an After abortion

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Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Pray for peace.

Julie Burchill wrote Abortion: Still a Dirty Word for The Guardian two years ago.

In an interview published this last weekend in The Sunday Herald, themes raised in the older article appear in a different light.

In the older article, Burchill talks about her five abortions and launches verbal grenades at women who regret having chosen abortion.

Exposure to Polly's breastfeeding, followed by Dot and Sonia's breast-beating, should by rights have launched me into a right royal depression, or at least a bit of "bittersweet" brooding over my barren terrain. But - and I examined my psyche closely for signs of self-delusion here - all I felt was happy to be home, alone, with my boyf. But I didn't want to seem like a smug cow, so I said tentatively, "Isn't Louie gorgeous?" "Bloody lovely - and he certainly liked you." "I love babies," I said, surprised at the simplicity of my statement. And then immediately, perfectly naturally, "I'm so glad I had all those abortions."

Now, I know this is an unusual statement to make. Even EastEnders, which is ceaselessly condemned by the Daily Mail as being irretrievably "PC", has an amazingly censorious attitude to abortion. Think of key scenes featuring Carol, Bianca, Natalie, not to mention Dot's life sentence of sorrow. Yet I remember, as a child in the early 1970s, hearing Diane, the waitress heroine of the decidedly reactionary soap Crossroads, saying matter-of-factly to a miserably pregnant woman, "Abortion's not a dirty word, you know!"

Where did the recent creeping foetus fetishism come from? And how do we - excuse the phrase - get rid of it? Some of it must be blamed on Tony Blair's bowing of the knee to Rome. Cherie Blair can call herself a feminist all she likes, but any feminist worth her salt would have made a point of having a termination - on the NHS, naturally - when she got knocked up the last time. Wantonly giving birth to a fourth child on a planet buckling under the strain of overpopulation certainly isn't any sort of example to set for gymslip mums, who can at least plead ignorance and rampant fertility.

Me-Ism - psychiatry, psychoanalysis, any sort of navel-gazing - has to take part of the blame for the demonisation of abortion. The idea that everything we do or have done to us stays with us for ever is a reactionary and self-defeating reading of modern life. No doubt if you're the sort of lumbering, self-obsessed poltroon who believes that seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus 30 years ago irrevocably marked your life, you wouldn't get over an abortion, as you wouldn't get over stubbing your toe without professional help. But you choose to be that way, because you are weak and vain, and you think your pain is important. Whereas the rest of us know not only that our pain is not important, but that it probably isn't even pain - just too much time on our hands.

The new interview, especially considered in light of this earlier position, is terribly sad.

The interviewer paints a picture of Julie Burchill as a lunch-time martini-guzzling cocaine-and-speed abuser. She is presented as a woman who uses and then abandons her friends, and who walked out on her two living children.

Burchill has more recently become a Christian, and has taken a resolution, unsettling to her, to become kind. She speaks of herself with self-condemnation as someone who is "morally cretinous".

Burchill used to say that she was a sociopath, meaning that she lacked certain human attributes, namely empathy and guilt. This "little something missing" allowed her to walk out of two family homes without a backward glance, but it is also what has made her such a fearless writer at the NME, Face, Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday, Express, Guardian and The Times. Anyway, she now disavows the term sociopath, and claims to have "a kind of moral cretinism. It’s not a nice thing to say, God knows, about anybody, and it’s less glamorous than being a sociopath, but there’s a part of my mind that just doesn’t work properly. I’m not a person to go around feeling sorry about what I’ve done. It’s not in me. I can’t do it."

Really? Like the rest of us, Julie Burchill has done a number of morally cretinous things. But she sounds to me in this interview like a woman who is not in fact morally cretinous. She sounds to me like someone who wishes she was, but who isn't. She faces pain and a struggle as she walks this walk, and I pray for her.

The interviewer notes:

Burchill was raised in Bristol as a Stalinist, and still has a bust of Lenin on her mantelpiece. She also has five dolls lined up in the kitchen, one for each abortion.

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