The Corner

Medhi Hasan and the Problem of the Pro-Life Lefty

Medhi Hasan, a former senior editor of the New Statesman and the current political editor of the Huffington Post UK, is a staunch progressive. He’s also a pro-lifer. This week, he wrote a column in the New Statesman about the (rare) interaction of those two positions. Hasan complained that, as a Leftist for Life, he is treated as something of a freak. “What I would like,” he asked, “is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists. . . . I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles. That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty.”

On this question, I feel for Hasan, and I certainly have a lot of sympathy for his observation that “the debate forces people to choose sides: right against left, religious against secular.” It is therefore unfortunate that he appears to be incapable of extending to the Right the courtesy he is requesting of his own side.

Early on in his essay, he argues that “abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and ‘defending the innocent’, while left-wingers fetishise ‘choice’, selfishness and unbridled individualism.” With this argument, Hasan exhibits a grievous — perhaps willful, as he’s certainly not stupid — misunderstanding of conservativism, by which the Right’s focus on the individual is magically transmuted into a cartoonish Gordon Gekko–style anarcho-libertinism. And, as is typical of progressive caricatures, Hasan overlooks both what it is that conservatives tend to do with the liberty they claim, and that there is any such thing as civil society. In Hasan’s world, the only mechanism capable of facilitating collective action is the state and the only alternative to the state is anarchy. Granted, if you consider conservatism to be synonymous with anarchy, then you might reasonably conclude that it is peculiar that conservatives who speak of liberty and personal choice would draw the line at the murder of the unborn. But it is not synonymous with anarchy, and Hasan should know better. (He might also ask himself why conservatives who bang on about freedom all the time aren’t also constantly trying to repeal the murder laws . . .)#more#

Anyhow, I don’t want to relitigate this misunderstanding. If Hasan chooses not to understand why conservatives tend towards the pro-life position, that’s his own lookout and I’m unlikely to change his mind. What is more interesting are the arguments he makes to his fellow-travelers on the Left:

“My body, my life, my choice.” Such rhetoric has always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?

Yes, a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body – but a baby isn’t part of her body. The 24-week-old foetus can’t be compared with an appendix, a kidney or a set of tonsils; it makes no sense to dismiss it as a “clump of cells” or a “blob of protoplasm.”

This is a pretty good point, and it exposes a genuine hypocrisy in the liberal position. It has long astonished me that a political philosophy that has a tendency to reject the notion that adults are capable of looking after themselves — and which is unashamedly in favor of using government to look after even those who do not appear to need looking after — would be so callously absent when it comes to the truly defenseless. If government really is the “only thing that we all belong to” (it’s not), then why on earth would it be absent in this critical area? (On this, note that Hasan ends his column by backing off: “I’m not calling for a ban on abortion; mine is a minority position in this country,” he writes.) 

Add to this philosophical quandary that the Left is the self-appointed “party of science” but that the scientific argument in favor of killing unborn children was thin to start with and is becoming more and more so with each day that passes, and you have a real problem. A problem, perhaps, that goes some way to explaining why progressive pro-choice rhetoric relies so heavily on non-sequitur war-on-women-style accusations and on phony charges of “theocracy.” To his credit, Hasan happily skewers these approaches, which he calls “smears”:

You can’t keep smearing those of us who happen to be pro-life as “anti-women” or “sexist”. For a start, 49 per cent of women, compared to 24 per cent of men, support a reduction in the abortion limit, according to a YouGov poll conducted this year. “Polls consistently show . . . that women are more likely than men to support a reduction,” says You – Gov’s Anthony Wells.

Then there is the history you gloss over: some of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, such Mary Wollstonecraft, were anti-abortion, as were pioneers of US feminism such as Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the latter referred to abortion as “infanticide”. In recent years, some feminists have recognised the sheer injustice of asking a woman to abort her child in order to participate fully in society; in the words of the New Zealand feminist author Daphne de Jong: “If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic or social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience.”

Third, please don’t throw faith in my face. Hitchens, remember, was one of the world’s best-known atheists. You might assume that my own anti-abortion views are a product of my Muslim beliefs. They aren’t. (And the reality is that different schools of Islamic law have differing opinions on abortion time limits. The Iranian ayatollah Yousef Saanei, for instance, has issued a fatwa permitting termination of a pregnancy in the first trimester.)

To support the point, Hasan quotes some of the most pro-life Christopher Hitchens quotations I’ve ever seen. I knew that Hitchens was pro-life (at least, to an extent) because I once saw him say so during a television interview. But I didn’t realize that he was this pro-life:

 “[A]nyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows that emotions are not the deciding factor [in abortions],” wrote the Hitch in his column for the Nation magazine in April 1989. “In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.”

Yes, you do.

It is fascinating to watch Hasan take a scythe to the cheap, hysterical nonsense that the Left typically throws at conservatives on the abortion question, especially given that he is as bad as them on almost every other issue. I grew up watching him on BBC Question Time, and despairing at how happy he was to throw the “racist” card whenever it suited his ends. I suppose that it’s different when you’re on the receiving end of it, huh?


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