Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Irish Referendum 2018 - "My body, my Choice"

In Ireland this year there has been a referendum which has overturned the Irish Republic’s constitutional ban on abortion. This is probably a good thing as it brings Ireland into line with the predominant secular spirit of the age. While religious people will have voted against the change it is unrealistic, politically, to think that their views should be imposed on the secular majority. My view is that abortion should not be banned but neither should it be undertaken lightly and should only be used as a very sad and regrettable last resort. My interest is in one of the arguments commonly employed by feminists in this debate. This is the argument that can loosely be characterised in the phrase – “My body, my choice.”

 A woman is a woman through and through. Every cell in her body is female. The same is true of men and their maleness. In that sense, then, both are visibly separate entities. There is, though, because of the dictates of biology, a sort of woman who is not a woman through and through and that is, precisely, a pregnant woman. In order to be pregnant her body must contain a minuscule piece of a man’s body and that is, in a sense, the very definition of pregnancy. Without this piece of a man’s body inside her body a woman cannot be pregnant. This may seem to be to state the obvious but, as it has slipped from view, it needs restating. It is a necessary truth which cannot but flow from the fact that, somewhere in heaven or in the blind halls of evolution it was decreed that homo sapiens should reproduce sexually. This means that the human race is not a man and is not a woman but requires both, and both in relation to each other, to represent it accurately. On the whole, although they are physically separate, few men or women exist, psychologically, outside a relation to their opposite gender for this reason.

It is common, these days, for women, when the abortion debate is raised, to insist that, when it comes to decisions on aborting foetuses that the decision is entirely theirs as it is their body which bears the child and their body is a visibly separate entity. The problem is that, as I have described above, the only kind of woman who is not a pure, separate woman, is a pregnant one as the definition of pregnancy is, precisely, that the woman’s body is ‘tainted’ by a small part of a man’s body. In addition to this, because pregnancy is, again by definition, about starting new life and new life has a strange propensity to grow, that tiny portion of a man’s body will, by unstoppable cell division, increase to form 50% of the child in question inside the body of the woman. This means that, while a pregnant woman is, to all appearances, still a separate entity, she, in fact, now combines the male and female in her body and this combination represents a new relation to the male who impregnated her.

Because of this the insistence that a woman who is pregnant exists in some kind of total separation from the male half of the species and, therefore, has total autonomy in the decision regarding abortion is a spurious one. It is the pregnant woman, uniquely, who has lost her complete purity as a female in becoming pregnant. In this sense no pregnant woman is an island entire unto herself, a truth which is not decreed by men or the patriarchy but by biology which one can trace back to a creator or to evolution as one pleases. In the world outside the New Testament there is no such thing as an ‘Immaculate Conception’ which leaves the woman with utter purity of autonomy and no moral ties to any other human.

In saying this I am not trying to insist on a new patriarchal right to decide what the woman does regarding aborting or carrying a child to term. I am simply offering a corrective to the extreme view of “My body, my choice” where the choice is, militantly, the woman’s alone. I am saying that the condition of pregnancy, perhaps more than any other, implies, by definition, a physical and moral relation to another significant human being of the opposite gender, a realtion which can’t simply be swept under the carpet or ignored. This means, in practice, in my view, that although it is true that a pregnant woman cannot be prevented, ultimately, from walking into a clinic and undergoing an abortion one could suggest, morally (not with legal force), that she should, at least, seek to find out the opinion on the procedure of the male who impregnated her (clearly I am not speaking here of males who may have impregnated women without their proper consent). To simply cut the male out of the equation, even though the woman may disagree with him and, later act against his professed preferences, seems an untenable moral position given the nature of human biology and the relation it unavoidably puts us in.

I do understand that, in the final analysis, biology also decrees that the woman gives birth and, usually has the initial nursing are of the child and that some men will abandon that woman and child. If it transpires that there is a strong likelihood that that might be the case the men in question certainly forfeit the right to have their opinion on the matter heard. 

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