Yesterday afternoon, in Euston, central London, I walked past a small group of women with a banner urging us to “Respect Life”, to say no to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty. They belonged, as is clear from their banner, to the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society. I rejected one of their leaflets (which I now regret) even so they were happy for me to take a photo of them.
Of course I am one of the pro-choice majority when it comes to abortion. I oppose forced pregnancy, I oppose forced abortion. Women’s rights must include bodily autonomy and the freedom to choose what is best for them, albeit within the confines of patriarchal society. Being pro-choice does not mean the same as being pro-abortion. It does mean making sure that women are supported, that though promoting and increasing access to contraception we reduce unwanted pregnancies, that through education we ensure that everyone understands how to avoid getting pregnant, as well as how to get pregnant. Pro-choice means increasing ease of access to legal, early, safe abortion. Pro-choice means not judging women who have abortion (s). I’ve heard that some infertile women oppose abortion, criticising women who have an abortion as ‘selfish’ when some of us can or could not have a child. I can’t see how reducing another woman’s liberties can ease the difficulty of infertility. Women should never be reduced to baby-making machines, just as those of us who cannot have babies are no less women.
Pro-choice means believing that every child should be a wanted child, that seemed so clear to me until a few days ago, until I thought about sex-selective abortion as a result of a failure to prosecute two doctors who had carried out abortions on the basis of the sex of the foetus. I am not comfortable with the position that ‘a woman’s right to choose’ can be extended to femicide. Like so often is the case for a radical feminist, the answer lies in ending the inequality between women and men. The answer here is to change and challenge those beliefs that see a woman as ‘less than’ a man, a girl as ‘less than’ a boy. Until this happens, I remain uncomfortable with sex-selective abortions. I oppose femicide, but a foetus cannot be more important than a woman, wanting every child to be a wanted child cannot be extended to forced pregnancy. Being pro-choice is respecting life, it is respecting the lives of women and children.
Euthanasia, assisted suicide and/or the right to die should never become the duty to die for fear of being a burden on others, should never become elder abuse or neglect. The costs and difficulties of care cannot be permitted to become reasons to kill. It’s clear that strong laws, an ethical legal framework and guidance are necessary. But being pro-choice and pro-bodily autonomy mean respecting the right to choose to die. Respecting life means respecting the right to die.
The Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society is opposed to the death penalty. They do not think that the state has the right to murder murderers and violent, repeat sex offenders. And neither do I. Neither does the UK government, the death penalty was abolished for murder in 1965, (in 1973 in Northern Ireland). It was not finally abolished for high treason, piracy with violence, arson in the royal dockyards or espionage until 1998. According to Amnesty, across the world 21 countries carried out 682 executions (excluding China where figures are not released but are known to be very high) in 2012. The top five executing countries in the world are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and USA, with Yemen closely behind. I hate violence but the death penalty is no solution. Though I understand the anger, the hatred for and the desire to punish those who abuse, rape and kill, the state should not be a killer. It’s illogical to argue that murder is wrong through murdering. Statistical evidence does not support that the death penalty deters crime. In the USA for example, murder rates in states that do not impose the death penalty have remained consistently lower than in states with the death penalty. It is also used disproportionately against those who face structural discrimination, people from black and minority ethnic groups. Respecting life means that the state should not be sanctioned to kill.
Worryingly, the Sir William Crookes Spiritist Society say that they provide counselling and moral education for children. Worryingly, I say, because I don’t believe abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are the same, I don’t believe that saying “No!” to them all is respecting life. I don’t want those that conflate them to have any role whatsoever in educating children. Respecting life does mean respecting the lives of killers and rapists. Respecting life means respecting choice, respecting life means respecting bodily autonomy. Respecting life means respecting women. Respecting life means respecting the right to die.