It’s getting increasingly difficult to remain balanced on the abortion debate in the face of the ‘pro-life’ onslaught. ‘Pro-life’…how I despise that term – as though the rest of us are somehow ‘pro-death’, or ‘pro-abortion’. And believe me, in online and protest debates, I’ve been called this and worse. Pro-choice is where I firmly stand, and for me, pro-choice means accepting the side of the world that we’d all like to pretend doesn’t exist – the side that breeds rapists, incest, foetal abnormalities that mean the baby will not exist outside of the womb, young teenage pregnancies, etc. etc.. Or that most terrifying and incomprehensible of possibilities – that when she gets pregnant, a woman might not want to have that baby brought into her life…whether from emotional or financial instability, or from the myriad of other reasons that might cause her to feel unequal to the task. For me, this is life in all of its greys and shades, far from the black and white dichotomy spouted by ‘pro-lifers’: oh, how I hate that term – and at the risk of sounding petty, from here on in I’m going to label them ‘anti-choicers’, in the spirit of their own antagonistic rhetoric. The bottom line of all of these arguments is that abortions do happen, are happening, and will continue to happen. By burying our heads in the sand, or trying to decide on the ‘worthy’ causes of abortion, we lose our grasp of the big picture – which is that not one of us has the right to force a woman to carry a child into this world that will not survive, or that she does not want.
We can argue back and forth about the morality, but really, what is the point at this stage? I won’t convince you of my argument, you won’t convince me of yours. It’s the atheist arguing with the religious person – no amount of facts and figures will sway those with belief from their faith. How many times have these types of discussions ended with a conciliatory, ‘well, I hadn’t thought about it SCIENTIFICALLY before!’: people come to, or from, their own beliefs in their own time, and generally spouting an onslaught of arguments against their tenets will just entrench them further. So, too, continues the abortion debate – we argue on both sides as though we’ll convince the other, when what we all need to do is step back and admit that our beliefs are not important in this issue. If you are pro-choice, then be pro-choice. If you are anti-choice, then by all means don’t ever seek an abortion in your life, and consider it to be the morally repugnant act you truly believe it is…feel free in those beliefs, and sermon them round the dinner table as much as you like. But don’t for a second believe that your faith in the morality or otherwise of abortion should effect legislation.
Of course, because of our parochial country and the financial support of religious groups, it seems that it is, and will continue to, effect political movement – but my God, the fact is that in a strong and working democracy it should have no bearing. Women travel every day to England, outsourcing our problem to another shore so that we can pretend it doesn’t happen at all – and protecting the deeply held belief of anti-choicers that by resisting it in Ireland they are somehow preventing abortion from taking place. This is patently not true, and results in an entire nation burying their heads in the sand rather than have this difficult conversation out in the open. It is so reminiscent of our great and wondrous community spirit, where neighbour loves neighbour until a halting site is proposed for the area. Everyone in the surrounds can recognise the value of it, and the absolute necessity of its being built somewhere…but nobody wants it on their doorstep. Much better for it to be elsewhere (maybe England?), and be someone else’s problem. This juxtaposition of recognising a need in society and community but being unwilling to enact the change that is required is symptomatic of the anti-choice brigade. Spouting their vicious rhetoric and plastering pictures of unborn foetuses all over the city as though the rest of us were marching with necklaces of aborted babies adorning our necks in gleeful joy. We do not march on the bodies of babies: we march for the bodies of women.
Forget the arguments I could make for abortion – the multitude of reasons that cause a woman to make this difficult choice have been well documented – because these points are ignored as inconsequential by the other side of the debate. For anti-choicers, the bottom line is that abortion equals death and it should never be allowed in Ireland. What they are actually saying, then, is that we should continue to use England as our get-out-of-jail card…if you’re desperate enough, you’ll find a way to get on that boat/plane/coffin-ship, as though personal and financial circumstances play no part at all. A phrase much in use in the papers and in online arguments is that we will ‘open the floodgates’ for abortion on demand…as though women will be lining up round the block, giggling delightedly as they queue for a chance to have that longed-for abortion, equating it to the latest trend. As though abortion were a luxury item, instead of a terrible necessity. As though women will use it instead of contraception – why, after all, should they use a condom when they can just have an oh-so-simple and oh-so-quick procedure in a lovely doctor’s surgery the following morning? The ignorance is staggering.
Abortionpalooza – that’s what the anti-choicers envisage, and in that bottom-line argument I cannot be reconciled. Yes, there are always exceptions – those who don’t understand the terrible sacrifice abortion requires – but the majority of women approach abortion as a last-ditch solution to a heavy problem. Who are we, any of us, to make that decision for each individual woman who finds herself in that situation? I am pro-choice because I believe that my personal beliefs have no place in deciding the fate of women all over Ireland. I am pro-choice because I believe that the choice should be hers, and hers alone. Anti-choicers are entitled to their opinion – they are free to have it, and to believe it, and to strongly feel it in their bones. But they are not entitled to make their beliefs the decision of every woman in the nation. Are they stepping up to care for the countless children neglected and abused? Let women choose for themselves, and let them live with their own choices – as each of us do in every way throughout the world. Keep those beliefs, but keep them out of my face and out of my government. Give women the choices they deserve, instead of shipping out our problem to another land and pretending it doesn’t exist. Don’t criminalise someone for feeling so backed into a corner that their only option is to ‘hide their shame’ on an Aer Lingus flight. Giving women more freedoms has never yet resulted in the worsening of society, and giving women more reproductive choices can only increase the level of care given to those children born.
My basic message to anti-choicers is to continue in your beliefs, stay as strong as you like in your opposition to abortion – don’t you ever, at any stage, have an abortion yourself. But allow me the freedom, the respect, and the confidence to make my own decisions in life and to live with the consequences of my own choice. Don’t keep putting me on that flight to England, pretending that I don’t exist, and acting as though your restrictive notions are the standard by which government should rule.