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The Most Divisive Issue in the World

Sunday, 29th April, 2001

Back to the calendar. Today's entry tells me that in 1884 Oxford University admitted women to examinations, which I presume means they admitted them to the courses too. It wouldn't be much of a help to be able to do the exam if you couldn't take the course.

For a number of weeks, when I was catching the bus to work, I would pick up a complimentary copy of Metro, a local newspaper. It would keep me relatively up-to-date with the news, something that often passes me by as I don't own a television. I don't read the real local newspaper either, as it's a well known fact that the Evening Courier is so useless that it doesn't even burn right.

One day they covered a news item that stirred up so much response that there the ripples went on for weeks on the letters page. The whole thing intrigued me immensely, partly because I'm still amazed that an issue can be so fundamentally divisive, and partly because the issue was being treated in a totally different way to any I'd ever seen before.

The issue was abortion, which will no doubt immediately prompt a number of varied reactions. As standup comedian and icon of his age Bill Hicks used to say, there is no issue more divisive. It splits families right down the middle and every time a government or an organised religion says anything about it, those ripples start a-rippling again.

No doubt I'm going to start the ripples too. Uhoh. Maybe I'll spend a day writing about abortion, maybe not, but this time the main issue was skirted totally, onto a side issue that fascinated me, and I'm going to talk about the ramifications without coming to any conclusion. No copout me, I'm still totally undecided on the whole thing.

The story was this: man meets woman, man has fling with woman, woman gets pregnant. That's a story told every day; nothing out of the ordinary there. But there's a twist... woman decides to have an abortion, man decides he wants to keep the baby, man takes woman to court to prevent her from aborting his baby.

As I'd seen it, the abortion issue was about two sides. One side want abortions to be banned totally, the other wants the right to be able to choose. But I was wrong; my thinking was far too simplistic. This story opened up a whole new can of worms. It went far deeper into the woman's right to choose and asked important questions about whether she was the only one with a choice.

In this instance, the man became the good guy in the eyes of the press, which is strange enough to make the whole thing interesting on its own.

From his eyes, he wanted his baby, which sounds fair enough to me. It takes two, after all, and if a woman has the right to choose, then so should the man. He was willing to take full responsibility for the child legally and morally, and wanted the opportunity to do so, an opportunity that would be denied him if the abortion went ahead.

From the woman's point of view, it was merely a fling. There was no relationship so there would be no loving family to care for it. It was not a planned pregnancy, or indeed a wanted pregnancy, so the child would grow up knowing it was an accident. She didn't see why she should have to carry the baby to full term, and go through nine months of pain and suffering that only women know about, when she didn't want the baby in the first place. It all sounds fair enough to me too. We do have a major problem in the world today with overpopulation; why bring an unwanted child in to join the mix?

Unfortunately this leaves us with two opposing sides that make sense. Problem time.

The media portrayed the man as a heroic example for his sex, willing to flout convention and take responsibility in the way that men rarely do. The woman, however, came off as a slut who had got pregnant and wanted to hit the undo button. Both implied views are probably as incorrect as they are unfair. Questions still need to be asked though, and asked they were on the letters page of the Metro.

Many people talked about the woman's right to choose. She's the one who carries the baby, she's the one who suffers for the sake of the child, she's the one who goes through the agony of childbirth. The man merely gets to sit by and clean up the mess. Nobody else should interfere with her right to choose what to do with her own body.

On the face of it, this makes total sense. As most organised religions tell us, God set up a family unit of one man and one woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply. It does seem to be a little harsh on the female side of the equation to have to do almost all the work - what happened to balance here? Then again, most organised religions still don't have a lot of balance when it comes to women.

Then again, it does take two. It might not take a whole lot of effort for the guy to become part of this pregnancy process, but it's still his child too. His genes are in that mix just as much as hers; and just as the child is a part of her, it's a part of him too. The right-to-life people say that a woman has the right to kill her own unborn child; but does she have the right to kill someone else's? Because that's exactly what she's doing.

There's also a major double standard here, as someone pointed out to much abuse. If a woman outside a relationship becomes pregnant, has a child and brings the child up herself, the man is expected and required by law to pay money to help support his child for eighteen years. The law forces him to acknowledge his responsibility in the matter, quite rightly, and if there is no relationship involved that responsibility becomes financial. Eighteen years worth of child support is a lot of money, and he has no choice in the matter.

But on the flipside, if he acknowledges this from day one and takes on full responsibility to raise the child fully on his own, he has no rights whatsoever. The woman aborts and that's the end of it. It would seem that while bad fathers get rightly hit by law, so do good fathers. It looks like a deal as harsh as the one that God gave women.

It boils down to this: the woman's right to choose. If she chooses to have the child, she expects the man to pay for his child for eighteen years. If she chooses not to have the child, she expects the man to forget it was his child at all. More than anything else in the whole saga, this was the most obviously unfair part.

In the end, the woman had her abortion anyway and had her knuckles rapped by the judge for not going through proper channels. The man asked for the foetus of his child to bury and the woman's family interpreted it as a sick and evil gesture. The story disappeared from the news.

I have no answers here; I'm just asking questions. Maybe if I ask questions enough, I'll find some answers. Those who seek, find.

For my position on the matter: if someone asked me if I agreed with abortion as a general issue, my answer would be 'no, but'. The pro-lifers and the right-to-choosers see it as a black and white issue - it's one or the other. To me, it's infinite shades of grey.

I wouldn't like to draw a line, I really wouldn't. It's an impossible task and I don't envy the lawmakers who are forced to define that line to the nth degree.

As far as this case went, I think it straddled the line and at least to me posed a whole new set of questions.

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