exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

sometimes i even surprise myself

by Jen at 6:30 pm on 1.06.2009 | 14 Comments
filed under: like a fish needs a bicycle, rant and rage

i’ve been thinking a lot about the murder of dr. tiller today, and the kind of courage of one’s convictions it must take to go to work every day in the face of attempted assassinations and persistent acts of terrorism.  there are few in this world who could do it, i’m sure.

dr. tiller performed late-term abortions – that moral gray area that even many pro-choice voters have twinges of unease about.  the kinds of abortions that are so highly charged and emotive (even being called “partial-birth” abortions) because they stray into the murky areas of “rights”, elusive definitions of “life”, and all sorts of other sticky stuff that ethicists and the law have not yet been able to agree upon.

the reason i bring this up, is because thinking about dr. tiller’s death today, has for me, solidified some views i didn’t even know i had, and made me examine the logic of my own beliefs – with some surprising results.

in thinking about why his death outrages me so, i realised it’s because i think that women *must* have access to abortion up to the point of birth.  i know that’s not a very palatable opinion for most, but i fervently believe that women must have complete and total autonomy over their own bodies at all times.  i believe that until women everywhere have this autonomy (in the forms of contraception, health care, and abortion, *as well as* freedom from all forms of physical and sexual violence or coercion) there will never be true equality for women anywhere.

but in pondering that, i began thinking about the true meaning of autonomy – and that’s not just the ability to be free from harm, but also the ability to use (and even exploit) one’s own body.  which lead me to the first surprise realisation of the day: i guess that means i believe women should have the right to sell their own bodies for others’ pleasure – even if i believe that it undermines other women’s efforts to be free of violence or coercion.  i’ve never been for the legalisation of prostitution before, and never quite grasped the concept of legalising prostitution as a means to empower women.  much like some kinds of misogynistic porn**, i’ve always deplored the fact that there is a market for it, but been resigned to its existence.  however if i truly believe that women should have complete autonomy over their bodies, then that means *i* don’t get a say in what they do with them either.  and further, (following on from my own logic above) in a world where there is true autonomy for all, there will be true equality, and therfore prostitution/stripping/porn will only be entered into by individuals out of genuine free will, and will no longer be acts which demean and objectify people on the wrong side of a power imbalance.

wow.  colour me surprised.

secondly, i was thinking about the characterisation i’ve been reading in some blogs, of anti-abortion groups (such as operation rescue and their ilk) bearing much of the responsibility for dr. tiller’s death.  the argument being, that such groups have deliberately used seditious rhetoric as a means to garner support for their actions, and that by fanning the flames, they incited this man (and other recent shooters) to murder.  they decry the lukewarm disavowals by such groups of dr. tiller’s killing, as being tacit condonation of his murder.

this whole argument puts me in mind of those who, after the london bombings, said the “moderate muslims” did not come out strongly enough against what had happened, or hadn’t done enough to stop it fomenting in the first place.  and as i wrote here before, that just puts a bad taste in my mouth.  i don’t think that people who just happen to be from the same largely-peaceful religion bear *any* responsibility for the acts of a small handful of nutters.  that’s like saying that all christians should bear some responsibility for the the actions of timothy mcveigh – they should have cried out more against his horrific actions, or done something more to ensure he would never kill anyone in the first place.

i just don’t think you can apportion blame solely based on commonalities with someone who clearly has mental health problems.  and that’s what this boils down to: someone with mental health problems made the completely insane connection between their stance on abortion, and gunning down someone they disagreed with.

a sane person, no matter how het up over the abortion issue, could never be goaded into shooting dr. tiller in broad daylight.  and a crazy person who thought they *had* to kill him, could never be dissuaded.

so while it might make me, in a fit of intense frustration and despair, feel better to tar and feather all anti-choice groups with the same bloody brush, it simply doesn’t make sense.  no matter how vehemently i believe their clinic-blockading, abusive tactics and scaremongering to be wrong, i cannot lay dr. tiller’s death at their feet.

and there, in a nutshell, is surprise number two.  i can’t be angry at the pro-lifers over this one.

** i don’t by any means believe that all porn is misogynistic or harmful to women.  but far too large a proportion of it is.

i’m not engaging debate on this one, i’m afraid. i’ll leave comments open for the time being, but reserve the right to delete at my discretion, because i don’t believe this is a topic where anyone’s mind will be changed. certainly not my own.



  • 1

    Comment by Noble Savage

    2.06.2009 @ 08:50 am

    I agree with you on both points. My husband and I were discussing the first point last night and while, like you said, it can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about and acknowledge, I believe so strongly in a woman’s right to autonomy that I came to similar conclusions.

  • 2

    Comment by Strawberry

    3.06.2009 @ 03:33 am

    Sincere kudos to you for coming to such a calm and reasoned conclusion regarding the killer, amid all the anger, hysteria, and wild reactions that are running amok everywhere else.

  • 3

    Comment by Jen

    3.06.2009 @ 05:54 am

    thanks for your comments guys.

    strawberry, i did edit out the link you provided, as i am not at this time entertaining or hosting any opposing views on the abortion topic. hope you understand.

  • 4

    Comment by Strawberry

    3.06.2009 @ 14:47 pm

    Jen, I do totally understand. However, I don’t know if you read the blog post in the link, but it wasn’t an opposing view regarding abortion. It was another analysis (written by a prochoice blogger) of the motivation behind the killer’s actions, which came to a different conclusion than you did, and which I thought was interesting and relevant in light of your post.

    (If you have lost the link and would like to see it, it’s http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/06/a_really_long_post_about_abort.php. I am quite happy for you to edit this part out again if you prefer. However, I’d be grateful if you’d let the bit before the brackets stand, as otherwise it kind of looks like I’m an idiot who couldn’t follow very basic instructions and just obnoxiously posted a prolife link. Cheers.)

  • 5

    Comment by Jen

    3.06.2009 @ 17:18 pm

    i’ll admit, i only scanned the article in a hurry this morning, on my way out to work. it would be difficult on first glance, without having read it thoroughly, to have realised it was a pro-choice blog. particularly where she references analogies such as slavery, often used in pro-life arguments.

    nevertheless, she says:

    But I remain stuck with a fundemantal problem: I can understand their moral logic. When someone whose moral logic I can understand, even endorse (without endorsing the underlying judgement about the personhood of the fetus) is driven by that moral logic to kill, I think there may be a problem that society needs to solve. When more than one kills for the same cause, I assume that there’s a structural problem in the political process that needs to be fixed. I’m not saying the violence is okay–I think Tiller’s murderer needs to go to jail. But like many contributors to Obsidian Wings, I can understand the structural forces that contribute to Palestinian terrorism without believing the terrorism is legitimate.

    (emphasis mine)

    and i have to reject out of hand her supposition that there is *any* logic in the acts of a murderous madman, moral or otherwise. put simply, i cannot believe that rational people can be made to murder. likewise, i do not believe that rational people commit terrorism, or suicide bombings, etc. if i were to believe that an act like this could be the natural conclusion of following a certain line of reasoning, and that rational, logical people, (who are not otherwise under the mental duress of war or self-defense), can be capable of cold-blooded murder… then i have to believe that *i*, or anyone i know, could be capable of murder. and that contradicts everything i’ve ever known or experienced about humanity in my life thus far.

    i could be wrong, of course – but i don’t think i am. actually, i *choose* to believe i am not.

  • 6

    Comment by Strawberry

    3.06.2009 @ 20:59 pm

    I found that particular blog intriguing because:
    1) You’re right, it was hard to tell at the onset whether the author is pro-life or pro-choice, and I think that is a good thing and helpful to the whole debate. Too often, abortion-related discussions begin with a definitive declaration of each participant’s position, at which point half of the group stops listening to them. And too often, people don’t want to even read (or discuss or entertain) an article unless they know ahead of time which “side” the author is on — and when we find ourselves doing that, I think we *have* to stop and ask ourselves if this doesn’t actually make us as close-minded as both sides are always accusing the other side of being. So, I really liked that the blog post was almost undeclared in that way. I think it would improve the whole situation if we could all get away from declaring our positions right from the start, and perhaps there’d be a bit more discussion, maybe even a bit more listening, and… dare I say it, some reconsideration…? (call me crazy)
    2) I loved that the author was able to remain calm and rational (as you were) in her analysis of such a highly-charged subject. But more than that, I loved that she sees that both sides are coming at the situation from rational, logical, even morally logical positions — completely different logic on both sides, but both logical. So often, we demonise the other side as being irrational, illogical, and motivated by selfishness, hatred, and even evilness, and we wrap the whole thing up in so much indignation and hysteria that it’s nearly impossible to cut through it enough to even examine the other side’s arguments. Whereas I believe the truth is that both sides come at the issue from places of real compassion and good will, and well-thought-out, logical arguments (with a few illogical bad apples on both sides). It was deeply refreshing to read a blog post that not only acknowledged that there is moral logicality on both sides, but also analysed it in a way to move the discussion forward, rather than to just create more hysteria and entrenchment.

    Regarding your comments on logic/rationality and murder, I disagree. I think there are a lot of totally sane, totally rational people who have committed murder — if not, then the insanity plea could and would be used every single time. And I don’t believe it takes as much as war or self-defense to push a person to murder. Lots of people have murdered out of greed, out of anger, out of passion. …Even out of principle. I don’t believe that murder is solely within the domain of the irrational/illogical/insane.

    But looking specifically at the case of this murder, I think that it’s important to acknowledge that pro-lifers do feel that they are in a situation as dire as any war. To look at it from their point of view, they see what they believe to be human babies being killed every single day, time and again, without end. Whether you agree or disagree with that is immaterial — that is the situation as they understand it and that is as distressing and stressful as any war and, therefore by your definition, could be enough to push a rational person to murder in order to bring about an end to it.

  • 7

    Comment by Strawberry

    3.06.2009 @ 21:06 pm

    MTA: I’m not actually trying to start a big debate and I understand that you don’t want one anyway (I feel the same). I’m sure we’ll have to agree to disagree on the rationality/murder thing, and that’s cool. I just thought you might find the other blog post interesting and relevant. And, as I said in my first post, I think kudos are in order to you* for posting so rationally on this most inflammatory of subjects.

    *and to anyone else who manages to do it too.

  • 8

    Comment by Anglofille

    3.06.2009 @ 23:58 pm

    None of us can have total autonomy over our bodies – for example, you cannot sell your internal organs (like a kidney) for profit.

    I don’t see prostitution and abortion as being analogous. There is really no situation that is equivalent to being pregnant and to having another being growing inside your own body. That is a unique situation. I fear that making the link between abortion and selling your body for sexual purposes plays into these notions that any “choice” can be a feminist one as long as it’s a “choice.” This kind of thinking seems to water down the whole notion of feminism until it means nothing. The global, corporate, patriarchal sex industry has already appropriated this kind of language to serve their own anti-woman purposes.

  • 9

    Comment by Thomas Foolery

    4.06.2009 @ 01:05 am

    I think your blog is always at its best when it’s about politics and issues and stuff. It’s been a lot more fun around here these last couple of weeks, keep up the good work.

  • 10

    Comment by Jen

    4.06.2009 @ 13:36 pm

    @strawberryn – yes, we’ll have to disgree as i still don’t agree that murder is ever a rational act, regardless of motive. legal defenses aside, i don’t think anyone of clear mind can deliberately gun someone down. and i think that the “war” notion promoted by the pro-life side is simply an facile mechanism for trying to justify some of the worst abuse/violence carried out by the extremists, so i cannot ever pretend to understand it.

    @anglofille – no, one cannot *legally* sell their kidney as of right now. but one can sell their eggs, sperm, rent their womb. one can, in fact, donate a kidney, blood, piece of liver, breastmilk, stem cells from cord blood. likewise even in death, one can still dictate what happens to one’s body – cremation, donation, preservation, etc.

    i think that abortion and prostitution represent similar extremes along the continuum between dictatorship and autonomy. if i truly believe that i cannot ever presume to tell someone what they should/shouldn’t do with their body, then that means they are (and *must be*) free to do things with their body i may not agree with. no, i don’t believe every choice is a feminist choice, because (currently) most choices are made in a social and political context which has historically been shaped by men. that’s a real and ever-present influence, and thus choices cannot always be said to be made freely. however in an *ideal world* of equality, no choices would be demeaning of women, because they would be completely uninfluenced and unlimited.

    we don’t live in that ideal world yet, obviously. but i believe that we (men or other women) cannot constrain the bodily choices of women in the interests of “what’s best for them” as it only sets us further back from ever achieving the ideal.

    to put it more bluntly, i can’t agree that dictating what one can/should do with their body *ever* furthers feminism, no matter how well-intentioned.

    @tf – you’re just a political junkie )

  • 11

    Comment by Strawberry

    4.06.2009 @ 14:05 pm

    To clarify, I didn’t say that murder is a rational act. I said that I do think rational people can (and do) commit murder.

    Regarding the term “war”, it’s essential to realise that it is not a ‘notion’ that is ‘promoted’, nor is it some sort of contrived ‘mechanism’. It *truly* is the reality that many many pro-lifers perceive (as it would be, given that they truly perceive that they witness fellow human beings being killed every day all around them). To not comprehend that this is their true mindset and their actual understanding of the situation, and to instead believe that it is only some sort of marketing tool that has been contrived to promote their aims… that misconception (and its counterpart misconception on the other side) is the very essence of what fuels this continued stalemate. Until we all get past that and are able to suspend our disbelief of how the other side truly sees the situation, we have no hope of ever calming this situation.

  • 12

    Comment by Jen

    4.06.2009 @ 14:36 pm

    again, we’ll have to disagree. i understand that people who believe abortion to be murder can feel desperate at what they perceive to be losses of life. however “war” is a loaded political construct, and i think it needs to be divorced from the argument entirely. the language, strategy, and mentality of “warfare” is what *i* believe fuels much of this.

    i can understand someone’s differing moral beliefs, and even their desperation to stop what they see to be murder. but i cannot believe that viewing it as a “war”, or trying to understand that others view it as “war”,(from either side), will ever, ever improve anything.

    because if the other side is conducting a “war” against you/your viewpoint/your beliefs, then what can you do *but* engage in battle?? battle that only leads to further fighting and entrenchment.

    as long as people continue to insist on engaging in “war”, they can never engage in a dialogue.

    and there, i really am calling for an end to the debate on this. i’ve read the article, i’ve considered your viewpoint. we’re not going to get any further, i think. thanks.

  • 13

    Comment by Jen

    4.06.2009 @ 16:14 pm

    i’m afraid i can’t let any further responses on that same topic stand, as i really can’t continue the debate. also, i have a pathological need to have the last word ) i will say that i think in spite of our disagreements, we would all like to see an end to the deep divisiveness and hostilities on both sides.


  • 14

    Comment by Noble Savage

    4.06.2009 @ 16:47 pm

    jen, you rock my socks. every word, spot on. no need for further comment. )

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