Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Josie Cunningham and the challenge to prochoicers...

Here is a hypothetical for all prochoice people...

Miranda is a single mother of two kids. She worked hard at law school and she is a newly qualified solicitor with great prospects. It hasn't always been easy but now she is looking forward to earning enough money to support herself and her kids. But she has an unplanned third pregnancy and she is not sure who the father is. The father might be Mike, a man she has been casually dating but it's not particularly serious. Or it might be Colin, a client at the law firm where she is working as a junior. They had a one night stand. Whoever the father is, Miranda doesn't look at either man as a long-term prospect and her boss would not be delighted if he found out about Colin. On top of all this, her boss just offered her a promotion - it will involve more work but also more money. The timing of this third pregnancy is terrible. She will be heavily pregnant just as she will be making her debut in court with an important case and her childcare arrangements are already expensive and cumbersome with two children. She has an abortion.

Prochoicers, are you OK with Miranda's choice?

But are you also one of the many prochoicers who howled with derision at Josie Cunningham? Josie Cunningham, a mother of two works as a glamour model and an escort. She is currently 18 weeks pregnant - so within the legal limits for an elective abortion in England - and the father is either a Premier League footballer or an escort agency client. Over the weekend, she caused an outcry after telling the Sunday Mirror newspaper that she might have an abortion because being pregnant could interfere with an opportunity to earn wads of cash appearing on reality TV show Big Brother.

The latest media reports on this story suggest she won't be appearing on Big Brother because of the ethical minefield it has created for the producers (and nobody would be surprised if conservative advertisers got cold feet over the whole situation and threatened to take their money elsewhere). And, as far as we know, Josie is still pregnant.

But if she does have an abortion, that really is her choice. It's no different to the hypothetical Miranda's situation apart from the occupation of the pregnant woman. A swathe of women have exposed themselves as snobs - Josie is mostly famous for having a breast enlargement on the NHS - she was born without breast tissue -it was after this operation that she took up a career as a glamour model. This, along with being an escort, is how she earns her living. Just like being a junior at a law firm, it is still work.

Here's the thing about being prochoice - it means you support women's choices, even if they are not choices you'd make for yourself. It's a bit like supporting free speech - it means you support all speech, not just the bits you like.

Perhaps Channel 5 could have let Josie appear on Big Brother while pregnant. After all, there are probably more stressful environments for a pregnant woman than lolling about in a house on the telly. Channel 5 would have a duty of care to allow her access to a doctor. Just as the hypothetical Miranda panicked about juggling her career and a third pregnancy, the real Josie is also in a situation where she feels she has to choose between carrying to term and working. And it is the nature of her work that has caused people to get all outraged. It is not a common work-versus-motherhood situation but Josie has clearly played up to the controversy with talk of being able to afford a pink Range Rover if she puts her career first. She has trolled everyone brilliantly and the mass pearl-clutching has been hysterical to watch.

We are living in a world where "reality TV star" is seen as a valid career choice by many, a path to easy riches, so this situation was inevitable. Josie, I am quite sure, knew she'd create a fauxrage. She knew she'd get attention and, even if Channel 5 runs a mile at the prospect of her appearing in the Big Brother house, other media outlets will want a piece of her. Hell, Channel 5's owner Richard Desmond also owns OK! magazine - I wouldn't bat an eyelid if he did a deal with her if she has the baby. It could be easily packaged as a good news story, a prolife triumph to keep conservative advertisers happy.

By telling the Sunday Mirror her story, Josie has exposed a rich vein of class-based hypocrisy among British prochoicers. If she has an abortion, that's her choice. But this whole spectacle becomes ammunition for the likes of Nadine Dorries, Jeremy Hunt and Frank Field to limit access to abortion in the UK. Josie's story feeds into the myth that abortion clinics are full of women who are close to 24 weeks pregnant having abortions on a whim. And as soon as hitherto prochoice people jump on the bandwagon to call her a slut, it makes sweeping changes to abortion laws more acceptable. Think before you declare: "I am prochoice but...".

Picture courtesy of the National Science Foundation


  1. I'd not heard of Josie Cunningham before, so perhaps telling her story has worked as intended? (Sorry, I'll stop being cynical now).
    I have to say, though, that Mirror article reads like something penned for the Daily Mail. The use of language such as "...worth more than the life of her unborn child" and "...her late life-or-death decision..." really does seem to be aimed purely at garnering an outcry against her. This sort of bullshit is why I stopped reading newspapers over 20 years ago and they don't appear to be getting any better.

    1. It is indeed disappointing that The Mirror, the supposedly left-leaning tabloid, is running a story that plays into the hands of conservatives and can be used as a stick with which to bash the NHS.

  2. Josie Cunningham has been boasting about sleeping with jailed paedophile Ian Watkins

    1. So what if she did? That doesn't mean she is not entitled to an abortion.

  3. I believe in abortion for some cases but in the case of these two stories both women should have the baby and then give them up for adoption. Adopted babies are becoming harder to get these days. Abortion is acceptable in many situations but the above cases are all about greed and self interest. From what I know about Big Brother a pregnant member should not be a problem and could add interest to the show...I am sure it is the type of show needing something to make it more interesting.

    1. "both women should have the baby and then give them up for adoption"? Really? You do realise you are advocating a policy of forced birth for women whose actions you disagree with.

      Who should be the one to judge which women should be forced to carry to term and which women are allowed to have an abortion? Should every woman who inquires about an abortion be forced to put her case before a panel of judges? Who would appoint these judges? The government? What would qualify someone to make decisions on what women do with their bodies?

      As for adoption, there are plenty of children who need adoptive parents without turning women with unplanned pregnancies into state-sanctioned brood mares. But these children are not necessarily all cute babies. Some have disabilities, some have behavioural problems, some prospective parents don't want to adopt a child of a different race, some local authorities are reluctant to place children with families of different ethnic backgrounds, some local authorities deny prospective parents a child because of ridiculous reasons (such as the man who said he has one cigar at Christmas and was deemed a smoker and therefore ineligible...) and, while the government has been trying to change things, adoption remains in the UK a frequently bureaucratic nightmare. Instead of demanding that women of whom you disapprove give birth, it is far better to advocate for better adoption processes.

      (But I agree - a pregnant woman on Big Brother might, just might, make that absurd programme more interesting.)

    2. "I believe in abortion for some cases but" - classic start! I think it would take more than a pregnant woman appearing to make BB interesting - it's run its course. Not quite sure where you see the moral difference between a glamour model/escort and a solicitor (although I accept a glamour model/escort may be more respectable!).

      I'm not sure the cases are purely about greed and self interest, as "Anonymous" states, and there is an almost inevitable confluence of interest between the parent and the child: if the parent perceives the child has hindered him or her, and resents it, the lot of that child would not be a happy one.

      As a side issue, when world population is increasing to unsustainable levels, why is anyone trying to place further restrictions on access to abortion (and other family planning)? Surely counter-productive, given that people will continue to have sex?