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October 24, 2011 / Me

On Prejudice

There’s very little that makes me really angry but this is something that does.

I have permission by the person in question to include recent correspondence in this post.

An acquaintance of mine (to define, a friend via Facebook but not someone I’ve spent any real time speaking with) recently contacted me to ask my advice. This isn’t that unusual. I can be quite open and outspoken about things via Facebook and well, objective advice from someone not so close to you can be easier to seek and she thought I’d be an okay person to speak with. Anyway, this person has a young baby and has just found herself pregnant again, early at five weeks. She is worried, both about money and her ability to cope mentally with two small children which she would be raising, more than likely by herself and was considering whether it would be best for her to terminate this pregnancy.

If you utter a shocked and sharp intake of breath at this point, you should read the rest of this post very carefully.

After listening to what she had to say to me… about why she’d approached me, a little of the background and many expressions of confusion and upset, I did the following things:

  • I assured her I wasn’t going to judge (and, frankly, wasn’t in a position to judge).
  • I listened carefully to what was being said to me.
  • I expressed regret at her distress in this situation.
  • I went around the internet and found appropriate sites that would provide the information she would need and sources of objective support.
  • I answered the questions she had for me as best I could (having admitted to her that I’d experienced this dilemma myself) and generally sought to reassure and inform as objectively as I could.

For these actions I was thanked and she’s now free to contact those organisations and her doctor in order to obtain the information that should (I hope) help her to make a very difficult decision. She’s also free to speak with me again, or not, if she wishes. That’s entirely up to her.

Now, I did not get very angry at her asking my advice. What I got angry with was something she told me. She’d been, since the birth of her first baby, a regular participant on an online message board… which had become a support network for not only the trials of motherhood but also the problems she was having with her partner. They were her friends, she considered… so it was to them she turned with the dilemma she now faced and, having been shown the thread that ensued, I got really quite angry.

Each of the responses to her request for advice followed this format almost to the letter:

‘Aww, I’m sorry to hear that <insert affectionate nickname here>, <optional hugs>. <optional>I hope you can make the decision that’s right for you.</optional> I couldn’t ever have an abortion <because life’s too precious/because I love my baby and could never consider killing one/because I don’t believe in it>, but I don’t judge other people who have them.’

Right. You really don’t judge but go out of your way to express your personal distaste and think a false disclaimer of ‘I don’t judge’ salves that? This is the kind of self-righteous, un-thinking, moral high-ground nonsense that is exactly what the person in this position needed like a hole in the head. This isn’t support and they’re kidding themselves in thinking it is (successfully too, it seems).

Why was this the majority (well, exclusive) reaction? Abortion is a legal medical procedure, and the weight that a good portion of society gives it… or the distaste of it rather, is decidedly unhelpful for those who may need it for whatever reason. You ‘don’t believe in it’. What does that mean exactly? Have you ever given it any thought? Really? Ever read any of the literature? The studies? Or have you just gone along with what ‘the flock’ thinks without question and consider yourself morally superior to anybody with a differing view (interestingly, this groundless view smacks somewhat of fervent religious belief… ).

Young girls who find themselves with an unplanned pregnancy are very often (as I’ve observed in a straw pole of my own experiences of popular news and culture) the ones who are quick to say that they ‘don’t believe in abortion’… and it’s nearly always said in *that* tone… You know, that ‘how dare you ever suggest I do such a thing’ tone. This reaction is not the considered response of an adult who has been given all the appropriate information and come to a conclusion based on that, without prejudice, is it? It’s what they’ve picked up from the society that surrounds them.

Now, what I’m not saying is that it’s a harmless procedure that can be undertaken lightly. I’ve been there myself and it is so, so difficult. I was bombarded with mixed feelings, with fear… of the procedure, the intrusion into your body, the mental aftermath, the anguish of the decision and the wildly changing hormones. I’m not saying it’s not a serious decision. What I am saying is that it could be much less harmful to the woman in question were it not so stigmatised. If the woman were allowed to concentrate on her own feelings without society sitting on her shoulder, glaring at her and occasionally prodding her with the black and white Stick of Shame… to not have to fear judgement by those to have no right to judge… to not have to hear the people who proclaim that they ‘don’t judge’ but in their next breath make it absolutely crystal clear that they’d never ever do it.

This post isn’t really about abortion, not really which is why I haven’t expanded on reasons for getting to the decision point as I feel the ‘why’ would deflect from the point I’m trying to make. This post is actually about prejudice, self-righteousness and an inability to put a sock in it and just listen when someone’s talking to you about something you may have a strong opinion on. An opinion is not something that HAS to be voiced, it’s not something that makes you better than someone who may hold a contradictory belief and it certainly isn’t a bar to empathy and objective advice… an opinion is not ‘right’.

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2 Comments

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  1. Eve / Oct 24 2011 8:54 pm

    I loved this a great deal. You are absolutely right, of course, and the clincher was in that last sentence: it’s not right, and it doesn’t make you better just because you strongly believe in something (and somehow feel that therefore other people should have the dubious privilege of getting to hear about just *how* strongly that is). Even if you do feel strongly, why is your own self image more important than compassion and empathy? There’s a serious error of judgement there. I hope your friend finds peace in whatever decision she makes, and that she knows she’s lucky to have a friend – a real friend – like you to talk to, regardless of the internet origins of such an acquaintance.

  2. Eve / Oct 24 2011 8:56 pm

    And in a much lighter version of your point, I was reminded of the following video:

    Apparently it’s the US equivalent of saying, “I don’t want to sound rude, but…”. Excellent! Prefix with this and you can say whatever you want. ‘Cause you’re JUST SAYING.

    NB Language on that video is NSFW. Just sayin’.

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