Suddenly, what is a very small problem in Britain – the use of guns for criminal ends – gets blown up into a spectre haunting the nation.If you want people to think more about rape, you say ‘rape culture’.So we know 92 per cent of the 185,000 abortions were carried out in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy – which means the vast majority of women who access abortions services do so speedily and efficiently.
Suddenly, an inanimate object that we all use every day becomes imbued with menace.
If a politician were to say, ‘Knives are a normal part of everyday life, but a tiny minority of people use them to do bad things, so watch out’, no one would listen.
This is the very opposite of a culture programming women to behave in a particular way – it is individual women striking back against the circumstances they find themselves in and using their moral agency to take greater control over their bodies and futures. Our right to think and speak for ourselves, to act on our consciences, to pursue what we consider to be the good life, to determine our destinies for ourselves, to be the authors of our circumstances, is under attack.
They aren’t being shaped by some ominous culture; they are shaping their own culture, their own lives, as they see fit. The content of the decision matters only to the woman and her loved ones; but the act of making a decision, the act of exercising moral choice, is something we all have a very real interest in defending. In fact, the very Enlightenment view of individuals as, in Kant’s words, ‘more than machines’, who should ‘cultivate their own minds’ and ‘walk firmly’, is being assaulted today by a new culture – we can all use that word!
I’ve been asked to oppose the motion ‘This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All’. Well, 160,000 hip-replacement procedures were carried out last year, too. It’s because no one wants to ratchet up fear about those medical procedures, so the c-word isn’t necessary.
The reason I’m happy to oppose this motion is because it is built on a fallacy. Why do we not talk about a ‘hip-replacement culture’? But there are many who want us to view abortion with dread, to see it not simply as a medical procedure that some women choose but as a product of a culture of death and carelessness, which clueless women have apparently been pressured or conditioned to embrace. I find the term ‘abortion culture’ incredibly dehumanising.I don’t see carelessness for life; on the contrary, I see human life in action, in all its decision-making glory.I see 185,000 striving attempts to improve one’s life and to act on that most irrepressible of human instincts: to determine one’s destiny for oneself. It’s being tamed and constrained and in some cases flat-out undermined.But say ‘knife culture’ and it seems as though knives are sentient somehow, super scary, omnipresent in 21st century Britain.If you want people to worry about guns, you say ‘gun culture’.Abortion after 24 weeks is a very unpleasant procedure. But using our humanity, rather than the politics of fear, we can surely trust that these 190 women had a very good reason to undergo this unpleasant procedure.You and I know nothing of the individual circumstances of these 190 women and the possible turmoil they were going through when they opted for this unpleasant procedure. We can surely trust that they used reason and thought and moral agency, and talked to their loved ones, before deciding that they could not continue with their pregnancies.Some of the 185,000 will have found their abortions stressful, others will have seen them as a minor inconvenience; but all of them chose, all of them made a decision. It makes not a bit of difference to me whether a woman chooses to continue her pregnancy or end it. It isn’t the abortion I cheer – it is the fact that a choice is being taken by an individual over a key aspect of her life and future. – which says that actually we are weak and fragile creatures who can’t be trusted to make our way through life without lifestyle gurus, experts and officialdom to hold our hands.And to my mind, that means all of them did something intrinsically good: they exercised their moral and mental muscles and took responsibility for their life’s path. And it isn’t only the state carrying out this assault on the very ideal of autonomy. The alarmingly intolerant students who wanted to shut down tonight’s debate* also call into question the idea of autonomy.To bundle up 185,000 abortions – 185,000 individual decisions taken by individual sentient and intelligent women – as some mass culture is pretty disturbing actually.Because there are real-life individual stories, and a great deal of thoughtfulness, behind each of these 185,000 individual decisions taken by women.