When Mehdi Hasan recently wrote an article entitled, “Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty”, he apparently thought he was bringing something new to the table. He was anti-abortion, yes, but not for those stereotypical misogynist reasons exemplified by right-wingers.
Is this an accurate reflection of what he actually wrote, though? I looked at his article and his follow-up, “10 things I learned from debating abortion on Twitter”, alongside some blog posts and articles by more typical pro-lifers on the right.
Let's compare and contrast.
Emotive language: check
If there's one thing that characterises anti-choice writing, it's overly emotive language. The foetus becomes an “unborn baby” or an “innocent”.
Hasan says, “Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?“, while Fr. Pavone, Priests for Life, says “These ministries are, essentially, a voice to the voiceless — whether those voiceless are oppressed nations, the poor, the terminally ill, or the unborn”.
“It's because I care about women”: no
Ironically, while proclaiming his left-wing principles, Hasan forgot to make the point that his true concern is with women. That is because it isn't, it is with “the mute baby in the womb”. Yet even the right-wingers occasionally remember to act like they care about women's wellbeing.
For example, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops repeat a pile of misinformation, stating, “The damage that abortion causes to women's bodies can result in infertility, future miscarriages, breast cancer and even death. Many women also carry emotional scars from the experience”, while The Anti-Abortion Gang say, “Clearly, pro-lifers do not hate women. Just the opposite is true in fact”.
Sex and Selfishness: check
In his original post. Hasan's views about women making choices about their bodies are abundantly clear, as he states that pro-choice activists, “fetishise 'choice', selfishness and unbridled individualism”. He later regrets having used that language, because of the criticism he faced, however the trope that women must be forced to face the consequences (a baby) of enjoying themselves (having sex) are present throughout nearly all pro-life materials.
The Anti-Abortion Gang: “it is all about sex, to them [women] anyway. No thought is given to destroying the human lives created by sex”
Why I am Pro-Life: “Women are allowed to be in control of their bodies – they’re allowed to say NO to having intercourse without being ready for the child that results. [...] They are allowed to choose many things but when a child is conceived that child has no choice in the matter. So many women don’t even see that for what it is – killing a child”.
Cognitive Dissonance: check
Sometimes, pro-life arguments descend into an incongruous mess. They don't make sense, and any logic is, at best, very well-concealed.
Hasan: "Yes, a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body – but a baby isn’t part of her body. The 24-week-old foetus can’t be compared with an appendix, a kidney or a set of tonsils; it makes no sense to dismiss it as a 'clump of cells' or a 'blob of protoplasm'."
So where, if not in the woman's body, does Hasan think the foetus is? He's right, a baby isn't part of her body, however a foetus is. Other pro-lifers express the same bizarre sentiment.
Marcella Franseen: “No one is arguing a woman has rights concerning her body, but we are not talking about the woman’s body when we talk about abortion”.
It's not just a women's issue: check
Well-known in feminist circles as the “what about the menz?” argument, this is the point at which an issue which predominantly affects women is expanded to make sure that men don't feel left out.
Hasan: "Oh, and many of them believe that half the world's population (i.e. men) should not have a say on one of the world's most controversial and important moral issues […] (Nor, for that matter, do I take kindly to some feminists questioning my right to have an opinion on this issue on account of my Y-chromosome.)
Pro-life.org.uk: “There is no place for the father of the unborn child according to Marie Stopes”.
If you're a man with a uterus, then you should have the ultimate say in what happens to a foetus inside that uterus, because it is you that would have to carry and give birth to it. People with and without wombs can, and should, campaign for reproductive rights. But when a particular pregnancy is in question, it should be the person – male or female – whose womb it is in who decides what happens.
Gory photos of aborted foetues: no
Mercifully, Hasan (or, at least, the editor who published the piece) refrained from adding these to the mix. These images are frequently misleading or staged and can misrepresent the stage of development of the foetus.
In his follow-up piece, Hasan wrote, “You know you've upset the liberal-left when Dan Hodges, Nadine Dorries MP and Damian Thompson rush to your defence on Twitter. Argh!”.
The fact that Dorries supported his original post is not a sign of having upset the left, it is a sign that your views have a lot in common with hers, and with other anti-abortion activists. By turning it around to suggest that all they share is a common enemy shows that Hasan does not understand quite how in line with right-wingers his views on abortion are.
“It slowly dawned on me [...] that no matter how politely, gently and sensitively the anti-abortion case is expressed in the future, people on the 'pro-choice' liberal-left will never want to hear it.”
This is probably true, but it is not because of how “politely, gently or sensitively” views are expressed. It is because you can package it however you like, but limiting the options that women have in controlling their own bodies is unpalatable for anybody with liberation in mind.
Photo Credits: Jenn Farr