It’s Time To Legislate For Abortion In Ireland
THIS article has been a struggle to write. As a young Irish woman, I don’t feel oppressed on a daily basis. Sure, I’ve experienced a few dodgy comments and at times I’ve felt unsafe. But oppressed? No.
There is, of course, a reason why I haven’t felt like my gender has counted against me in this country. I have never been raped and had to go through the court process, which is an article for another day. And I have never needed nor wanted an abortion.
Very few people are what the extreme anti-choice lobby call ‘pro-abortion’. I’ll admit it, I’m not particularly keen on babies (which makes me a bad woman right away, doesn’t it?) but when I hear someone is pregnant, I’m invariably delighted for them. Even if the child isn’t planned, or they’re not doing it in the ‘traditional’ way, a wanted child is a thing of joy.
So, let’s debunk the first anti-abortion argument. Just because you believe that sometimes women need abortions, it doesn’t mean you are in favour of murdering babies in their cribs.
Nor does legal abortion involve dashing babies’ heads off walls, Lady Macbeth-style. In the UK (for all intents and purposes, where we get our abortions done) almost half of abortions are medical abortions. An early-term pregnancy is terminated by a tablet. Even in late-term abortion, the foetus’ heart is stopped medically before the operation is performed. Ironically, due to our restrictive laws, women from Ireland who terminate in the UK are more likely to have later abortions. It takes time to book flights, time off work, etc.
I realise that there are perfectly reasonable people on both sides of the debate. There are pro-life people genuinely educated about and uncomfortable with abortion and who have better reasons than ‘because Jesus said so’. Unfortunately, these people are drowned out by a small but very vocal lobby, whose funding has been called into question.
For many years, 60a Capel Street has been incongruous amid the adult stores and gay bars of that northside Dublin thoroughfare. It’s been simultaneously the headquarters of Youth Defence, the Life Institute, Coir and other organisations. How can so many supposedly well-supported and manned operations fit in the one building? To fully investigate these organisations is a mammoth task. Bloggers like Geoff Lillis, Bock the Robber, and the people at Rabble and Broadsheet (among others) have put in the hours and have concluded the following:
Most of the ‘likes’ on Youth Defence’s Facebook page are American, not Irish. According to the Atlantic, 70% of their Twitter followers are based in the States, a fairly amazing stat for a small, Irish community organisation.
In 2013, it was widely reported that Youth Defence refused to cooperate with the Standards of Public Office Commission, who wished to determine where their funding was coming from. This means we do not have a full breakdown of where their money is coming from. Many suspect it’s from American anti-abortion groups. Anecdotally, there is a huge difference between the funding available to pro-choice and anti-abortion groups. Irish pro-lifers do seem to have a fondness for glossy, well-produced posters and the funds are available for national billboard ads. Fine Gael TD Jim Daly spoke in the Dáil earlier this year about charities requesting money from elderly and vulnerable people last January. Family and Life, another separate pro-life, Catholic organisation was one he singled out for particular attention.
I mentioned earlier about the misinformation that is part and parcel of these organisations’ tactics. You may have heard about abortion ‘mills’, about ripping babies from wombs etc. Conor Farrell has written an excellent refutation of the arguments that appear on Youth Defence’s website and Facebook page. From an international perspective, Canadian doctor Dr Jen Gunter has written this refutation to many anti-abortion claims as well as the dangers of restricting access to legal abortion in the States.
Here is the crux of the abortion issue. In a perfect world, there would be no need for abortion. Every child would be born to parents who wanted them and cherished them. Rape would not exist. Mental health issues would not happen; every woman would be able to cope with a baby. No baby would be born with their parents knowing that they only had days or hours to live. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
We live in a world where excited couples see their dream shatter as an ultrasound reveals their baby is ‘incompatible with life’. We live in a world where a young immigrant to our country finds out she was pregnant after rape. So desperate was her situation that she tried to starve herself rather than go through with the pregnancy. But this young migrant did not know the game like we native Irishwomen do; she couldn’t go to England.
We also live in a world where pregnancy, let’s face it, is seen as a problem. Even for married women, even if the baby is hugely wanted, pregnancy is seen as a pain in the behind, something to be endured. Employers in the UK have admitted to hiring men over women as maternity leave is so onerous for them to fund. I scarcely think the figures are much different here.
I read an article a few years ago which has stuck with me since; a woman in her 30s was writing about how weird it felt to be trying to get pregnant, since she had spent her adult life trying to avoid it. Since puberty, we are bombarded with messages that getting pregnant, especially without a wedding ring, is a bad thing. Decades ago, you could find yourself institutionalised for it; even now, the shame and fear lingers.
So this is, in part, why abortion exists. We live in a society where the right kind of motherhood is fetishised and the wrong kind condemned; we have spent millennia listening to churches who saw pregnant women (even married ones) unclean. Hell, up until the 1960s, you had to be blessed to be let back into a Catholic church after having a kid. And people wonder why women want to end unwanted pregnancies?
We have been kidding ourselves that we live in that abortion-free utopia, purely thanks to our geography. The ice-age quirk that has left us in the shadow of a big, conquering neighbour has been our friend in this regard for decades. It’s easy to rely on England; our neighbour speaks the same language, many of us know it well and have relatives there. It’s also been the big bad wolf for most of our history; their Protestant, largely-secular society is something our conservative Catholics can be superior about. Anything could happen in England. And indeed it has to the 159, 779 women who have travelled from the Republic of Ireland to the UK for abortions between 1980 and 2013. These are just the women who gave Irish addresses; more have given Auntie Mary in Birkenhead’s postcode to the clinic.
I have absolutely no doubt that if we were located where Iceland is (abortion has been legal there since 1975, if you’re interested) we’d have dealt with this situation a long, long time ago. It’s a national embarrassment that we, the proud little Republic of Ireland, still have to rely on our nasty, godless, ex-colonial masters to do our dirty work and cover up our shameful little secrets. Call ourselves independent?
This may come to a head soon enough. Last year, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service placed an ad in national newspapers stating “We’ll care for your women until your government does”. This year, things are a bit different. The NHS is under severe pressure from the Tory government and is facing cutbacks – it was reported in the Sunday Business Post that UK hospitals may limit the number of Irish women it admits for abortions.
If this should happen, what will become of Irish women? Will the government finally get off the fence and legislate? The 8th Amendment is bad law and has been condemned by all sides. And yet, despite the urgent need for this law to be reshaped, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has said there won’t be a referendum in the lifetime of this government. ‘The people have already voted’ is the line coming from the Dáil. The last time this issue was put to the Irish people was in 2002. A lot can, and has, changed in 12 years. A lot of women who this directly affects were merely children last time around.
So what’s it going to be? Will we continue with the classic sweeping-under-the-carpet that our forefathers were so talented at or will we finally admit that Ireland has a problem with women?
Images c/0 abortioninireland.org, news.ie.msn.com, huffingtonpost.com