The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

I have some confessions to make. For a brief while I attended a Catholic school.

At this school one of the teachers was, if not fired, let’s say ‘asked to leave’, after sharing pictures of dead fetuses, which were apparently ‘victims of abortions’, with us learners. You don’t forget seeing pictures like those.

Later in my life, as a university student, I was briefly a member of an evangelical church on campus.

We raised money for a ‘Pregnancy Crisis Center’, whose stated mission was to help young women who had unwanted pregnancies and difficult life circumstances, but whose real reason for existence, I suspect, was to talk those women out of having abortions.

If you had asked me at, say, 21 years old, I might have said that abortion was something close to murder, and the government allowing or providing abortion was nothing less than state-sanctioned violence.

I was wrong, very wrong, and I apologize for being so wrong and so loud for so long.

Reading feminist literature has made me see things more from a different point of view. It has made me see that the start of life is complex; there are hard, gut-wrenching decisions to make in any pregnancy, even a healthy and wanted one, and the best-qualified person to make those decisions is the owner of the womb. Not some medical gentleman and certainly not the police.

Also, the more medical science I read, the more the ‘pro-life’ position seemed untenable. At, say, 10 weeks, your average fetus does not at all resemble the pictures my religious education teacher showed me. The idea that such a being can feel pain or has any kind of human consciousness is frankly ridiculous.

One likely would lose more human tissue in a circumcision, or surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. We should be more concerned about kids once they are born, or even that dead cow on our dinner plates, if we truly claim to be pro-life.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that my views at 21 were not much out-of-step with most people of my generation at that time.

But the political landscape in Namibia is changing.

In the 1990s, a proposal to amend the Namibian Abortion and Sterilization Act was quickly shut down by the established churches and their followers.

Now, a petition calling for abortion to be legalized in Namibia has reached over 60 000 signatures. A protest calling for this change is due to take place in Windhoek on Saturday July 18th. Despite the efforts of moral conservatives to sweep it under the rug, the issue will be discussed in Parliament.

Nevertheless, if pro-choice supporters want to win this fight, we should do more to reach out to people like my 21 year old self.

Those who attended church schools (pretty much all Namibians, at some time or another), those who watch TBN and Day Star TV, those who had a pastor or teacher at some time who showed them some shocking photos.

We can remind them – as Andre September did in a recent column in The Namibian – that ‘Christian’ attitudes to abortion – and whom should make the decision – have always varied. We can reassure them that the late-term abortions shown in my teacher’s propaganda photos would be extremely rare – only authorized if letting the pregnancy progress to birth would kill both mother and child.

We can show them that this movement is lead by young Namibian black women and has nothing to do with the apartheid government’s use of abortion, sterilization and contraception without consent to control the black population. The fear of this oppression returning may not be stated, but I feel it lies behind a lot of the opposition of older women in the National Assembly.

If asked for our views in brief, we can state simply that surely the best-placed person to make these decisions is not a government official, no matter how well meaning, but the person with the fetus in their body.

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog on http://ellishugh.wordpress.com