Respecting Life

Respecting Life photo

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.

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Anybody would think that Florida State Attorney Angela Corey has a problem with young black men and women

Angela Corey is an American attorney currently serving as the State Attorney in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court after being elected in 2008. She is the first woman to hold the position. Angela Corey is reputed to be a ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor. On average, Corey tries more male juveniles as adults than any other county court in Florida. However, Corey also tries a much greater percentage of black male juveniles as adults than the rest of Florida. In the five year period between 2006/7 and 2010/11, across the state of Florida, an average of 52 % of black male juveniles were tried as adults for crimes they had committed. Angela Corey tried an average of 70%. The same state over the same time period tried an average of 25% of white male juveniles as adults for crimes that they had committed, Angela Corey, on the other hand, tried an average of 18%. (Source)

florida juveniles tried as adults

In 2012, Julie Bindel interviewed Angela Corey. In a piece on the death penalty, Bindel quotes Corey talking about the death penalty:

“I had a young black woman tell me she was totally against the death penalty unless somebody killed someone in her family. Luckily justice is blind and we treat everyone’s loved ones the same.”

I do not support the death penalty. However, analysis of death penalty data tells us that Florida is far from unique with its racist application of ‘ justice’.  Since 1976, 35% of people executed in the USA were black, 56% were white.  Their victims were black in 15% of cases and white in 77% of cases. However, where the victim was white and the killer was black, there have been 261 executions (I prefer to see them as state sanctioned murders). Where the victim was black and the killer was white there have been only 20. What is particularly worrying is that America knows its justice is racist.   The United States General Accounting Office, Death Penalty Sentencing report from February 1990 states: “In 82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.”  Angela Corey is therefore just one of many, but if justice is -as she claims – blind, it is blind to racism not race.

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old young black man was chased, beaten and shot by George Zimmerman in Florida on 26th February 2012. Zimmerman claimed he feared for his life and was acting in self-defence.

Less than two years previously, Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old black American woman had been jailed under Corey.  On 1st August 2010, Marissa Alexander’s husband, Rico Gray, hit her, attempted to strangle her, threatened that no one else could have her and told her, “Bitch, I will kill you,” as he ran towards her. She fired a warning shot from her gun which was angled away from him. She did not hit him and originally Rico Grey said that he did not believe she had intended to kill him.

George Zimmerman pleaded self-defence,  even though he ignored a 911 call-taker’s recommendation that he did not need to leave his car and chase Trayvon Martin, even though, despite this recommendation to the contrary, he hunted for Trayvon Martin, confronted him, attacked him and shot him dead. Marissa Alexander was trying to flee from Rico Grey. She was in her mother’s home. He had attacked her moments before and was threatening to kill her. He has a record of domestic violence against her and several other women.

Trayvon Martin is dead. His shooter, his assailant, his attacker, George Zimmerman, walked free after being found not guilty of murder.

Rico Grey is alive and well. His shooter, who was trying to escape from him and against whom he has a history of violence, was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Marissa Alexander was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

George Zimmerman has a criminal record which included domestic violence and “battery of law enforcement officer”. Marissa Alexander did not have a prior criminal record.

Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little tougher on young black men than young white men. Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little less tough if the victim of crime is black. Anyone would think that ‘tough on crime’ prosecutor Angela Corey is a little tougher on crimes committed by black women with a history of being a victim of domestic violence.  Anyone would think that justice in America is racist.

Anyone wanting to support Marissa Alexander may want to sign this petition demanding that she is pardoned: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/503/600/056/dont-imprison-marissa-alexander-for-standing-her-ground/

Heard the one about another miracle IVF advance?

It’s surprising that I haven’t had five children, the number of miracle breakthroughs that there have been since the fourth and last time I had unsuccessful IVF treatment four years ago to the month. Prop open the doors of the maternity ward, ‘cos here comes another.

Today’s miracle, as reported by the BBC, concerns a mixture of citric acid and bicarbonate of soda to replace the carbon dioxide incubators, medical grade gas and air purification systems needed to grow the embryos outside the body before they are replaced in the womb. Apparently this will reduce the cost of IVF from approximately £5,000 per cycle to £170.

My partner and I paid for IVF three of the four times we had it. Those three cycles cost around £20,000 in total.

When paying for IVF, you pay for1

  • Blood tests (him and her)
  • Sperm tests
  • Drugs to down-regulate the woman’s cycle so that the next stage starts from a ‘zero base’ (usually taken for 10-14 days)
  • Drugs to hyperstimulate the ovaries so that multiple eggs are produced
  • The syringes to inject the aforementioned drugs into whatever part of the body deemed most appropriate twice a day (stomach for me)
  • Regular scans to monitor the progress of the ovaries (a good old internal probing every two or three days) along with blood checks to monitor hormone levels
  • A final mega injection of human chorionic gonadotropin to trigger ovulation
  • An operation (sometimes performed under general anaesthetic, sometimes local) to extract the eggs (involving an ultrasound-guided great big needle piercing the vaginal wall to reach the ovaries and suck out the eggs.)
  • The bit where eggs and sperm are introduced and hopefully the sperm fertilises the egg, then the embryo is left to develop for a few days
  • The transfer of fertilised embryos back in to the body
  • Progesterone pessaries (your choice – front or back)
  • Any other bit of quackery that you allow yourself to be duped into paying for.

Each stage of the process costs. The miracle process that will allegedly cut the cost of IVF treatment is the ninth one in the list above. I really cannot see how an advance in that stage of the process will reduce the total cost of IVF from (a conservative) £5,000 to £170. At best it will reduce the cost of that stage of the process.

The mainstream fertility industry in Britain is reportedly worth an estimated £500million a year (2011) and rising. Does anyone really think the industry is ready to kiss its profits goodbye?

And back to the BBC piece linked above, is there not a whiff of an incitement of racism, the special brand of racism reserved for people in developing countries, in the sentences : “Experts said there was big potential to open up IVF to the developing world.” Repeated later on, in case you missed it the first time as “If you don’t have a child in Africa, or also South America or Asia, it’s a disaster.” Or is it just me who imagines the ” ‘They’ don’t need encouraging to have any more babies” reactions of badly informed bigots who haven’t the inclination to take the time to understand the relationship between world poverty and birth-rates?

I’m angry that another development in the IVF process is being so irresponsibly reported as presenting something that it cannot. Not for me, it’s irrelevant. I’m done with IVF. But for everyone who will be getting a ‘don’t give up, have you heard about this new treatment?‘ call, text, email or even newspaper cutting over the next few days from well-intentioned friends and relatives who desperately want to support someone trying to conceive through IVF; for everyone who’s thinking, maybe they won’t give up, maybe with this they can afford to give it another xxx attempts, for every poor bugger whose hopes are being falsely raised by this article and others like it, I’m bloody raging.

1 There are several different methods of IVF, this is the method I had.

Just a typical week in June – ignoring men’s abuse of women and children

135,000 tickets were sold for the Glastonbury Festival this year. How many of those attending will have complained that one of the main stages was named after a child abuser? How many even knew? What is the conspiracy of silence that allows a man who has been directly and publicly quoted as saying  “Girls used to queue up outside oral sex they were particularly keen on, I remember one of my regular customers, as it were, turned out to be 13, though she looked older.” And “All they wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do.” to continue to be so venerated? John Peel’s Festive Fifties may indeed hold treasured memories for many of the music industry’s agenda setters but given that he happily admitted shoving his dick in the mouth of a 13 year old girl, isn’t it time to shove him off his pedestal?

It’s not even a week since Linzi Ashton was found dead in Salford, Greater Manchester.  She died from strangulation and multiple injuries resulting from severe beating.  Her former boyfriend, Michael Cope is currently wanted by the police for her murder, before she died, he was wanted for raping her.  Yet the Police,  who confirmed that Cope has  a history of violent and aggressive behaviour and represents a risk to the community, have described their relationship as ‘acrimonious’ and this has been picked up and repeated – not challenged and not identified as victim blaming- in multiple press reports.  Acrimonious means “caustic, bitter, harsh”, it implies duality.  It does not describe a man with a history of physical and sexual violence.

The bodies of a family of three from Ireland, living in Spain were discovered after reportedly being dead several days. It is thought that Philip Wood  shot dead his wife Sheila and their daughter Sophie before shooting himself. Press reports have included details of the pressure that Philip Wood was under, of money problems, of Sheila Wood’s ill health and Sophie Wood being disabled, none have looked at the deaths within the context of male violence against women.

FBI files seen and reported by a British newspaper revealed that dead pop star Michael Jackson paid out over £23million to buy the silence of at least two dozen boys he abused over 15 years.  The FBI has allegedly held files – which included private investigators’ reports, phone transcripts and hours of audio tapes dating back to 1989 – since 2002.   Jackson was cleared of a charge of abusing a child before his death in 2005.  The files, despite being in possession of the state,  were not passed on to  the prosecutors.  The state knew and the state kept quiet.

The process of grooming in child sexual abuse has gained  wider awareness though the trials of groups of men with multiple victims, including cases in Oxford and Derbyshire.  Earlier this month,  Jeremy Forrest, a teacher aged 30 was found guilty of five charges of underage sex with a pupil, then 15 years old.  Now aged 16, she has spoken to a newspaper and claimed that it was she who groomed her teacher, not the other way round.  The interview has been widely reproduced and sensationalised  across the press.  Grooming is a process by which an abuser gains trust and establishes an emotional connection, making a potential victim feel special as a preparation for abuse,  the perpetrator progressively sexualises the relationship.   The girl is legally a child and her adult teacher had a duty of care for her.  Press reports of a child grooming an adult are collusion with the adult abuser.  The collusion suggests that grooming is something that the press can only identify if the perpetrators are groups of Asian men.

35% of women worldwide have experienced male violence

38% of all murders of women worldwide are committed by intimate partners

There are an estimated 78,000 rapes in the UK every year

Last year at least 114 UK women were killed through male violence

The number of people convicted of sex offences on children aged under 16 in England and Wales increased by nearly 60% between 2005 and 2010.

But rather than the increasing awareness of the true extent of male violence against and abuse of women and children leading to an increased condemnation of perpetrators and an increased commitment to end gender based violence, the rising voices of the naysayers,  the pointing fingers of the victim-blamers and the deafening silence of those that look the other way seem to me to be getting louder.

Extremism: race, racism, religion, gender, power.

Within minutes of the breaking news of the violent murder of Lee Rigby, his death was being linked to Islamic extremism and terrorism. On the same day as his death, members of The English Defence League were involved in violent clashes with police in Woolwich, their Leader Tommy Robinson stating “This issue is political Islam,” adding, “It’s political Islam that’s spreading across this country.” By Friday, the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, had also visited and had tweeted that the alleged killers should be wrapped in “pig skin” and shot again. Four days after Lee Rigby’s murder, a so called copy-cat crime in France was reported on at least one national radio station, using this incident to illustrate the problem of Islamic extremism as an international one. Radical-Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, a man only likely to intensify anger and hatred, was given a platform by both the BBC and Channel 4. 48 hours after Lee Rigby’s death, Islamophobic hate crimes were running at 10 times their usual rate.

Also in the news this week, were the arrests of eight people, six men and two women, by police investigating an arson attack in Huddersfield in 2002. The fire killed eight, two women, one young man and five girls, three others, two women and one man managed to escape. Three young men were arrested shortly after the incident, one charged with murder and two with manslaughter. A fourth was arrested and ran away whilst on bail, he still has not been caught. Petrol was poured through the letter box, the house had been destroyed by the time fire engines had arrived, just four minutes after neighbours had called them upon hearing the windows smash as petrol-bombs were thrown into the house. That seven of the eight victims were women or girls and the four held responsible all young men seems to have evaded anyone’s notice. I wish I could believe that the omission of mention of the race of both victims and perpetrators meant that this was not seen as important, that it was a reflection of a society where people are valued equally, but I don’t. Every report has included the names of the dead, those who escaped and those charged. All but one of them, their visiting grandmother, were born and grew up in Huddersfield. Their names tell us that they were of south Asian descent. I wish I didn’t cringe at the photo and description of the ‘modest house’ in which 11 people were sleeping, believing this innocuous-sounding phrase, to be a judgment; and like the list of names, to be a statement of ‘other’.

It’s days since Lee Rigby was killed, there has been much discussion about the causes of extremism yet the issue of gender has been all-but ignored despite the glaring over representation of men, whether radical-Muslim, EDL or BNP. According to the Tell MAMA (Measuring anti-Muslim attacks) project, (in data collated before Lee Rigby’s death) 58% of anti-Muslim attacks reported to them are against women and girls with a 2:1 ratio of women victims in Islamic clothing compared to men in Islamic clothing, 75% of perpetrators are male and 54% of all cases are linked to supporters of the EDL and BNP. The gender patterns are clear – and predicable – to anyone who cares to look for them.

The heads of nearly 100 mosques have signed an open letter in which they describe the “absolute horror” that they share with the rest of British society at the crime committed “in the name of our religion”. Similarly, every EDL march is met with opposition, from both anti-fascist groups and members of local communities who want to make it known that the hatred and rhetoric of the EDL is not in their name.

So far this year, I’ve counted 39 UK women killed through suspected male violence. But the only voices linking these crimes are feminist ones. Mainstream media steadfastly refuses to make connections between sexism, misogyny, domestic and sexual violence and killing women. Identifying trends and making links is important, it helps us to identify causes and therefore – where there is the will – the potential to find solutions and create change. Why hasn’t a COBRA meeting been called to look at fatal male violence against women? Immediately when race or religion is a factor in violence, it is identified, named and often met with retaliation. Why isn’t it the same with sexist and misogynistic murder? The murder of Lee Rigby was abhorrent, but any murder is abhorrent. There should be no hierarchy. Could it be that it is only when the primary aggressors are those acting against, not reinforcing the dominant ideology, that the majority make links?

1 Tayyaba Batool, 13, Rabiah Batool, 10, Ateeqa Nawaz, 6, Aneesa Nawaz, 2, Najeeba Nawaz, 6 months, their mother Nafeesa Aziz, 35, and their uncle Mohammed ateeq-ur-Rehman, 18, their grandmother, Zaib-un-Nisa, 54.