Spread the Good News

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

Two rather interesting and welcome stories have hit the headlines in as many days that I thought I’d bring up here.

The first bit of news is that from next week, for the first time, an abortion advisory service is to screen an advert on TV in Britain. Centred around the slogan ‘Are you late?’ the commercial will advertise the services of the organisation Marie Stopes, which offers advice on sexual health matters, including abortion services.

Abortion has been legal in Britain since the Abortion Act of 1967, but Marie Stopes is adamant that there is a need to promote sexual health issues. “Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of women who want and need sexual health information and advice, and access to services.” (source)

Unsurprisingly this has been met by a backlash from pro-life organisations who insist that the advert will be promoting abortion. The campaign Pro-Life had this to say: “The purpose of an abortion commercial is clearly to ‘sell’ abortion and it will not provide full information about foetal development, the abortion procedure itself, the health risks which abortion poses for women, let alone the alternatives to abortion.” (source) While religious organisations are more hysterical. “These adverts will just mean more women will end up on the abortion industry conveyor belt,” said the Christian Medical Fellowship. “Getting an abortion is not like buying soap powder, and it shouldn’t be advertised on TV,” said the Christian Institute. (source)

I for one, however, am delighted at the news. This is more than about advertising a particular helpline – it is about introducing the topic of sexual health into the public domain and breaking through this taboo topic. It is about power and control. It is about shame and repression.

While the media is absolutely awash with images of a superhuman ideal of female perfection, marketing everything from cosmetics to operations to endow youth and beauty, actual frank discussion about sexual health is still woefully sparse. If organisations which promote impartial advice on such matters are not to be advertised, then how are women to know about them? How are they to know the options if faced with an unplanned pregnancy?

Presumably pro-life groups would prefer it if women never knew about such organisations – and never needed to. Women should never have sex unless they intend to get pregnant and then should turn into good little breeding machines.

Granted I haven’t actually SEEN the advert. For all I know it might be the tasteless promotion of cheerful abortion Pro-Life and the Christian Institute envisage. But I doubt it. I am confident this is nothing more than an impartial advisory service offering their services. And its presence encourages open debate on a sensitive subject. I applaud this and certainly intend to tune in to watch its first screening (Monday 24th May, Channel 4, 22.10, to those who want to do the same).

The second news item is that US scientists, led by Dr Craig Venter has developed a cell controlled entirely by synthetic DNA. He and his team had already succeeded in transplanting a genome from one bacterium into another, and in creating a synthetic bacterial genome, but this is the first time they have combined the two already remarkable achievements. (source)

The potential of this breakthrough is massive. This could be the start of gigantic leaps in the fields of medicine, biology, and even climate change. It is also another milestone reached by dedicated scientists doing empirical research into unlocking the mysteries of life itself.

As the religious right never tire of reminding us, we don’t know exactly how life started or works. We do not have all the answers. Yet we are making progress. Scientific investigation based on methodological naturalism and materialism is yielding results. Answers are being uncovered. And those who care about human progress should rejoice that we are one step nearer to an answer which will never be found just by sitting around in slack-jawed bewilderment at how complex everything is and concluding magic fills in the gaps in our knowledge.

The rather tepid reaction to scientific progress was demonstrated well by the Vatican’s response to the news. While, to their credit, Catholic church officials praised the pioneering scientists, they tempered this with words of caution. “Pretending to be God and parroting his power of creation is an enormous risk that can plunge men into a barbarity,” warned one. “In the wrong hands, today’s development can lead tomorrow to a devastating leap in the dark,” cautioned another. (source)

So it’s, ‘Well done on getting us this far, but think twice before you take us any further’, is it? How encouraging.

While outraged accusations of ‘playing God’ and visions of the imminent zombie apocalypse inevitably accompany the experiment, I am left wondering if there has ever been a significant scientific achievement that was NOT met with such cries? Were we ‘playing God’ when we performed the first organ transplant? When we discovered antibiotics? When we drew up the periodic table? When we discovered how to make fire?

Yes, new technology always needs to be handled with caution. But that is no reason to be afraid of it. Science puts the ‘ability’ in ‘responsability’ (if you spell it wrong).

  • Alex Weaver

    Unsurprisingly this has been met by a backlash from pro-life organisations

    You mean “anti-choice.”

  • Katie M

    Was Einstein playing God when he figured out the secret of relativity?
    Were Watson and Crick playing God when they unraveled the structure of DNA?

    For that matter, was Newton playing God when he reduced “God’s work” to a set of equations?

    The religious like to pretend that God is unknowable. As the past few centuries have shown, this is far from the case.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    Science puts the ‘ability’ in ‘responsability’ (if you spell it wrong). — I love it! My new slogan.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    You mean “anti-choice.”

    There’s a choice. As long as that choice is consistent with a state-enforced mandatory full-term pregnancy, etc.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    So perhaps anti-abortion would be a better term.

  • jemand

    I would be rather unhappy if the advertisement were for *abortion.* But no more than that I’m unhappy at the advertisement of any given medical *procedure* instead of a hospital or clinic or something…

    It seems relatively more dangerous to get information from procedures from marketers rather than doctors, but maybe that’s just me.

  • Zietlos

    I’m sure it will have a “talk to your doctor to see if abortion is right for you” (well, probably not so callously, but you know the ad type), jemand, from the opening post, though, it sounds like it will be advertising a company that performs abortions amongst other things (consultation of sexual health, etc), and not a targeted axis. But the… ahem… esteemed members of the Right Wing propaganda machine… tend to get… distraught, yes, that’s a polite word… distraught at anything that may possibly in some odd circumstances go against them. They as well have as much information about this ad as we do: A clinic which does abortions among other things is going to have an ad. And already they fall into defensive formation.

    Must say, VERY well trained troops, to fall into formation so quickly. A fire drill at the university takes almost an hour to get everyone outside. They took that long to rally an entire school of thought.

  • Alex Weaver

    So perhaps anti-abortion would be a better term.

    Not really; among other things, that term would encompass people who personally reject, and advocate alternatives to, abortion but do not seek to criminalize or unreasonably restrict it. Meanwhile, the unifying factor of the anti-choice is not an opposition to abortion (as witnessed by their support of sex education policies that increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and rabid opposition to social welfare programs that would help women who are otherwise unable to care for a child due to psychological, financial, or other issues and therefore reduce or eliminate one of the major motives for seeking an abortion), but rather opposition to women having a choice regarding the outcome of an unwanted pregnancy.

  • Ritchie

    Perhaps I didn’t make it very clear in the OP, but yes, Zietlos has pretty much got it. Marie Stopes International is an organisation which offers free, confidential advice on matters of sexual health, unplanned pregnancies and yes, also happens to provide abortion services to those who need it. This company wants to advertise their services.

    Needless to say, in the minds of the pro-life (or however you choose to name them) brigade, this has become promoting and selling abortions! Rather a histrionic knee-jerk reaction, I’m sure.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I too get annoyed at “Pro-Life”. Especially when the people who self identify as such frequently support capital punishment.
    It is an attempt to get people like me to say we are “Pro” abortion which of course is absurd. One can’t ethically want to increase the number of abortions, but one can be for allowing women in difficult circumstances to have control over there own wellbeing.

    (Meant to catch the ad last night but we had an awesome band on in the bar so I forgot)

  • Wednesday

    Genuine pro-lifers exist. I’ve met a few. They tend to also be vegan or vegetarian, or pacifists in other ways.

    I do think all loud self-declared pro-life organizations are anti-choice, but I think a lot of individuals who identify as pro-life are really just wishful thinkers who don’t want examine the assumption that Babies Are Always Wonderful Even In Utero, to look beyond their privilege and good fortune to think about the really difficult (emotionally, physically, financially) situations that can arise. So I’ve found it useful to instead use the term “anti-legal-abortion” when talking with people like that. It doesn’t put them on the defensive, and it often prompts them to explain their position. “Oh, I don’t think it should be illegal _always_, it should be allowed it the mom will die, or rape.” And this in turn gives me a chance to counter their assumptions (sometimes unspoken, like “banning abortion makes it not happen”).

    Doesn’t always work though. If their logic is so bad or their empathy so absent, I sometimes get rendered speechless and they think they’ve won. =P

  • http://lostaddress.org ray

    “Pretending to be God and parroting his power of creation is an enormous risk that can plunge men into a barbarity,”

    This is utter rubbish. I am always playing God and not only am I not a barbarian, my hair is shinier, my teeth whiter and people keep giving me money and cars.

  • Ritchie

    Ooops, forgot to state the advert for Marie Stopes will air first on Monday (24th May). Will add that to the OP asap.

    So Steve and anyone else who intends to catch it, there’s still time. Mon 24th, Ch4, 22.10.

  • Stephen P

    Were we ‘playing God’ when we performed the first organ transplant?

    Yes. In fact the first time I encountered the phrase was in protests against the first heart transplant. Even at the tender age of nine it struck me as an odd thing to say. (It may have helped that my father was a hospital doctor and consequently involved in cutting people open all the time.) It seems to be a generalised FUD statement that the religious like to trot out when they can’t think of a single coherent reason for objecting to something, but want to object to it anyway.

  • DSimon

    One can’t ethically want to increase the number of abortions[...]

    Steve, I disagree. From what I (as a total layman, admittedly) understand, the basic biological capability for consciousness almost certainly doesn’t exist in any fetus until at least 6 months into pregnancy. I therefore support first and second term abortions as being, in and of themselves, morally neutral actions. I am still ambivalent about third term abortions, due mostly to lack of knowledge (which I’m seeking, slowly, to rectify).

    Furthermore, I also think that too many unwanted children are being born. Too many parents are having children that they’re not fully capable of or willing to raise with the attention and effort a child deserves. A major factor in this is (to make something of an understatement) a unwillingness in many people to abort unintended pregnancies, even early on.

    If we reduced the stigma associated with abortions and increased their availability, without taking any other measures (such as increased acceptance and awareness of contraception), then the number of abortions would increase. I would see this action as more ethical than doing nothing, because it would reduce the number of children facing unnecessary suffering.

  • Snap

    The campaign Pro-Life is concerned that…Marie Stopes, which offers advice on sexual health matters “…will not provide full information…”

    Coming from the pro-life side, THAT’S funny.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    DSimon
    I guess what I mean is no-one wants to increase the number of unwanted or unintended pregnancies, and thereby be happy to see more abortions. It is the strawman position “Pro Life” tends to imply. In reality I would like more access to contraception and safe sex education, with abortion available as necessary.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    On the same topic, has anyone seen this:

    http://bumptheshow.com/

    It’s a web show about women facing unplanned pregnancies (the women are actors, but it’s presented as reality tv). The show is over now, but while it was on viewers comments and discussion would effect the out come of the show. I thought it was very well done, and not onesided one way or the other.

  • jane hay

    It was also considered “against God’s will” to use anesthesia during childbirth when it was first introduced, if I recall. Christians have been backing into the corner for 150 years now. I keep waiting to see if they will fall off the ledge.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Alex Weaver “Meanwhile, the unifying factor of the anti-choice is not an opposition to abortion (as witnessed by their support of sex education policies that increase the number of unwanted pregnancies and rabid opposition to social welfare programs that would help women who are otherwise unable to care for a child due to psychological, financial, or other issues and therefore reduce or eliminate one of the major motives for seeking an abortion), but rather opposition to women having a choice regarding the outcome of an unwanted pregnancy.”

    According to Strict Father morality, an unmarried teenage girl should not be having sex at all. It is a moral weakness, a lack of self-discipline, a form of immoral behavior, and she deserves punishment. She has to be responsible for the consequences of her actions if she is to learn from her mistakes. An abortion would simply sanction her immoral behavior. (emphasis mine, fm Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think)

    Steve Bowen “Especially when the people who self identify as such frequently support capital punishment.”

    Strict Father morality sees the cure for violent crime simply as strict punishment. This derives from the Strict Father model of the family that demands that disobedience must be punished…It assumes the Moraliy of Reward and Punishment, which says that punishment is the moral alternative. And it also assumes a behaviourist theory of human nature that says punishment will work to eliminate violence. (pg 197)

    —-
    The thesis of the book seems to fit reality pretty well. I highly recommend it as, while it probably won’t help “us”, for lack of a better word, convert “them” (once the rhetoric is stripped away, the gulf between liberal and conservative is foundational, not ad hoc. That’s more than a simple conversation can resolve), it will at least let us hear what they’re saying from their point of view instead of ours.

  • http://generalnotions.talkislam.info Ergo Ratio

    How is “playing god” ever an argument against anything? As far as I know, it’s not mentioned in any holy text.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I note that they didn’t object to Mel Gibson playing Jesus.

  • Roi des Faux

    Your fire comment reminded me of a great comic: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X