The Left’s bizarre internal spat over abortion

It is a sign of how intransigent the Left has become that when approaching an issue like abortion, it begins not by asking what stance is morally valid, but by asking what is Left

Hasan has been left 'virtually' black and blue this week
Tom Wilson
On 18 October 2012 12:58

As political persuasions go, the Left has been no stranger to the strictures of dogmatically held beliefs and rigid ideology. This dogmatism has now taken on a particularly surreal manifestation amidst the recent debate about abortion that has flared up around Health Minister Jeremy Hunt’s comments on the subject. 

Whereas most people might have a discussion about abortion with reference to the relevant facts surrounding the issue, figures on the left seem to have instead decided to take as their starting point an argument about what is the ‘leftwing’ perspective on abortion.

Rather than conducting a grown-up conversation on the moral and legal issues relating to this subject, leftwing commentators have instead busied themselves with the task of determining what positions are in accordance with their political doctrine. They begin to sound like theologians, bickering over the subtleties of religious law.

The row was provoked by Mehdi Hasan’s article Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty in which he adopts a rather nursery school definition of socialism by pleading “Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless?”

With the exception of a discussion of Christopher Hitchens’s position on abortion the article fails to say anything particularly interesting or different to that which we’ve all already heard before on the subject. Although, by the end, when Hasan protests “What I would like 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” one starts to wonder why exactly he is so desperate to stay on side with such an evidently intolerant political movement.

In response to Hasan’s article, Kelly Hills penned her own piece: Yes, being pro-life does make you less of a lefty. The quality of debate isn’t exactly intellectually overwhelming I know. 

Still, having attacked Hasan for alleged factual inaccuracy on abortion law, before promptly admitting to having known little about the very same laws herself prior to the “less than five minutes with Google” she diligently undertook, Kelly Hills sets out on a rather longwinded attempt to establish, once and for all, that being pro-choice is the only ‘progressive’ position to take.

Having set the standard of debate low, things took a nose dive when Suzanne Moore waded in on the subject on the Today programme. As much as I am loathe to root for Mehdi Hasan in a debate, Moore’s constant rudeness and interruptions, childish accusations of being patronised, and threats to stop talking to Mehdi were enough to make anyone lose any misjudged sympathies that they may have held for her side.

Yet, what was really so objectionable about Moore’s contribution had rather less to do with her demeanor than it did with the views that she expressed.

Naturally, she rejected Hasan’s position by arguing that the Left is all about the redistribution of power; specifically in this case transferring power from men to women. To the use of the term ‘pro-life’ Moore retorted that she is ‘pro-women’s lives’, just in case we were under any misapprehension about the left being for equality, and she went on to explain why she objected to men taking part in the conversation about abortion; seemingly on account of the fact that men don’t have abortions.

But of course abortion is not a women’s only issue, not least because abortion does not simply concern the mother, but also rather undeniably it concerns the fate of the fetus. And contrary to what some feminists might wish to be the case, the soon to be born are not exclusively female.

What was particularly striking about the debate on the Today programme was when Hasan mentioned the barrage of angry tweets that he had received from those on the left.

Of course, in perhaps what was her one insightful comment on the show, Suzanne More did suggest that Hasan was simply seeking publicity for his blog, not an implausible proposition when one considers the recent fortunes of The Huffington Post UK. Yet, what is noteworthy is that publicity seeking stunt or not, Hassan’s article provoked a truly disproportionate wave of fury on the Left. Having broken ranks with the leftwing church he was now experiencing the wrath of the faithful.

Indeed, it is a sign of just how intransigent the Left has become that even when approaching an issue such as abortion, it does not begin by asking what stance is morally valid or illegitimate, but rather it starts by asking what is Left or Right.

Whether or not Dialectical Materialism has anything to tell us about the rights or wrongs of abortion it seems bizarre that there are still those in our national life eccentric enough to worry about so slavishly following the dictates of what in a saner world would by now have become a totally obscure ideology. 

Tom WIlson is an analyst and doctoral student at University College London

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