"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Shooting down another trial ballon

 Kitchener MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to reopen the abortion debate (not exactly as pictured above) will not end well for anyone.

I dislike writing about abortion for a number of reasons.

No matter what I write, someone is going to be furiously calling me a baby killer or a misogynst. There was a time when I would have been called both.

It is a commonly held idea in journalism that if both sides are mad at you, you must be doing something right. It is an idea commonly held by people in my field who favour glib centerism, false dichotomies and nonsensically balancing arguments in a "he said vs she said" manner for the sake of false objectivity.

Those are the same people who bring us stories along the lines of: "People have agreed for centuries that the Earth is round, but local street person Mr. Angry McTrafficyeller says he had a dream that Earth is shaped like a giant burrito. Who's right? The answer is unclear." They are a plague upon the profession. Having both sides mad at you might mean you've wisely taken the middle ground between two equally repellant extremes, but it might also suggest that both sides are mad at you because you are an idiot who is either unwilling or unable to judge the merits of the evidence presented or principles espoused and make a decision. 

On the issue of abortion, there are two very clear sides taking absolutist positions. To the so-called pro-life side, life begins at conception and any abortion is murder. On the pro-choice side, any attempt to interfere with a woman's control over her own body is a form of enslavement.

With courts in the U.S. and Canada striking down the outright ban on abortion, pro-life right-wingers are increasingly seeking to impose as many humiliating conditions as possible on the pregnant woman and her doctor in an effort to make abortions virtually impossible to obtain.

The pro-life campaign has seen doctors performing abortions driven out of many jurisdictions by a combination of local legal barriers and intimidation tactics ranging from clinic protests intended to harass staff to bombings and assassinations.Women seeking abortions have had to overcome barriers in some jurisdictions ranging from efforts to mislead with fake counselling centres to bans on insurance funding  to waiting periods and lately, even mandatory ultrasounds.

And by mandatory ultrasounds, we are not talking about the doctor smearing conducting gel on the woman's belly and running a probe over it -- we are talking about doctors being required by law, on pain of losing their licence to practice medicine, to insert an electronic device into a woman's vagina and show her a "picture" of the fetus. The woman is required to submit to this gross violation, which some have called state-mandated rape. The law says she must look at the display screen - before an abortion can be performed, no matter what the circumstances, even if the procedure is in response to a rape or needed to save her life.

On the pro-choice side, many are fighting to ensure access for all in the face of the sustained anti-abortion onslaught. Most of the more extreme legal barriers described above involve antiabortion campaigns in the U.S. but Canada has hardly been immune. There are demonstrations and bombings and even assassinations. There are no doctors performing abortions in Prince Edward Island and the Wild Rose Party is promising to defund abortions in Alberta.

As my esteemed colleague Dr. Dawg has put it, there are can be nuances in the abortion debate - things like the role of public funding in a private health care system and parental notification for underage girls come to mind - , but there are no grey areas in a woman's right to choose. Not to get all philosophical on you dear reader, but She either has it or She doesn't, and I defy you to prove any human does not have the right to make a choice, even, or perhaps especially, if the choice is between life and death.

Forget about abortion for a moment and consider the principle of choice more generally. We may not have a legal right to choose what we choose, whether it is the choice to drive over the speed limit, smoke marijuana or machine-gun a bus load of nuns, but we can make a choice to break the law. Some people make a choice to give up their own lives to save others (we call them heroes), others make the choice to defy or obey the law for all sorts of reasons.

We know that women will make a choice about abortion whether the law allows it or not. When it comes to abortion,  other than providing an iron-clad absolute legal recognition of this right to make a choice (and thereby rendering the consequences of the choice legally valid), the only possible role any law can take is to restrict the innate right of choice.

In the case of abortion, we know that choice will be made - one way or another - by women every day. So to recognize reality and mitigate possible harm and generally promote the common good, I would argue that the progressive position should be that the state must support the right to choose -- and recognize that it is an absolute right. 

Simply put if you have a moral objection to abortion - and I recognize that many do - then by all means don't have an abortion. That is your choice.

Now, to get all inside-blogger on you gentle reader, there is a battle royale raging through Twitter and the Canadian progressive blogosphere concerning a possible boycott of Prog Blogs by the bloggers at  Dammitt Janet and others.

They are upset about posts by a few member blogs to the effect that they were okay with Stephen Woodworth, the conservative MP for Kitchener, reopening the abortion debate in Canada by prompting a Parliamentary discussion on the legal personhood of fetuses -a more fulsome description of which can be found here.

I have some sympathy for the bloggers who set off the fury with their posts about 'discussion' - clearly they didn't realize the minefield they were stepping into. I disagree with  what was said over at Canadian Soapbox, but I have some sympathy for the blogger who thought he was being reasonable in favouring discussion.

He, and many others, were shocked and offended by the angry tone taken by Fern Hill. I think they were surprised at the vehemence with which she made here case and the abrasive tone she took, when they felt they fundamentally agree with her position. Having interacted with Fern Hill many times in the past, I will stipulate that she is definitely both vehement and abrasive and can seem to be very thin-skinned with a hair-trigger. (These are things I like about her, but more about that shortly)

I'm sure more than a few people felt Fern Hill and her supporters were overreacting and going after what looked like minuscule molehill-sized differences in approach between allies with a gigantic mountain-cracker thermonuclear shithammer. I mean, after all, abortion is legal. We all agree it should be legal. This is a settled matter, right?

And that is exactly the point. Why open a settled matter - one that was settled one agonizing step out of the Dark Ages at a time? Who does it possibly serve to discuss whether water is wet or the sky is blue or women have the right to make a choice? In the words of Billy Crystal: Why don't you just give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? Yes, by all means let us discuss whether women can make choices, let us go tap dancing through that mine field!

No, Fern Hill's response - instantaneous angry indignation - to having supposed allies mention that they are open to discussing giving up her rights is pretty much pitch perfect and to be respected. 

To lift the vocabulary of the other side, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom and extremism in the defence of liberty is no sin and all that jazz,  because there is a slippery slope, this is the thin end of the wedge. By agreeing to any related discussion, we cede the notion that a woman right to choice is a settled matter.

There are people out there who want Woodworth discussion to go ahead because for them it is the first step in a long game. It gives them a chance to reframe the debate. If we are going to discuss legal personhood of the unborn today, tomorrow we are going to be talking about putting women in prison for murder for killing unborn persons.

This is something that people need to be thin-skinned about, something that deserves a hair-trigger, massive response. It is only way to keep the forces of oppression from gaining a foothold.

And as much as I hate the notion of infighting at a time when progressives need to be united in the face of the never-ending conservative campaign, if it takes a boycott of Prog Blogs to make people understand that, well, so be it.

On a related and much more darkly humorous note, Kari Anne Roy nails it in McSweeny's with "An Open Letter to the Tiny White Man the Republican Party has Sent to Live in My Underpants"



Dave said...

Nicely done, Rev.

Have to say, that final link left me in stitches. Loved this part:

My bajingo is here to stay. And it needs constant care and attention, just like a hermit crab, or a dwarf hamster.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. When I looked at Gordiecanuk's blog yesterday, he’d compounded his original mistake by shirtily complaining that he’d been attacked for trying to “elevate the tone of the debate.” I shook my head. I can’t imagine how he thought framing womens’ basic right to security of the person as a debatable matter would be met with anything other than hostility in the first place, but the elevation quote was the crass icing on a cake made of unacknowledged male privilege. I don’t know Fern Hill, but I didn’t blame her for responding the way she did.

Gordie Canuk said...

Enjoyed your post very mucy...fwiw i wasn't surprised by the reaction, I fully anticipated it. I'm not a fan of of squelching debae however. Yes you are right, ultimately and if its an either or question I am definitely Pro-Choice...and maybe no middle ground is possible for the reasons you enumerate. But at the end of the day the ultimate progressive attitude in my view is exemplified by the words of Voltaire who said something akin to:

While I may disagree with what you have to say, I will defend to the end your right to say it.

Freedom to express an opinion, especially an unpopular one, is the litmus test in my view when it comes to defining that which is progressive.

Scotian said...


I agree with Dave, nicely done indeed! There are some things where you have to be this reactive to about, and basic equality/human rights certainly fail into that category for me. The problem so many that want to "be reasonable and have a sensible debate like civilized folks do" fail to see is that you cannot have such when it comes to basic human rights, it is literally trying to eat your cake and have it, it doesn't work in reality! Personally I dislike abortion, have serious moral qualms about it and always have, but I also have always been ardently pro-choice politically because I do not have the right to impose my morals on the bodies of others. I do not understand why that is such a hard concept for so many to grasp. Now, if someone was arguing to mandate abortions for people I would be up in arms, but then that is only the mirror image of what those wanting to criminalize it want, eh?

I'm old enough to have been raised by those that were born at the turn of the 1900s, and I know from those women the real life horror stories that came from back alley abortions and the hanger, those aren't apocryphal, they really happened with depressing frequency. Some of their peers died that way thanks to the internal bleeding, and I raise this point to underscore the point that this is something that will happen one way or the other, so which way is better, the old way I just described or the new way that saves the life of the woman, and indeed leaves her able to procreate at a later date if she wishes? This latest attempt by the CPC to backdoor open this Pandora's box and to further assault the right of women to be as free, equal, and in charge of their bodies as men are is disgusting and no one that claims to be a progressive, or even a sensible moderate centrist should support this idiocy IMHO.

There are certain things which one must treat as bright line concerns/issues, and this is one of them. It is no coincidence after all that women started making major gains in the equality battles once reliable contraception became available, something I think few men truly grasp is how critical being able to prevent pregnancy truly is for women to be able to exercise equality in our societies because of how much a pregnancy and then early childcare takes for a woman to have to deal with in all forms of resources and prevents them from being able to be active in significant power structure realms/aspects of our society, not least the workforce. For women control over their bodies is the beginning of where their equality rights begins, but then that is true for men as well, but since we don't have the additional aspect of child creating we don't think of it so much, and I find it odd and disturbing that the vast majority of voices that are "pro-life" are not only males but white males to boot, not women who you would think would be the more concerned party since they are the ones most affected either way in this argument, something to think about. Well, didn't mean to go off on a tangent here, just wanted to say excellent post Rev.

Daniel Johnson said...

Saying that a fetal human child is a human child is not waging a war on women, it is simply stating a biological fact. I can't oppose abortion itself while a sick social-economic regime exists that makes it necessary for many women, but any meaningful definition of 'progressive' would have to include among it's goals the eventual elimination of that necessity. There is birth control, etc., though in cases of rape it's a different issue, but the basic disregard for human life inherent in many of the pro-abortion arguments is disturbing, and sets a precedent. I support assisted suicide, but not with family arranging it against the person's will. If some women are 'outraged' that this issue is still being discussed, maybe they should consider how outraged some of us are at the 'progressives' who have taken the next logical step and argue for the right of parents to kill their disabled child after they're born. After all, how can we force those parents to support a child they don't want? Also, by trying to use bullying tactics and blanket accusations against anyone bringing up the other side to this issue, they are further convincing the bulk of working class people, men and women, who hold a variety of middle grounds on this and other issues, that they're not welcome in any 'progressive' movement and just disengage from the process. But, then, that's the real function of the false 'left-right' dichotomy, strong opposing positions with certain, well placed, bullying fanatics on both 'official' sides, with degrees from the same universities and ultimately loyal to the same system, to prevent any rational discussion or middle ground from forming so that most people just disengage from the political process altogether because they can't agree to either side, or attack and villainize each other because of positions neither of them really disagree on if they talk about it.

Orwell's Bastard said...

Gordie and Daniel can spout as much of their sophistry as they like, but they've forfeited the right to characterize themselves as progressives. We're not going to "debate" about whether our fellow citizens have rights. That discussion's over.

fern hill said...

Thank you, Kevin.

BTW, Gordie is getting off on this.

Holly Stick said...

Gordie, you are free to write your pompous twaddle and to express your ill-informed opinions for anyone who has the time to waste reading them. But you are not free to call yourself a "progressive" when you argue that women's human rights must be subject to your approval.

Gordie and his ilk are too dim to understand that this is a question of definitions. Progressives do not muse about removing women's human rights. The people who run Progressive Bloggers have never really understood what the word "progressive" means.

Dana said...

What the fook is a 'Gordie_Canuck' and what rock does it live under?

Jaybus be lively I've not read such adolescent drivel since I used to peruse the pages of Free Republic in the early 21st century during the Bush years.

Rat poison on my screen.

Now I have to disinfect.

Scotian said...


Simply put, your first sentence is irrelevant to the underlying reality that first and foremost the only people in a free society with equal rights are those that have control over their own bodies and safety and the right to make choices with it. It is not the fault of women that biology straddled them with all the biological consequences of procreation and we males get off scot free in that department, but it still comes down to the basic fact that it is their bodies and their decision because they are the ones who have to bear all the consequences, pure and simple. As I said before I don't like abortion personally for a bunch of reasons, but I always have been ardently pro-choice since before Morgantaler started his war for access to abortion because of that basic reality. As to your whining about how people are reacting, just as your free speech rights gives you the right to first say these things, so does theirs/ours give us the right to fire right back, and our right to choose who we wish to assemble with (and conversely NOT assemble with) equally allows us to tell you and for those that chose it to tell ProgBlogs goodbye over it. No one is squelching your right to speak, but your right to speak does not mean you have a right to determine your audience, either, something I find too many people tend to forget when they pull out the free speech card.

Bottom line, human rights are not something you can blur, they are a bright line. For women, just as for men, the first and most basic line of proof that they have freedom, have basic human rights, is when they have control over their own bodies and making decisions about it without outside interference. It really is that simple, and btw, since there has been no burning outcry to revisit this issue outside of a very small fringe percentage of the populace for almost a quarter century now you would think that might tell you something about what to expect when you decide to give legitimacy to what is clearly meant as an attack on those basic human rights where women are concerned as defined by Canadian law and the Charter.


I hope you don't mind my response to him, if you would prefer I did not engage such here given the nature of the topic I will abide of course, but I get so tired of those that fail to understand that just because you have the right to say something does not mean you get to pick your audience, have to be engaged, or even need to say it in the first place, let alone the fact that everyone else has the same right and may tell you to shove it, as has clearly happened in this case. Voltaire's quote gets abused too much these days, because none of us are calling for anyone's right to free speech to be squelched, just that we disagree with what was said and do not wish to be associated with said opinions because in our minds it is not progressive (or even mainstream for that matter) opinions. No one called for censorship here, that is a false flag argument IMHO, all that is really up for debate is the definition of progressive and whether those that claim it truly can be if they do not see basic human rights issues as a bright line not to be crossed. While I myself do not call myself "progressive" although many of my views are certainly in line with such I see the point of the argument and understand why there is such an uproar, and personally I think with merit which is why I've chosen to dive in despite my limited commenting these days.

lenin's ghost said...

great post, Rev......

Gordie Canuk said...

Holly Stick...thank you for affirming my right to express my opinion, that much is appreciated.

As for that which defines a progressive, progressiveness like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

You (as with everyone here) do not view my opinion vis a vis placing limits on late term abortions post viability as a progressive point of view.

I can accept that and take no issue with your opinion, we're all entitled to our views and the expression of same.

I don't particularily care for some of the tone, or for those who choose to characterize me as some fundamentalis whack job...especially given the fact that I'm not a religious guy...but demonizing those with which one disagrees is hardly new.

Frankly this kind of rhetoric is something I more typically expect from the neo-con crowd. The old saw, be wary of your enemies or you'll become just like them seems to apply.

Holly Stick said...

Gordie, your views are worthless. Your weaselly wanking about what progressiveness is equally worthless. You are intellectually inferior to most of the people commenting at this blog post.

Rev.Paperboy said...

Scotian, all are free to comment on the post and on the comments of others, I just don't want to see any flame wars.
Keep in mind that Gordie is Pro-choice at heart, he just fell for the conservative "let's have a reasonable debate" bullshit as they try to open a new front.

Beijing York said...

Any arguments having to do with 3rd term terminations have the same bogus smell as the US 'partial birth' abortion meme. They are purposely meant to obfuscate the argument with rare and/or conditional events. Such arguments are much like the "ticking bomb" scenario proposed by faux liberals with respect to limited use of torture. Both are hogwash and not worthy of being advanced by anyone who considers themselves progressive.

the regina mom said...


As a woman who has been working on this issue for more than 25 years now, I am very grateful for this post. It says everything I could have possibly said were I not so fucking angry!

For you to understand that, to get the outright rage I feel at the very thought of having my rights -- and worse, the rights of my daughter (who is now very near the age I was when I secured an illegal abortion) -- trod upon in this way, by those who are supposed to be allies, well, that's something. I have been too fucking angry to truly express myself, I think, so, thanks!

I have been sniping on Twitter. It's all I could do, to pair my righteous anger with precise 140-character wordsmithing, to get through, to come to some kind of understanding for myself as to what, exactly, had transpired, what it meant and, more importantly, figure out what else I could do.

As a result, I have left ProgBlogs, as I should have done years ago when I first realized that those folks are not about progress, but rather that they are what Holly Stick so eloquently stated at The Beav, "Progressive if Necessary but Not Necessarily Progressive Bloggers."

Scotian said...


No problem, I don't do flame wars anyway, not my style. I would point out I was responding to Daniel, not Gordie in your thread though. I asked because some folks prefer this sort of issue not get debated in their comment threads and since I am not a regular commentator here I did not know your preference which was why I asked.

Smartpatrol said...

Spelling it out for 'tards like Gordie, who think being deliberately obtuse is the same as presenting an argument:

A egg is not a chicken.
An acorn in not an oak tree.
A fetus is not a person.

Also: Gordie & Co.'s entire non-argument is based on the false premise that we're taking about people who engage in good faith, when the stated goals and subsequent behavior on the other side of the fence are obvious to anyone who has been paying attention for the last 50 years: they don't want a debate - they want their odious anti-intellectual, anti-modernist belief system to rule over all. They see "debate" as a cover for injecting their rhetoric into the public sphere the same way that organized crime uses legitimate businesses as a means of laundering their money to make their ill-gotten gains legitimate & respectable. It is for that reason that I do not believe them, & I trust them even less.

By making such appeals to "debate" & "rational discussion" on a topic that is already legally & socially settled for the majority of us that are perfectly confident in the knowledge that one's body is one's own property & that the 1st & last word re: what happens to that body is the sole discretion of the owner, Gordie & Co. are ignoring the evidence of their own senses & decades of irrefutable proof that the religious right-wing - aka the Reconstructionists / Kingdom of Dominion / Xofascists - are a pack of disingenuous liars who will say & do anything for the sake of furthering their agenda, & find useful-idiot mysognerds like Gordie & Co. as a perfect means of giving their irrational, wrong-headed stone-age belief system an appearance of modern, reasonable respectability. Gordie has made himself their bitch and he insists on having the right to shit where the rest of us need to eat.

People who surrender their integrity without a fight - enthusiastically surrender their integrity for the sake of scoring some cheap, low-hanging rhetorical points - are more than a little pissy when it comes to dealing with others that refuse to make the same mistake by gambling with their personal bodily autonomy in a hostile environment because they already know that the 1st rule is The House Always Wins.

You're a chump, Gordie. You fell for the sucker punch. You could've had class, but it was just too hard for you.

sunsin said...

Quite apart from rights, why are we discussing (clearly implied) changes to a policy that is an unqualified success even from the anti-abortion angle? Compare our abortion rate to that of our god-addled neighbors to the south and you'll see what I mean. We have fewer abortions per capita than jurisdictions in which the procedure is completely illegal, for heaven's sake. Reopening the abortion debate is madness.

Smartpatrol said...

@ sustin - because they don't want to reduce or eliminate abortion.

This is the dirty little open secret about the forced-birth crowd that everyone needs to keep in mind when dealing with the Fetus Fetishists: they don't want to reduce or eliminate abortion - they want to deregulate & criminalize abortion for the sole purpose of making the entire process of securing an abortion a criminal offense that they can punish with the full force of the law behind them, and by making the actual abortion procedure difficult to procure, expensive to pay for and as septic and professionally unsupervised as possible they want to discourage as many women as possible from subjecting themselves to a procedure where they run the risk of winding up maimed for life or even dead. But hey, the nasty little slut got what was coming to her. Right Gordie?

The reichtards know that they'll never eliminate abortion - you simply cannot stop a desperate woman from seeking an abortion, so they deliberately work to make abortion dirty, painful, dangerous & expensive. Why? Because they don't give a shit about actual babies - they're out to punish women for not choosing them, for their independence & autonomy & for having sex that they don't approve of. Otherwise society will be overrun by the super-slutty Super Sluts & their super slutty McSluttiness

Once you start considering that what passes for "Conservatism" is just straight-up sadism-with-a-smile a lot of superficially contradictory behaviors & pronouncements suddenly gel & become clear.

Gordie Canuk said...

Just a quick note...even the justice who wrote the Morgentaller decision called on elected representatives to establish a point at which abortion could be regulated, and she is reported to have been a feminist, GASP.

Regardless it looks to be a dead issue at this time, which I'm sure many here will seem as a victory. Congratualtions.