Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Abortion, Dorries, Phillips and me.

AKA (as suggested on Twitter) Bodily Autonomy Deathmatch I and II

Last Thursday a story appeared on the front page of the Telegraph claiming some abortion providers in the UK were providing abortions on the grounds of gender (gender of the foetus that is, the mother is usually female).

Now there's a few things wrong with this.

Firstly they're investigative journalists who sent pregnant actresses in with hidden cameras to pose as abortion-seekers. This piece is not (as has been widely assumed) about real women actually doing this. While there are some countries in the world (India, China) where this is an issue, there's no real evidence to suggest it happens with any frequency in the UK. Where it does happen it should be tackled of course by tackling the inherent sexism in those cultures - not by forcing women to continue with a pregnancy against their will.

Secondly referring a woman for an abortion because of the foetus' gender in the UK is not actually illegal. It is only illegal if that is the ONLY reason given. In fact the only acceptable reason for referring for a termination in the UK is that it would cause greater harm to the woman's physical or mental health to continue with the pregnancy than to terminate it. So you can't grant one because a woman was raped, or is eleven years old or anything else. This at some level makes sense - the only reason to have an abortion is because it is better for the woman to have one than not to.

Thirdly if any law has been broken - it's only because the journalists set out to trap doctors (and for some reason counsellors, they don't seem to have managed to distinguish between the two very well!). Real women seeking a termination would be very unlikely to give only one clear reason in that way. In fact when I watched the clips I thought if I was the doctor hearing this strange blunt request I'd probably assume the woman was a victim of rape or violence and was giving a fake reason because she didn't want to talk about the underlying problem.

Fourthly what a stupid way to operate. Any law, or interpretation of it, that actively encourages patients to be dishonest with their doctors is a stupid one. The procedure is legal, lets just leave it to women and their doctors to decide between them what to do.

Finally how VERY handy. Remember a few months back Tory MP and well-known misogynist Nadine Dorries was trying to make it compulsory for doctors to offer "independent" counselling from unregulated idiologically-driven groups like Life to women asking about abortion? And there was a vote in the Commons. And she lost. Badly. In fact even Frank Fields who launched the motion with her ended up not voting for it. Well they're now "starting a consultation" (by which I mean preparing to ignore what people actually want) on bringing that same piece of DEFEATED legislation in by the back door - through a change to Department of Health guidance which can be done without a parliamentary vote. Yes - democracy in action. Bill gets blocked in a landslide vote by democratically elected politicians and now they're still planning to bring the policy in! So it's a great time for someone to kick up a fuss about abortion being "too easy" (go tell that to women in Northern Ireland, or indeed women in the rest of this country who've actually needed one) and implying women are asking for it for "the wrong" reasons.

So needless to say my phone starts ringing. I did (I think) 16 TV and Radio interviews in one day. And clips of them were played on many other stations too. Here's a list with links to the website where you can see/hear it where I can find one (do send me more if I'm missing any you've found!)

BBC London breakfast
BBC Newcastle Jonathan Miles
BBC Essex Etilie George
BBC Manchester Heather Stott
BBC Foyle Joe Doran
BBC Sheffield Rony Robinson
BBC Three Counties Gareth Lloyd
BBC West Midlands Joanne Mailin
BBC Northampton Stuart Linnell
BBC Tees Mike Parr
Sky News outdoor interview with health correspondent
BBC Merseyside

And clips of my appearance on these were reportedly heard on everything from BBC Radio One and BBC Six Music to Magic FM!

I also did two more interviews the next day on BBC Somerset and BBC West Midlands again (where they seemed to cut me off and let the anti-choice guy talk at length but without letting me hear what he said or respond).

For the most part I was just chatting on my own to the various presenters. Some may have had callers who disagreed with me or other guests who expressed other views later on but felt like for the most part I was given plenty of opportunity to make my points. On BBC Merseyside I was "up against" Anthony Ozimic from SPUC who is just rubbish in debate. Apart from anything else why nominate someone without a womb to be your organisation's representative for telling people with a womb what they should and shouldn't do with it? As I may have said several months ago on ITV Daybreak "If you're against abortion Anthony, I strongly recommend you DON'T have one". He also accused me and/or Abortion Rights UK of being "in bed" with this government, which considering I was speaking against what the Department of Health is proposing, is very strange. Mind you having met the guy I'd be highly surprised if he knew the phrase "in bed with" didn't refer to spiderman pyjamas and a hot water bottle so ho hum (slam!).

More excitingly, after previously taking to Twitter to declare herself officially "not scared" of me, Nadine Dorries MP herself deigned to face up to me on both the Jeremy Vine show and the Boulton & Co Sky News show. The Jeremy Vine show (incidentally the only show ever to have arranged a face-off between us before, over the abstinence-only-for-girls debacle!) went well. Dorries made her points and then I explained why she was wrong and why she was behaving undemocratically over the counselling issue.

Somehow while I was in a car heading over to Sky News offices Dorries had a bit of a funny turn. I guess maybe she (accurately) felt she lost the Jeremy Vine debate and it got to her. Thing is she put up a good fight, it's just that I had truth and justice on my side. Anyway on Boulton and Co she was dreadful. Flustered and unclear, she was on video link-up from what I guess is outside her constituency home and the wind was making her eyes water, I briefly felt bad that I'd actually made her cry. She barely made any points. Which was a shame really cos I'd rather have seen her best arguments and had a chance to deal with them (as I did on the Jeremy Vine show).

Afterwards she was on Twitter gloating (? odd) thus:

But she was wrong because:

never let the facts get in the way of a good sideswipe, eh? Poll results flashed up at start of your debate.

So I asked her to apologise and retract what she'd said:

Nadine will you correct your tweet, poll on was BEFORE our discussion?

Later on I asked again

PS Nadine - still no apology/retraction of your overt lie from yesterday.

And the next morning again

So no apology? No correction? Just abuse? Wow ?

And she (after a long delay) responded thus:

Took my info from a Sky Tweet I wasn't in studio.Blocking you now. Your ranting and screeching is tedious.

Yeah!! Blocked by the Nads! File this under "You know you've made it when...".

And to be honest I thought that was as exciting as it was gonna get until today. BBC Radio Four's show The Moral Maze rang me up and asked me to go on air and have a little chatty-poos about abortion with none other than Daily Fail columnist Melanie Phillips. And you can listen to that one here (the whole show is about gender-selective abortion, I'm the third "witness" but do listen to the first witness Ann Furedi too who is great). Phillips tries (oh irony) to accuse me of advocating eugenics! Ha ha ha.

Sadly I only get 7-8 minutes to deal with Phillips and a guy called Matthew Taylor who was also on. Here's the full version:

Seriously Melanie for a suposed journalist you really don't have much grasp of language do you? Eugenics is where the government decides what characteristics it considers desirable in the next generation and then forces some women to have children (often with men they don't want to have children with) and others not to. What I'm advocating is the opposite of that, where the government butts the hell out and lets women choose for themselves. Of course individuals selecting for themselves what genetic traits they'd like their kids to have is as old as the hills. That's exactly what is going on (subconsciously or consciously) when a woman looks across a crowded bar at a guy and thinks "nice eyes". She's picking traits that she thinks might help her offspring. But of course then she also gets to know the guy and is highly likely to change her mind if she finds him stupid or unimaginative. Of course he's doing the same to her, checking out her genes.

And great news - science is getting much much better at helping us do this. Increasingly we can actively allow wannabe parents to select embryos to be implanted during IVF to avoid hereditary diseases where it may not be obvious in the bar whether the object of your desires is a carrier of the gene. In a few generations, at least in the west, this is likely to mean much lower incidence of things like sickle cell anaemia and Huntingdon's disease. It would be unspeakably cruel not to allow that sort of progress to be used to prevent suffering. And if it became possible to select embryos for hair and eye colour too then firstly - that would be pre-implantation IVF embryo selection - not abortion. And secondly - so what? So a woman was raped by a red haired guy and says she can't keep the baby if it's going to have red hair and remind her of that trauma. It's her body, it's her life, why should the state compel her to become a brood mare for the foetus they deem appropriate? That WOULD be eugenics Melanie. And that's what you advocate. Stop it.