Friday, 19 November 2010

Be my baby?

One of the great things about the internet (besides the mind-numbing array of pixelated pornography) is the way it has advanced the democratisation of media. Now, everybody is able to have their say on pretty much anything.

We've seen the exponential growth of the blogging community (great news for me, not so much for Rihanna), the rapid expansion of Facebook and even a resurgence of interest in political debate. All good things, I'm sure you'll agree.

However, that pesky little 'like' button has also inspired the rise of digital voting on issues which don't require mass public engagement. One such example is currently causing a political firestorm in the US, as a married couple of IT technicians are asking the world's web-users whether 30 year-old Alisha Arnold should abort her 17 week-old foetus.

It's hard not to be disgusted by the laissez-faire way in which this life-altering decision has been turned over to the whim of thousands of anonymous mouse clicks. Irrespective of whether or not you condone terminating pregnancies, it's a pretty distasteful use of interactive technology. Making this an even more grim spectacle is the fact that the couple are regularly posting scans of the foetus (provisionally named 'Wiggles' - how cute) to facilitate the decision-making process.

Predictably, the anti-abortion voices have been quick to lend their yells of distaste to the growing cacophony, with Mary Spaulding Balch of organisation National Right to Life commenting "This is shocking. The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of this was the Roman Colosseum when the mob picked who lived and who died."

Whatever the reasons for the Arnold's online poll, it's a shame that the debate they've inspired is so one-sided. What's missing from the discussion is a clear voice condemning the couple for their thoughtless and offensive act. You don't have to be a pro-lifer to argue against what they're doing, nor would it make you a hypocrite if you did.

At its heart, the concept of abortion is about a woman's right to choose. What's best for her body, her life and her family. Furthermore, even the staunchest advocates of abortion stress that it's not a decision to be taken lightly, since it can have psychological repercussions that last a lifetime.

Throwing it open to the public for a mass vote (like asking the Ready Steady Cook audience to choose red tomatoes or green peppers) invalidates the woman's right to decide, and therefore the fundamental logic of the pro-choice movement.

Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that all is not what it seems with this tawdry and unpleasant story. Alisha claims: "Voting is such an integral part of the American identity. We vote on everything from the best singer on American Idol to who the next leader of the free world will be. Wouldn't it be nice to voice your opinion and have it actually make a difference in the real world? Why not vote on whether to continue or abort an actual pregnancy?"

There's something offensively glib about that rhetorical question, that implies the press are being lazily complicit in running the story without digging a little deeper. The Mail's coverage, for instance, suggests that "some are questioning whether the site has been set up deliberately to upset anti-abortionists." Of course, the couple themselves deny this, with Alisha an avowed fan of borderline psychotic right-wing agitator Glenn Beck, and her husband a George W Bush supporter.

But there's more to those details than a simple defence against the accusations that they're out to upset the pro-lifers. Quite the opposite in fact. Far more likely is that this is actually a well-planned, and deeply underhanded way of attacking the pro-choice movement, by debasing the decision an expectant mother faces through those throwaway associations with TV audience votes.

And what better way to throw the media off the scent, than by setting up the pro-life lobby (of which this couple are no doubt a part) as the real victims of this cruel and heartless stunt? With votes currently standing at 53.73 percent in favour of the termination, it'll be interesting to see whether the Arnold's honour the public's decision. Given their right-wing heritage, I'm willing to put money on the fact that they won't.

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