Arguing the abortion debate on Twitter

By Michael Coren, originally published in the Toronto Star,
Mon, Jan. 6, 2020

Twitter can be a wonderful and fascinating venue, but also a dark and unpleasant one. It empowers the good as well as the malicious, giving voice to those who want to make the world a better place, and those who thrive on other people’s pain.

Last week I became the target of a very active bunch of ghouls because I tweeted this in answer to a question about my views on abortion: “Make contraceptives freely available; provide good and modern sex-ed in every school; introduce socialized daycare for all; empower women; eradicate poverty. Abortion rates will plummet. Anti-abortion zealots don’t want life, they want control.”

The response was enormous and eclectic, and ranged from a far-right Catholic position that was severely anti-Semitic and homophobic, to people who were certainly not racist but obsessed with criminalizing abortion. We can’t and mustn’t, of course, judge the world by social media, but many of the people who responded to me were influential priests, and prominent anti-abortion activists.

It comes at a time when the demise of federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer exposed what we surely already knew: that in Canada and most of the Western world — with the exception of the U.S. — laws restricting or even banning abortion are incredibly unlikely. But what of those of us who believe in a women’s choice but would also like abortion rates to drop, especially in cases of gender or disability-based termination?

Let me emphasize that this is a universe away from those who argue that abortion in unacceptable, even in cases of rape and incest. That, believe it or not, is the usual stance of the anti-abortion movement, and women who claim that they were born to raped mothers are in great demand on the speaking circuit. It’s all so morbid, and all so far from the reality and agony of the situation.

The most fundamental point is that this is, whatever the circumstances, always a woman’s choice. But what strikes me as particularly jarring is that the most aggressive of abortion foes seem to have no interest in reducing the numbers at all, and actually seem to want them to increase. Whether this is a conscious or subconscious position I simply do not know.

The movement is usually dominated or led by Roman Catholics, whose church teaches that contraception is “intrinsically evil.” This has gone so far as to lead to the rejection of condom use in parts of Africa where AIDS is endemic, let alone encouraging unwanted pregnancies, and thus more abortions, in the West.

In terms of female empowerment, the church is intensely patriarchal. Pope Francis may be refreshingly progressive of certain issues but he rejects female ordination. As for sex-ed, the campaign in Ontario, and other parts of North America, against a modern and updated curriculum was led by anti-abortion social conservatives.

These groups also usually oppose public daycare, because they fear state intervention would contradict their highly traditional, some would argue archaic, view of the family. In the U.S., and even in Canada, such activists also stand firm against economic policies designed to help the poor, especially women.

Remember, in the U.S. a woman with money can usually find a way to arrange an abortion, but those who are poor often have no option but to give birth, frequently raising that child in poverty.

So we have to ask what the anti-abortion culture genuinely believes and why its adherents behave so paradoxically. I think it’s about intent rather than result, and the self-regard that can come from commitment to cause, rather than an informed and thoughtful dedication to trying to change a situation.

The end is irrelevant, and the means inflate the ego. It’s religion gone bad, where toy martyrdom is a badge of prestige. I recall a particular zealot who insisted on entering abortion clinics, knowing she would be arrested and, eventually, imprisoned. The police and courts had far better things to do, but had no choice. This person changed nothing but seemed to want, and need, the attention.

If we’re fortunate, the conservatives will move on, the conversation will change, and we can all be more adult about the whole thing. But not, I suppose, on Twitter.