Sunday, January 19, 2014

Racism and abortion

I always enjoy being on The Big Questions and today was no exception (you can watch here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007zpll for the next seven days). As usual I spent the whole time with my hand in the air trying to deal with just a few of the obnoxious things people were expressing from all sides (don't even get me started on the man who thinks children can be possessed by the devil!).  There was one point I didn't get to respond to on air which I really really wanted to (unsurprisingly) ... the allegations that my views on sex-selective abortion are somehow racist  or culturally insensitive.

The claim (for those who missed the show) is that some women from certain cultural groups - India was mentioned - are under great pressure from their families to have boys and therefore we should ban doctors from telling women the sex of their foetus in order to make it harder for them to be forced into having abortions.  It was also claimed that women from these communities are at risk of domestic violence if they give birth to girls.  So...

1. As it happened both the Asian women on the show agreed with the claim. This doesn't mean all Asian women agree, nor does it mean that I shouldn't express my differing opinion out of "respect". In fact it would be disrespectful to (a) not represent the views of Asian women not included in the show's line up and (b) act as though these women are incapable of dealing with debate or holding their own. [And for note I have no idea in advance about who will be on the show and no control over it.]

2. A foetus is a part of a woman's body while it is growing. She should have the right to know any information she wants to about it. Or not if she doesn't. It's her body.

3. I would rather a woman have the freedom to get an abortion if she wants one than that she be put at risk of domestic violence. Obviously.

4. If a woman feels she wants to continue a pregnancy but knows she will be at risk of violence or other abuse if she does (for any reason) she should be offered a place in a refuge and support to rebuild her life away from the people who are threatening her. Also obviously.

5. The alternative is this. A white woman says "I wanted to be pregnant but now my partner's ill and I've just lost my job, I'd like an abortion." And I say "ok, that's your choice". A brown woman says "I wanted to have a baby but now I've discovered it's a female foetus and this could put me at risk of violence, I'd like an abortion". And I say "no, your choice is not valid". Guess what that would be? Racist.

In fact no-one has an abortion for a single reason. And no-one has an abortion purely because of the sex of the foetus. These cases (and in the UK, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who perform a third of all abortions say they are not aware of any ethnic groups seeking sex-selective terminations) in fact are about women choosing abortion because of the combination of the sex of the foetus, the cultural norms of the community and family they live in and the alternative support options open to them.  We should be focussed on changing the cultural norms and giving these women a better and wider range of support options.

Otherwise we effectively turn to women who have been deprived of the understanding that girls can have successful careers, make money, achieve great things and make families very proud and tell them that since they're deprived of that knowledge we're going to deprive them of some other knowledge too. Welcome (back) to the dark ages!!

Of course we also have to consider the other likely consequences. If these families are so determined to force women to abort female foetuses what is to stop:

1. Dangerous, illegal backstreet scans and abortions?
2. Women being sent to other countries for scans and abortions (including places where maternal death rates are much higher and women's rights - for example to seek help if they experience violence - are not well enforced)?
3. Women claiming to have a family history of breast cancer or other gender-specific illness in order to create a medical reason for being told their foetus's sex?
4. These unwanted girls being cruelly mistreated?

Labels: ,

13 Comments:

Blogger Love-Joy-Freedom said...

Jesus loves you Kate! Whoever called you the devil was wrong lol. He loves you and just wants you to turn from the world to Him. You can insult me, call me what you want or roll your eyes and scoff like you do to those on the show, but I don't mind, just want you to know.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Love-Joy-Freedom said...

Jesus loves you Kate! He wants you to turn from the world to Him. Whoever called you the devil was out of order.

It's clear from watching the Big Questions that you don't believe in any God, but why do you act as if you're so right and there's no possibility of you being wrong?

I don't care if you insult me or scoff like you do on TV, I just have to let you know

10:43 pm  
Blogger AndyParkin said...

Well said Kate. Wish you'd had more opportunity to speak on the programme.

11:47 pm  
Blogger AndyParkin said...

Well said Kate. Wish you'd had more opportunity to speak on the programme.

11:48 pm  
Blogger Jack Everitt said...

Perhaps you could choose a network other than the BBC to be on? Because those of us living in the USofA cannot watch it, because, OMG, forwhatever reason BBC won't allow us to. And, yeah, they don't even make their BBC iPad player available in the US.

BBC=Doing the internet wrong, still.

6:21 am  
Blogger Cruella said...

These things usually appear on Youtube at some point. Jion my mailing list via my website (www.katesmurthwaite.co.uk) and you'll get sent the links. I don't have much control over what channels invite me on!

7:36 am  
Blogger The Industrial Pundit Complex said...

Having read your piece through, I agree that while those women were well-intentioned of course, yours is the more progressive view. On this score. Though I disagree with your fundamentalist position as an atheist (your 'belief in God is ludicrous' comment on TBQ). I'm an atheist but I can't square the sort of progressive view expressed above with the view taken seriously that people should be mocked for having some sort of religious beliefs, if we recognise these roughly as reinforcing principles like being good to your neighbour etc. Does religion per se cause harm or isn't it the people who inflict the harm? By all means criticize certain religious practices but I think the race to smite those with religious belief is ultimately unnecessary (although I do it myself sometimes).

For example, take Charles the CEO guy today. I disagreed completely with him and feel that if less people had his individualistic worldview we would all be much better off. I'm quite happy to mock his view as I believe it's a pernicious one. And it is equally encumbent upon us to scrutinize spiritual belief as far as possible. But I would stop short of calling for its complete erasure and I find the default setting of the sneering atheist to be misguided and unhelpful.

Your own view is that we would be better off if no one believed any longer in such fairy-tales. But my point is this – and you've probably heard it a million times but I'm writing this as a way of thinking this through on a Sunday night so go easy tiger. Say we could at a second's notice tear out this whole infrastructure of belief in these myths. What would take its place on a day to day basis, what rituals and practices. Because not everybody finds it a walk in the park to be a good person and many would be left spiritually bereft without these day-to-day airborne-notes-to-self.

Not the most credible philosopher, but I feel De Botton has a point in that, when we watch 12 Years A Slave, for example, we are filled with tremendous empathy, only to find it has already dissipated by the time we have reached the pub. Now this is hardly a problem for some, but obviously many adults turn to God as a diffuse aid to act better in the world. Are they silly? I say it's those whose main goal is to erase what they see as spurious religious conceptions - more helpfully seen as sincere symbolic overspillings - that have their priorities back to front. What is most important, truth or morality? Shouldn't the focus be to do more to improve our lives morally? Wouldn't pulling the religious rug from under many people who clearly feel they need it, without having a serious tuft-twisting session in advance about some new carpet, be unnecessarily reckless and hardly justify all the reputed benefits that derive from a myth-and-Santa Claus-free existence? The argument goes, that we can become so providentially self-aware that we relax into a groove of minding our own actions, correcting every odd lurch of the curious workings of brain circuitry (no one is perfect but all who aims will pitch their own kind of it, always starting tomorrow). After which point, stripping away the last piece of the puzzle seems to work, this superfluous, immaterial thing-in-itself from outer space.

But shouldn't the argument begin, the one we really ought to be having: 'let's come up with a picture of a more concrete secular morality first, then maybe discard what is clumsy and extraneous.' Why is the order important? Can't we just collectively forgo the whole religious interface and carry on just as we do now. Few have long since turned over all the ethical questions they will ever pose themselves; the rest need their fix from an infinite range of doses.
Mustn't any doing away of existing or aquired religious belief be matched by a new leap of faith i.e. blissful arrival at the immediately self-evident understanding that well, we are old and pulchitrude-wanting enough to do the right thing on our own terms?

7:49 am  
Blogger The Industrial Pundit Complex said...

Okay, great. . . I want to see everyone's regimen of upstandingness. But wait. . . at this point aren't all our daily prayers, mantras, senses and schemata so personal and unknowable as to count out our lives in 'lunatic thirteens'? Yes, what does that matter. But aren't we a community? Just be. . . Good. Some do, some don't. But surely if anything is axiomatic here it's these individual differences? Do yourself a favour, shed these encumbering notions already, the breeze will carry them out. Being good isn't something you will forget, trust me. Everyone else is doing it, why can't you. I like loving at my own pace. Look, this God, ditch him. His bang-buck-balance went to his head. But I heard one man's doing the right thing was, unhymnally speaking, another man's pain in the chorus and verse? Exactly, I mean, how does one go about legislating at the synapse? We'll sort that soon. But what's so funny about my wanting to have my weekend knees up as more of a knees down, in church proclaiming my faith, essentially in my fellow man and woman, a miracle or two give or take. It's not real. I know, but we get so into it, and the others, they're not so keen, and prefer football. It's dangerous to think in such terms. It's not so much the thinking I go in for, it's more about the belting out of wonderful songs. Jeez, this sounds like one of those Kantian binds, you know, to the power of a Pacman-paradox. With chords that cannot be broken? When you put it like that. . . Thank God for John Stuart Mill, and his tendency to have last word around these parts

7:50 am  
Blogger paul.atkin said...

"A foetus is a part of a woman's body while it is growing."

There isn't a doctor in the world who would put their name to that statement.

It's an important issue so let's discuss it factually.

1:34 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Having just seen you on Revelation TV I would just like to know why you resorted to bullying, threatening, insulting and shouting?

You weren't prepared to listen to Bernadette, it was not a debate and if it were me I would have thrown you out for your conduct.

1:03 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Having just seen you on Revelation TV I would just like to know why you resorted to bullying, threatening, insulting and shouting?

You weren't prepared to listen to Bernadette, it was not a debate and if it were me I would have thrown you out for your conduct.

1:04 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Having just seen you on Revelation TV I would just like to know why you resorted to bullying, threatening, insulting and shouting?

You weren't prepared to listen to Bernadette, it was not a debate and if it were me I would have thrown you out for your conduct.

1:04 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

Having just seen you on Revelation TV I would just like to know why you resorted to bullying, threatening, insulting and shouting?

You weren't prepared to listen to Bernadette, it was not a debate and if it were me I would have thrown you out for your conduct.

1:06 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home