Columns

The law of unintended consequences

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

When I awoke the other morning and switched on my radio, the airwaves were alive with the sound of furious, transgressed women. Nobody else got a look in. What have we done to get their goat this time, I wondered, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. Nothing, it transpired. It was all in the USA, where a Supreme Court decision removed the constitutional right for women to have abortions and left it to the 50 states to decide instead.

This last part was largely overlooked, incidentally: in essence the women were howling about decentralised democracy and what an awful thing it is. Democracy is sexist. Democracy is especially sexist in those southern states which might impose (or have already imposed) restrictions on terminations. These states – Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and Arkansas – all have a majority of women voters, so if this really was a crime against women (or, as the dimbo BBC correspondent referred to them, ‘pregnant people’), then women could very easily gain redress at the ballot box.

The debate, such as it was, focused entirely upon the civil rights of women being taken away by redneck God-bothering male fascists. On not a single occasion did I hear – or read – anything about the other ethics of this decision. Not once was the rectitude of abortion questioned. It was taken as a given. It was seen entirely through the prism of women’s rights: nothing else mattered. You might have expected a religious leader to throw in his or her two pennorth, given that all of the major denominations are opposed to abortion in both principle and practice – but they stayed the hell out of the way, keeping their powder dry for the next time someone tries to solve our migrant crisis, I suppose.

The ethics are unquestionably a difficult and nuanced business. Just recently there was a small furore in California over something called Assembly Bill 2223. This bill, according to the pro-life lobby, decriminalised infanticide. It did not quite do that, in truth. Its intention was, among other things, to free from legal blame women who gave themselves abortions a few days before their due date and included the word ‘perinatal’– i.e. regarding the newly born child. So the anti-abortionists were not entirely right – but this bill was unquestionably nudging in that direction. Remember that there are plenty of left-wing ‘ethicists’ who argue, with some force, that young children have no automatic right to life and that it could be wholly ethical to terminate the life of a living, dependent child if it were disabled or even if its existence jeopardised the life chances of the mother. They arrive at this conclusion because they cannot bear to challenge the legitimacy of abortion, of course – and I suppose there is some logic to their position. A three-day-old baby is no better able to survive by itself than is a fully formed foetus.


One of the ethicists who adopts this position is the renowned Dr Peter Singer, who has also argued that there is no moral reason why people should not have ‘mutually satisfying’ sex with their pets. I have met Dr Singer and I have also met his dog. It was a German shepherd with a rather wary demeanour.

That California assembly bill, by the way, was introduced to ensure that anyone who has an abortion in the state, or assists with an abortion, is free from the threat of prosecution: they are expecting millions of women to turn up to procure services which might recently have been outlawed in their state of origin and they want them all to have a fun, carefree time. They are expecting another gold rush out west, a foetus fiesta.

It is not a terrible surprise that the debate over here – and indeed in the USA, on the liberal TV stations – is framed a little crassly, in the way I have described. The past 50 years has seen progressive legislation designed to advance women’s rights, and in championing these changes nothing else is taken into consideration. Simply to raise a question about unintended consequences, or ramifications, is to be identified as a misogynist reactionary.

The reform of the divorce laws, for example, was introduced with the express intention of allowing women to escape from abusive relationships. It has largely succeeded in that aim, but at the same time it has had disastrous consequences for children and costs to society, given the increase in single-parent families and the well-documented problems that always attend to this, uh, lifestyle choice.

Similarly, the Equal Pay Act and the huge march of women into full-time employment beginning in the early 1970s did indeed give women the financial independence which the progressives probably rightly insisted they wanted. But it also led to greater in-equalities of income, with the rise of both double-income and no-income families, and has probably had a deleterious effect upon family life and the upbringing of the children. It has also led to a cruel dilemma for many women who are unsure how to balance the lure of a career with that terribly unfashionable and yet extremely persistent drive to be a full-time mother.

This is not to say that the Equal Pay Act and the movement of women into the workforce was wrong, simply that it had repercussions that one was dissuaded from discussing at the time. At the same time, feminism demanded an end to the outdated concept of male chivalry, because a man holding a door open for women somehow reinforced the notion that this was a patriarchal society. And so today we have women demanding that boys be taught in school how to ‘respect’ women, because when that code of chivalry was abolished, nothing was put in its place.

We should not be surprised that there is a kickback against abortion on the part of those who always believed it was morally wrong. We can make as many laws as we like, but nothing is ever as ‘decided’ as the left seems to believe.

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