WomCam’s funding is not politically neutral – so what?

Will Bennett 24 May 2018

I am an Irish student studying at Cambridge who, due to the timing of my exams, has unfortunately not been able to return home to vote to repeal the eighth amendment. This is something which is a source of great disappointment for me, as, should the referendum pass, it will be a momentous shift for a country whose politics have, for too long, been dictated by Catholic doctrine.

As has been widely publicised, WomCam has offered a bursary for Irish students who would not otherwise be able to finance a return home to vote. While no anti-choice student seeking the funding has been denied it, the campaign has very much been oriented towards the pro-choice side of the argument.

This has come under fire from many liberal students in the university, who see it as the buying of votes, the disrespect or marginalisation of anti-choice students, or a moralistic and ethically dubious move by CUSU. The disingenuousness of this stance is something that really astounds me. CUSU and WomCam have never stated that they are politically neutral institutions. Rather, it is inherent in their roles that they are radical institutions, who seek to effect change to aid the plight of marginalised students. Certainly, nobody has protested the fact that CUSU funds people’s attendance of left-wing rallies, but does not similarly fund those who choose to attend marches for bigoted or racist causes. This would be nothing short of absurd, and it would be difficult to find anyone who disagrees.

What is fundamental here is that abortion is a gendered issue. The safe, legal provision of abortion to pregnant individuals who seek it for any reason is a necessity in building a society that respects and celebrates bodily autonomy. While not all who fall pregnant are women, the stigmatisation and illegality of abortion is built upon essentialist misogyny. A campaign whose stated purpose is the liberation of women and non-binary individuals has no responsibility to fund political behaviours that directly oppress such individuals.

Furthermore, the narrative of the “respectful pro-lifer” is one built upon falsehoods. There is no such thing as a respectful pro-lifer. Anti-choice politics are built upon disrespect and mistrust. Any Irish person who has been following the disgraceful tactics of the “Love Both” campaign will note their constant characterisation of women seeking abortions as “bitches” and “murderers”. I ask – what sort of respectful politics involves the characterisation of marginalised groups in this way?

These petty insults are only the beginning. Tactics of the “Love Both” campaign have included displaying graphic images of aborted foetuses outside maternity hospitals (where many patients may be experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth, or the fear of fatal foetal abnormalities) and universities (where there are bound to be students who have had to use savings or other sources of income to fund the expensive trip to have an abortion privately in England). Their posters have spread falsehoods about foetal development, while absolutely ignoring those who need or want abortions and why that might be of more importance than what age a foetus gains the ability to yawn. I have friends who have been publicly harassed for wearing “Repeal” merchandise, or canvassing for pro-choice groups such as Amnesty International.

Referendum rhetoric aside, if you are anti-choice, you are on the side of the oppressor. Respect is not something that plays a part in the denial of bodily autonomy to adults who wish to have control over their own uteruses. The respectful pro-lifer is a pernicious myth, and a characteristic of the liberal maxim that there are two sides to every argument. Those who hold this view believe that there is such a thing as a respectful middle ground in debates about oppressive politics. This is simply counterfactual. There is no respectful midpoint between ‘pro-oppression’ and ‘anti-oppression’.

These values lie at the heart of the WomCam bursary for Irish students. WomCam is a movement who seeks to dismantle the institutions that create and perpetuate misogyny. It is not one whose goal is, in any way, to pander to hateful or damaging views or policies. Pro-woman politics are pro-choice politics, and a pro-woman institution is under no obligation to fund those whose methods are anti-choice, and thus, anti-woman.