Why the Alabama law might be more progressive than you think

Stephen Kneale is the pastor of Oldham Bethel Church, an FIEC church in the Greater Manchester area which is also affiliated to the North West Partnership. Here us a thought-provoking piece on his blog which we reproduce below:

Alabama is not usually considered a bastion of progressive ideology. If you listen to most of the liberal media reporting outlining their apparent ‘ban on abortion‘, you would imagine nothing much has changed. But I am sure we will, one day, look back at this and view them as ahead of the curve. It is certainly a progressive move.

First, the essential point revolves around the taking of life. We can speak about women’s rights all we like but if we are balancing the right of one human being to live over and against the right of another human being to do what they like to their own body, the right to life must win out. Let’s be honest, nobody thinks it is legitimate for one conjoined twin to murder the other on the grounds that both are attached so they can do what they like to their own body. We recognise that is murder, whether they are attached together or not. Despite the attachment, we see there are actually two bodies and two lives and one does not have greater rights than the other.

In no other scenario of one person demanding a right that would lead to the death of another human being would we even countenance the right to life as inferior. Where one person’s desires are impeded by the life of another, there is no scenario in which death would be deemed the more equitable, righteous outcome. The Alabama law reportedly bans abortion in cases of rape or incest because they recognise that one horrific, unpleasant action is not remedied by committing another. This is precisely the same argument employed by those who cannot countenance the death penalty, even for those who have committed the most heinous murders. That strikes me as remarkably progressive.

Second, even should we consider the taking of a child’s life for the sake of the woman a valid proposition, early feminists were always dead set against it. Susan B. Anthony – the social reformer, women’s rights advocate and suffragette – labelled abortion ‘child murder.’ Alice Paul, leader of the National Women’s Party who drafted the original version of the Equal Rights Amendment in America, called it ‘the ultimate exploitation of women.’ Many modern feminists fiercely hold to these arguments.

It is a common pro-abortion argument to claim that those who oppose it are more bothered about the rights of the unborn than the born. But many modern feminists argue that abortion harms women more than it helps them. Laury Oaks – Professor of the Department of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara – writes that that anti-abortion feminists believe abortion promotes ‘anti-motherhood social attitudes and policies and limit[s] respect for women’s citizenship’ and ‘perpetuates an uncaring, male-dominated society.’

Contrary to the common assertion against the pro-life position, many anti-abortion feminists claim that what women need to be equal is not access to abortion but to be given what they need to succeed as mothers. A society that advocates abortion on demand limits incentives to provide free childcare, flexible working and state support for mothers. They argue it is simply cheaper to kill children than to provide the things required to make women truly equal. If abortions were not so freely available, governments would have to invest more in caring for women and mothers.

Third, abortion on demand sidesteps the problem of women’s oppression. it is interesting that the BBC report that the law in Alabama would not permit abortion even in cases of rape or incest. But many feminists argue that the issue is not that the woman is pregnant (which abortion will resolve) but that the woman was raped or that incest took place (which abortion cannot resolve). The oppression of women is sidestepped and only one consequence of her oppression is addressed to the detriment of the innocent child. The solution addresses a non-problem. A better, more equitable use of public resources would be to pursue those who commit rape and serve justice rather than spend that money on aborting the resultant life that has been created.

Fourth, anti-abortion feminists argue abortion comes with higher risk to females. Statistics bear out that girls are far more likely to be terminated than boys. The campaign group, Feminists for Life, have argued ‘We believe in a woman’s right to control her body, and she deserves this right no matter where she lives, even if she’s still living inside her mother’s womb.’ They argue that women – both mothers and children – deserve better than abortion.

All of these are pro-women, pro-life arguments. There is often a false dichotomy thrown up that those who appear to care most about the life of the unborn seem not to care about the life of the born. But in many cases, this is demonstrably untrue. There are many advocates of the pro-life position who also advocate for women’s equality and support for mothers. Many do, indeed, want to see excellent social provision for the born as well as caring for the unborn as well.

It is commonly assumed that the only progressive position on abortion is the one that permits it on demand. But there is a good case to suggest that abortion on demand is detrimental to women – both the born and the unborn – and it undermines the case for better social provision for women and mothers.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the state commonly assumed to be the most backward and regressive in America turned out to be the one with the most progressive view on abortion after all? Wouldn’t it be funny if the other states looking to do the same – and even funnier if more still followed – looked back on this sea-change and saw Alabama as the progressive leading light on this issue? As we are moving into the era of 3D colour scans of children in the womb, as we learn more and more about both the child in utero and the societal impact of abortion on women and mothers, Alabama may be found to be far more progressive and forward thinking than many dare to admit.


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