true that ‘there is, inescapably, violence implicit in bringing technology to bear on the creation of new human life’. Especially as the writer, in her final paragraph, seems to be implicating violence is present in contraception as well as abortion.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Any sensible definition of violence would reflect the intent to threaten life by causing injury. So your counter-example doesn’t work. Amputating a gangrenous limb isn’t “violence” because it’s aim is to preserve the patient’s life. Sticking a sharp object into someone isn’t violence if the sharp object is a needle with a COVID vaccine behind it.

In an abortion there is, in contrast, no intended benefit to the aborted. There’s a benefit to the reluctant mother but that’s not the same, any more than a mugger knifing me is beneficial because he gets my money.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Allowing a pregnancy to go full term when you know the baby will not survive beyond birth or the birth will bring about the death of the mother is violence.
It may or may not be violence but it hardly the norm. Most abortions have nothing at all to do with either of those two conditions. I have no desire to be someone else’s conscience but it is hard to miss some of the tortured arguments that get made to justify a position.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

How about abortion even though the child might be quite healthy?
You choose your example to support your argument, because the reality undermines it.