Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

The actual consequences of physician-assisted suicide

Slippery slope arguments may usually be fallacious, but hard facts aren’t. As we draw nearer to Parliament’s debate the Marris Bill, we at OSFL thought we’d cast an eye over just a few of the problems that have arisen following the legalisation of assisted suicide abroad. This is by no means a comprehensive list and more information can be found here http://www.bioethics.org.uk/evidenceguide.html, here http://www.livinganddyingwell.org.uk/, and here http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/.

Let’s start with Oregon in the USA, since it has a law that is most similar to the one proposed in the Marris Bill. In Oregon, patients requesting lethal medicine as a result of depression or mental illness are meant to have a psychological test carried out. Only 3 patients of 105 last year had this examination. Medicaid covers assisted suicide in Oregon, but it doesn’t cover many important drugs that improve quality of life: life becomes expensive and death free. Over years, the financial costs of palliative care stack up  – when NHS budgets are squeezed, could we see economic pressure to end lives?

The state of Washington has largely copied Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, with some frightening results. The briefest doctor-patient relationship before the prescription of an assisted suicide was under a week. Could any doctor really judge the pressures and problems a patient faces after only knowing them a week? In 2014, 59% of people asking for an assisted suicide stated as motivation the fear that they would be a burden on family, friends, or carers. This flies in the face of the common claim that assisted dying empowers the frail.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are both famously legal in the Netherlands. In 2012, 3% of deaths in the Netherlands were the result of euthanasia or assisted suicide.  Of those, 7% were done without the explicit request of the patient. A lot of arguments for assisted suicide emphasise the will of the patient. But if an assisted suicide is truly in a patient’s best interests, it’s unclear why it should only be prescribed if he or she asks for it. In practice, the role of explicit consent can easily fade away. Furthermore, Dutch children aged 12-16 are able to request and be assisted in suicide if their parents agree. The Marris Bill is limited to those over 18. But again, why shouldn’t this eventually change to include children if there is nothing wrong with assisted suicide? Some Dutch patients have been granted an assisted suicide when they are simply ‘tired of living’. The safeguards in the Marris Bill aren’t safe – they have eroded everywhere that similar laws have been put in place.

In the news recently for extending euthanasia to children of any age, Belgium is a cautionary tale for a country deciding whether or not to legalise assisted suicide. For the most part, Belgian patients are not referred for an assisted suicide by a doctor who is a specialist in palliative care. In other words, they are referred by someone who does not have expert knowledge of ways to minimise suffering. To an unspecialised doctor, assisted suicide may seem like the best option because he/she does not know what else to offer. Assisted suicide is being prescribed in ignorance.

But you don’t even need to look at real-life consequences of physician-assisted suicide to see what’s wrong with it. If Parliament passes the Marris Bill, it will send the message that the lives of the terminally ill are worth less than the lives of the healthy, and that the state will no longer protect the sick in the same way. The law should not be making judgements about the value of people’s lives. All life is valuable, and deserves protection.

To write to your MP, go to http://notoassistedsuicide.org.uk/Let them know that life is valuable.

Assisted suicide would change the way we respond to despair

Nathan Verhelst, a trans man from Belgium, had struggled with mental illness since childhood. At the age of 44, after a series of crises, he took his own life. Sadly, that is not so uncommon. What was unusual were the circumstances. Verhelst received a lethal injection from a doctor, as part of Belgium’s standard bureaucratic procedure for those in ‘unbearable suffering’. The doctor explained that Verhelst’s suffering qualified as unbearable because after six months of counselling he was still suicidal. If that kind of reasoning makes you uncomfortable – if you wonder whether six months of counselling amounts to everything that might have helped Nathan Verhelst – then look away now, because it could be coming to the UK.

 
If Rob Marris’s assisted suicide bill is passed on 11 September, and survives the rest of its progress through Parliament, this country will become more dangerous for the elderly, the ill, the disabled and the depressed. So say the British Medical Association, Disability Rights UK, and the Royal College of GPs. At the very least, the principle of caution should warn against this bill.

Everyone can feel the pull of the case for assisted suicide. Many people are in physical and psychological pain; they say, repeatedly, that they would rather be dead than alive. Who could possibly be indifferent to their distress, and their hope that it might end?

 
We experience a stab of guilt, hearing their stories. And guilt is not the worst motive. If it prompts us to help the people at the margins of our own community, or prompts government to improve palliative care, guilt can do a lot of good. But it is a poor basis on which to pass a law which will change the fabric of society. This law will not simply abolish a category of suffering: it will create new ones. The evidence everywhere suggests that the main result of assisted suicide laws is to surround unhappy, lonely people with exit signs.
In Oregon, the supposed paragon of such a law, the chief effect has not been on those in physical pain. Less than a quarter of those receiving poison say they are worried about pain, or even the possibility of pain; the main reasons are ‘loss of autonomy’ (91%) and ‘decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable’ (89%). According to a high estimate, over 30% of recipients in a single year may have had their judgment impaired by undiagnosed depression.

Still, to give Oregon its due, there is a fundamental difference from Britain. Oregon Right to Die, the body behind the law, were from the beginning moderates. Their intention, according to one of their leading figures, Eli Stutsman, was to ‘campaign for the right to die and against Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the same breath’. They were, if you like, doves rather than hawks.

The British right-to-die movement is different. It is a flock of hawks with some official doves fluttering around in the vanguard. The doves assure us that this Bill will go no further than Oregon’s restrictions: it will apply only to the terminally ill. (An elastic category in any case, as the disabilities campaigner Baroness Campbell has pointed out.) But the hawks are more articulate and more consistent in applying the logic of total self-determination. Baroness Warnock, a leading intellectual light of the movement, predicts a future in which ‘you’d be licensing people to put others down’. Polly Toynbee, one of Fleet Street’s most influential voices for a change in the law (and for further changes down the line), concedes the possibility ‘that the frail will be intimidated into hastening the end of their lives so as not to be a burden on their children’. She comments, in a disturbing foretaste of things to come: ‘Well, why not?’ The Economist recently proposed that the opportunity for taking poison be extended to people with depression. Well, in Belgium they are already living the dream. Euthanasia is up 25% on last year, and the law becomes ever less discriminating in its effects.

There, as Rachel Aviv reported in a must-read article for the New Yorker, euthanasia has taken away people with ‘autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression’. This is scarcely the picture painted by the likes of Dignity in Dying.

In 1931, the great psychologist Carl Jung noted that many of his patients suffered from ‘the senselessness and aimlessness of their lives… I should not object if this were called the general neurosis of our age’. If anything, that diagnosis is truer today. Suicide is the biggest killer of young British men, and the UK is incubating a crisis of loneliness and mental illness. Usually, we try to build hope and solidarity against despair. But Belgium has discovered an alternative. “If the patient’s energy is gone,” one euthanasia doctor tells Aviv, “then it is not humane to say, ‘Well, maybe if you go to a hospital that specializes in your problem for two more years it will help.’ I think we have to respect when people say, ‘No – that is enough.’” Sorry, doctor, but running out of energy is a symptom of depression: a lot of people feel that they have ‘had enough’, are useless, and would be better off dead. It makes all the difference whether they are listened to and given support to carry on. In some places, that seems to be going out of fashion.

The testimony of doctors suggests that when suicide becomes institutionalised, a society becomes anaesthetised to the preciousness of human life. One Dutch doctor recalled the first time he administered euthanasia. The first case was ‘terrible’, he said. His team agonised all day before carrying it out. The next one, he said, was much easier. ‘The third case’, he concluded, ‘was a piece of cake’. That is a report from the bottom of the slippery slope, and it turns out to be quite a short slope. Assisted suicide will weaken the bonds of society. It will nudge towards the edge exactly the people we should be hauling back from it. One day we might be asked if anybody tried to stop it.

 
To write to your MP, go to http://notoassistedsuicide.org.uk/

Dan Hitchens is a former President of Oxford Students for Life.

Abortion and disability: the case for social justice

Guest blogger: Ruth Akinradewo is a second-year undergraduate studying French and Italian at the University of Oxford. She blogs at The Change Channel.

As a Christian who values the gift of life, the idea of not being opposed to abortion has never been an option for me. Still, of late having had my attention drawn to the distressing repercussions that the legalisation of abortion has had on disabled people, I now find myself faced with an even greater pile of evidence to show the extent of severe harm that termination can bring.

Opposition to abortion is typically, and rightly, focused on the taking away of an innocent life; the notable harm incurred on the mother and others; the paradox of having such a high rate of abortions when there are so many childless couples tenderly awaiting the joy of parenting . . . But few people tend to talk about the fact that terminations provide ammunition for the myth that disabled people are less valuable than the rest of society.

I didn’t know it myself until very recently: current UK law permits the abortion of foetuses deemed to have physical handicaps up to 40 weeks. Medical professionals agree that at 37 weeks the foetus is full-term; moreover, general legislation on abortion in this country caps the cut-off period for termination at 24 weeks. But if the baby doctor looks at a scan of you in your mother’s womb and decides you’re disabled, he and your parents are permitted by law to cut your life short even after you’ve fully developed and possess the necessary characteristics to live and breathe the air of the outside world.

In 2011, 144 abortions were carried out in England and Wales after 24 weeks.

That is scary.

What is more, doctors can be wrong: at last term’s OSFL Pro-Life Feminism panel discussion, Emily Watson spoke of how her mum had been told her brother would be born with Down’s Syndrome and no such thing happened.

The UK Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion on the Grounds of Disability, which took place in 2013, rightly compared the aims of the 2010 Equality Act, which promises to prohibit discrimination based on disability, with the Abortion Act, which prevents individuals from being guilty of an abortion offence if ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’

Is it just me or do these two acts of legislation contradict each other?

Shielded by UK law, 2,732 abortions were carried out in 2013 under ground E of the Abortion Act. “Congenital malformations” and “chromosomal abnormalities” were often cited as the reason for implementing the termination. “Down’s syndrome (22% of all such cases) was the most commonly reported chromosomal abnormality.”

I was moved to tears when at the same panel discussion I mentioned earlier, Isabel Errington detailed how one of her friends had defied the doctors and had chosen to carry her disabled baby to term, leaving her only a matter of days to spend in life with him. Despite the brevity of the precious time they spent together, this mother spoke with tenderness of cherishing the gift of a son that she had been given.

The claim that killing off disabled babies is the best course of action for the child (think Richard Dawkins) is not only extremely offensive, it is extremely presumptuous. Who can say before they have given a child the chance to live that their lives will not be worth living?

Try telling that to Nick Vujicic, who, despite being born with neither arms nor legs, obtained a bachelor’s degree, is now an internationally-famous motivational speaker, and a husband and father.

If someone in Nick’s situation can achieve so much despite being “seriously handicapped”, as UK law puts it, then how much more those born with cleft lips and palate, who – yes, it is true – are being aborted under Ground E legislation each year?

With the mind of someone who cares deeply about social justice, I cannot sit still in the face of such injustices. I am inspired by friends and family who suffer or have suffered with disabilities and still rise up each day with fresh vigour to live their lives without being held back.

I cannot bear to see the experiences of people such as these being forgotten or ignored by those that believe they’d be better off dead. Baroness Grey-Thompson, speaking in a talk hosted by OSFL, highlighted that the discrimination that disabled people face shows no signs of abating and I am convinced it is precisely the position assumed by laws such as Ground E of the Abortion Act, that are inhibiting progress and the social justice that the disabled deserve to be a part of.

Five things we learned from Monday’s student parent panel

1. There are many challenges
“I constantly tried to reach out to other student parents,” said Ash Mohanaprakas, who took a year of maternity leave after giving birth to her son two years into her Portugese and Linguistics degree. But they were hard to find. The attitude was that “people come to study, not to have a child.” That’s as true for MBA students, according to Danielle Pearson: “In business…there are very few women, and even fewer mothers” – though Danielle stressed that pregnancy is not a “men vs women issue” but “a family issue”.

Freya Johnston, Director of Graduate Studies at the English Faculty, pointed out that the system often penalises parents. An academic taking maternity leave above a certain level loses her pension; though part-time DPhils will soon be offered, there has been no established route through a degree which doesn’t mean applying for deferrals “as though you were ill”.

2. …but that’s not the whole story
“I try to encourage my fellow businessmen and businesswomen to have children,” said Danielle, “because it broadens your perspective.” Ash agreed: “After having a son, I was far more ambitious. I had to be a good role model.”

“If you think you can make it work,” Freya advised, “you can. But it will be difficult. Your life will be much better in some ways, and more difficult in others.”

3. The childcare system is very hard to negotiate
Both in and out of the University, childcare services are hugely oversubscribed. The panel had some startling tales: of two-year waiting lists for the University service (especially unhelpful when you’ve just started a one-year course); of high and rising daycare fees; of colleges’ reluctance to provide childcare – something not made any easier by the sector’s heavy regulation.

As for the University website, everyone agreed that is out-of-date and unhelpful. “When you go on it,” said Ash, “you’re just doing random searches.”

4. An open and supportive community makes a difference
The panellists mentioned Wolfson, St Anne’s, St Hugh’s and St. Cross – which has an annual student parent mixer event – as especially welcoming. Danielle said, “I love taking my daughter to the business school, partly because it allows my classmates to see what it can be like to be a working parent, a student parent.”

What could us non-parents do to help, an audience member asked? “Babysitting!” came the unanimous reply.

5. There’s a real case for University funding
The BBC reported today that Oxford has raised £2bn of funds for teaching and research, the biggest figure you’ll find outside US higher education. Ash, who works for the University’s Development Office, pointed out that funding is directed towards teaching, research and student support. It doesn’t take much to see student parents as having a stake in all three. And the money is there.

Chair Megan Engel mentioned that MIT had put a lot of resources and thought into their
on-campus childcare centres. Another chance for Oxford to copy an American success story?

(Dan Hitchens)

New study shows the most pro-life Britons are…women and young people

A study from ComRes, out just this week, has shown that women are more likely than men to favour restrictions on abortion, and the younger generation are more pro-life than their parents or grandparents.

Asked whether they would like to bring UK law in line with other European countries by halving the upper limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 12, 43% of women said yes, compared with 32% of men.

The age gap is even bigger than the gender gap: on the same question, 48% of 18-25-year-olds said yes, and only 31% of 55-64-year-olds.

Given that Westminster and the media lean pro-choice, and that feminism and ‘abortion rights’ are often conflated (thought not here at OSFL), these figures – which mirror previous studies – are thought-provoking. Maybe it’s because women know more about pregnancy than men; maybe it’s because young people have grown up familiar with ultrasound images. Or maybe it’s because the practice of sex-selective abortion – which three-quarters of respondents said should be declared illegal – has concentrated the public’s mind.

But it is hard to deny, looking at these figures, that the caricature of the pro-life movement as misogynistic and outdated is a fantasy. And given the study’s other finding – that Labour and Lib Dem voters are more pro-life than UKIP or Tory supporters – it suggests that the ‘right-wing’ tag won’t really stick either.

But of course this is about more than the numbers. That’s why we’re holding a debate next Tuesday on the right to choose and the right to life. Male or female, pro-choice or pro-life, please come along!

(On a related point: a very useful new website, WhereDoTheyStand.org.uk, tells you what your local election candidates have said on life issues.)

(Dan Hitchens)

Pro Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 11: Eduardo Verastegui

When I say the words ‘pro-life activist’ and ‘Hollywood actor’, what are your first thoughts? Oxymoron…. What?… Impossible….Doesn’t Exist!  Yes, those were exactly my thoughts…..until I found out about Eduardo Verastegui, a passionately pro-life Hollywood movie star!

For those of you who didn’t come to our film night last Hilary, Eduardo was one of the main characters in Bella, which received critical acclaim for its moving and imaginative treatment of the difficult issues of life and abortion, depicts one defining day in the life of an expectant young mother and her encounter with a friend who spontaneously steps in to help her. Amazingly, Eduardo actually became pro- life while doing character research for Bella because his director recommended he visit an abortion clinic. During his visit to the abortion clinic he ended up talking with a young actress who was scheduled to have an abortion that day:

“I gave her a little teddy bear just like in the film. I gave her my cell phone number and everything, and then she started crying and she left the place. She didn’t go in, so I thought maybe she was going to come back the next day because she was a little shy with me. I called her like three or four times, [and that was the end of it, or so I thought].”

“We found the actress, moved to New York, finished the film and came back to Los Angeles. A few months later I received a call from the man who was with her. He said, “Eduardo, I have great news. My baby was born yesterday, and I want to ask your permission because I want to call him Eduardo.”I couldn’t even talk. I put my phone down. I was emotional more than I ever was in my life. I went to the hospital and I saw the baby. A few days later I was carrying the baby in my arms, and the way he was looking at me changed my life.He changed my life because I didn’t plan to do this. I went there only to do my work as an actor.”

This experience inspired Eduardo to become more involved in the pro-life movement and since then he has been moving mountains fighting for the rights of the unborn and supporting pregnant women.

In 2010, through his non-profit organization Manto de Guadalupe, he opened a pro-life medical clinic in Los Angeles which he refers to as “an oasis of life” in a “desert of death” because of its location in the midst of 10 abortion clinics. The 5,000-square-foot facility serves 20 women daily and offers free pregnancy-related services such as ultrasounds, prenatal care and natural family planning education. It offers medical services in addition to counseling, and has an obstetrician/gynecologist on staff.

Along with his political activism, Eduardo also travels around the world sharing his testimony and encouraging young people to use their talents for the pro life cause. If that is not enough for pro-life hero status, Eduardo also founded a film company called Metanoia which aims to “produce films that not only entertain but which also make a difference in people’s lives. We want our audience to leave feeling inspired to be a better person wanting to love and forgive more, and that they will have hope and fire in their hearts.”

His next film, Little Boy, out on April 24th, is about a 7-year old boy who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring his father home from WWII. It is a beautiful and inspiring story which highlights the important role of fathers.

Little-Boy-2015-Movie-702x336

Eduardo’s story is such an inspiration and a beautiful example of the fact that each one of us can make a difference whether it be in an Oxford library, outside a local abortion clinic, at your college, in the Parliament or hey…. even in Hollywood!

As another great pro-life heroine said:

mother+teresa+quotes

(A.G.)

Gendercide: the questions pro-choicers don’t want to answer

At the end of February, the House of Commons rejected a bill that sought to spell out the illegality, under the 1967 Abortion Act, of sex-selective abortion. The bill, proposed by Fiona Bruce MP, called for a clarification in the law that the terms of the Act do not allow abortion based on the sex of the unborn. It was shot down 292-201. Many have claimed that sex-selective abortion is illegal, including the Health Secretary. But there’s no explicit stipulation in the law preventing it, as BPAS’s Ann Furedi has pointed out. And the Crown Prosecution Service has twice blocked a prosecution against Drs. Prabha Sivaraman and Palaniappan Rajmohan, whom the Telegraph caught on camera agreeing to procure gender-based abortions in 2012. So the question has to be asked again: is sex-selective abortion legal in Britain? By default and in practice, it seems to be.

This isn’t an easy conclusion to face. The question of sex-selective abortion has cut across typical lines of opinion, perhaps more so than any other question in the abortion debate. Most people, even many who are pro-choice, seem to see something deeply wrong in aborting unborn children – usually girls – based on their sex. The trouble is that once you dig a bit deeper into what exactly is wrong with sex-selective abortion, you end up asking questions that defenders of abortion don’t want to answer.

Stop-Gendercide-cover

There are many reasons to be repelled by the idea of sex-selective abortion, or “gendercide” as its critics have dubbed it. For those of us who are repelled by the idea of all abortions, the sexism of gendercide is a blatant insult added to a far more profound injury. For those who don’t object to other reasons for aborting, however, the issue becomes murkier. If it’s acceptable to abort an unborn girl because she’ll be expensive to raise, she has Down Syndrome, or her parents don’t love each other, why isn’t it acceptable to abort her because she’s a girl? Legal abortions are defended as beneficial for women who want to have them; practically speaking, that benefit isn’t altered if the child’s sex is the main motive for a termination.

A number of pro-choice commentators have ended up defending sex-selection, making this very point. But those who defend sex-selective abortion must resort to doing so by fixating on choice in a way that suppresses ethical discussion of the content of that choice. Humans can make good and bad decisions, and the point of ethical discussion is to evaluate what those are. Defending gendercide by giving choice an absolute primacy is a preemptive way of avoiding the real question at hand.

This is a philosophically embarrassing issue for pro-choice feminists. You can’t oppose sex-selective abortions without admitting that abortion is sometimes wrong, and you can’t accept sex-selective abortions without admitting that explicit gender discrimination is sometimes permissible. This is what has made the debate about sex-selective abortion so revealing. This issue calls abortion into question on precisely the grounds that are usually used to defend it, showing that legal abortion may not actually be the feminist victory it’s touted as.

The question of sex-selective abortion isn’t going to go away, and nor should it. Pro-life people who want to win hearts and minds need to push this point, because the gendercide issue draws out serious problems in contemporary pro-choice arguments. And pro-choice people who want to secure the right to abortion even based on the sex of the child need to ask themselves if a feminism that allows for discrimination against and selective destruction of girls is worth defending – or can be called feminism at all.

(M.G.)

Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 10: The Unknown Pro-Lifer

Reading the stories of the other heroes and heroines in this series, one might think that it is all well and good to praise such people but that’s not for everyone: we can’t all be Lila Rose or Mildred Jefferson, and indeed, we don’t all have to be. I agree.

So far, our series has passed over the majority of those who are pro-life heroes and heroines, the bread and butter of the pro-life movement: the unknown pro-lifers. Who are these mystery people? Well, you and me (I hope!). We can each be a pro-life hero or heroine by being pro-life where we are now, whatever that stage of life may be. That may look very different for a gynaecologist or a palliative nurse, for a politician or a teacher, for a student or a parent. But heroes and heroines they can all be. Let me just give you one example of a pro-life heroine that I know. Let’s call her Emma: she’d rather not be named, and that’s typical – she’s someone who, without seeking recognition, quietly reinforces the value of life however she can.

Perhaps the best place to begin with this heroine (to cut to the chase) is the day she took into her family home, without asking for anything, a young international student who had found herself pregnant. Terrified to return to her country where the pressures of family and society would have forced her to have an abortion – something that she decidedly did not want – this young woman found refuge with Emma. Flash forward a year or two and Emma is welcoming another woman into her home: a woman left by her husband just weeks before her due date with no support, her family thousands of miles away. Both women were strangers to her; now friends.

In her professional life as a doctor, Emma works to educate others about life ethics – most recently an evening enlightening other healthcare professionals about the reality of sex-selective abortion and why it must be opposed. In her home life, she has shown the importance of these values to her children so that they know should they, a friend, or anyone they know need support, it can be found at home.

For you, the student reading this, again, you may say ‘I can’t do this: this certainly does not look like it could be something “you and me” could do.’ True. But, without a doubt, there is a way you can help promote a culture that defends and values life. Maybe this will be raising a motion in your JCR or MCR to help student parents. Maybe this will be challenging one of your friends when they claim ‘Euthanasia should just be made legal already’. Maybe it will mean writing your philosophy thesis in defence of life, or perhaps considering joining the OSFL committee next year! Whatever it is, each of us, each unknown pro-lifer, can be a pro-life hero or heroine. We can each make a difference.

(Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson, Jerome Lejeune, Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan.)

An easy way to help save unborn girls

Stop-Gendercide-meme4
If you only write to your MP once before the election, then the best time to do it might be in the next nine days. On Monday 23rd February, an amendment is being proposed to the Serious Crime Bill which would confirm the illegality of sex-selective abortion and prompt the government to combat the practice. There has been widespread public revulsion at the discrimination against unborn girls, and the amendment has a good chance of passing. Lots more useful background at stopgendercide.org, plus a form which makes emailing your MP childishly easy. This close to an election, they’ll be interested in your opinion.

Feminism, the Pro-Life Movement, and Justice

If I could guess the one thing that all women who are actively pro-life have in common, it’s probably that at one time or another, someone has asked us (in so many words); “How can you be a woman and be against abortion? That’s so anti-feminist!” The question can be asked with anything from timid confusion to outraged disbelief, but however it’s asked, it points to a very real issue.

The truth is, it’s not immediately clear how, in 2015, one could identify both as a feminist and as pro-life. The dominant feminist narrative of our age often emphasizes the right to abortion as one of its essential tenets. Many women agree with this, but many women don’t, and have found themselves bizarrely at odds with a movement that is supposed to work for their benefit. But as defenders of feminism have pointed out, being a feminist simply means believing that all people, regardless of gender, are of equal worth and deserve equal protection and rights under the law. And believe it or not, this also happens to be the fundamental principle of the pro-life movement. Those who are pro-life reject human rights violations such as abortion on the grounds of the essential equality in dignity of all human beings, born and pre-born. So while the pro-life position may clash with a few of the specific policy goals of modern feminism, it concords with the true spirit of feminism in a way that those policy goals blatantly do not.

A criticism hurled at many pro-life women is that, in opposing abortion, they are “judging” other women, while a true feminist would support whatever choices women make. This simply isn’t true. There’s a vast gulf between respecting another person and sanctioning any action they may take. Judging an action is not the same as judging a person. Being supportive of other people doesn’t mean approving of destructive choices; on the contrary, being supportive of others means wanting and working towards their good.

The major injustice that legal abortion supposedly resolves is sexual inequality between men and women. Men are literally able to walk away from unwanted parenthood in a way that women are not; hence the promotion of abortion as a way of levelling the playing field. The trouble is that abortion may achieve equality on a crude practical level, but it does so by perpetuating injustice on a much deeper one. Neither men nor women should be able to walk away from their children, whether or not those children are planned and wanted. Pro-life feminism takes the positive approach of insisting that both women and men take responsibility for their children, and seeks to build a culture in which women who are abandoned by their partners are supported in choosing justice even when their partner doesn’t.

Feminism is meant to empower women in societies in which men have historically been the wielders of power. The brand of feminism that defends abortion continues the institutional abuse of the weak by the strong, and in doing so, contradicts the fundamental principles of feminism itself. There’s some truth in the argument that one cannot be both pro-life and feminist in the modern world. But this is only true inasmuch as contemporary feminism has erred. In the interest of advancing women’s rights to create a just society – a worthy and incredibly important aim – we’ve forgotten that a just society is impossible if any person’s rights can be violated by another person at will. It’s deeply wrong that men’s interests should be realized at the expense of women’s rights, and it’s even more wrong that adults’ interests should be realized at the expense of children’s lives. Pro-life feminism demands higher standards for society’s treatment of all people. Women deserve better than abortion as a response to gender inequality; as feminists of all stripes have pointed out, no man will ever have to worry about needing to have an abortion. No woman should ever have to, either.

(M.G.)

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