Okay, so, two things:
1) I’m not Irish, and don’t live in Ireland, so maybe I should shut the f*ck up.
2) Chances are, by the time you - the average visitor to Marceltipool.com - read this, voting will have taken place, and my assumption, from over here in Britain two days before, is that Ireland will have voted Yes in a big way.
Well, to deal with both of those points, I’m nailing my colours to the mast on this referendum because I see it as a vote to legalise, and further the legitimisation of, abortion, both in Ireland and globally. Should Ireland vote Yes, then this piece can act as one of many examples of a counterargument whenever someone campaigning for easier access to abortion says “Even Ireland’s with us now!”
We’ve watched the Claire Byrne debate - the No side seemed to me to do better, as unsatisfying a programme as it was, despite the media generally having a different take - and others, and we’ve heard about John Waters walking out of an interview. Despite the circumstances of the lattermost, in my opinion we haven’t heard enough voices dismissing the “viability” debate that both sides seem so fixated on.
When John Waters said so passionately to Eamon Dunphy “These are angels dancing on the head of a pin when there are tanks coming down the main street” he wasn’t talking about rape victims, nor fatal foetal abnormality, nor any one of the other hard cases that are being pushed as reasons to remove the Eighth Amendment (which enshrines the life of the unborn as equal to that of the mother). No, repealing the Eighth Amendment would mean pregnancies could be ended within the first twelve weeks, with no evidencing of physical or psychological ill health to the pregnant woman required.
The statistics on abortion in western democracies (Ireland is “behind the times”) will demonstrate what a change that would make to the country, and this is where the debate around when life begins is so important. My view is clear: Lives which were to play out will be ended, as is the case for millions worldwide.
The social acceptability of abortion in the modern world really derives from the oft-cited Roe v. Wade case, decided in 1973. Clearly, this overlong article couldn’t cope with me summarising that event, but this conclusion was drawn by the justices:
"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."
And this is the point at which I find the acceptability of abortion amazing. If we can’t confirm when life begins, then abortion is always either the ending of a life or the potential ending of a life. Whether we regard life as first person perspective, subjectiveness, or a soul, I don’t understand why we don’t err on the side of caution and assume, at the very least, the allocation, the determination, of this personhood at the point of conception.
When a toddler dies in a tragic accident, for example, we talk about all the life milestones that child will consequently never experience. We talk about first attendance of sports matches, teenage romances, university, children of their own. My belief, that life begins at conception, doesn’t even greatly matter - the fact is that we don’t know that it doesn’t. We shouldn’t speculate that it doesn’t. Otherwise, we could be removing that same timeline.
I don’t hear an argument that there is a queue of souls waiting for a “viable” foetus. Does allocated perception - allocated supernaturally, or biologically - wait until the foetus could survive outside the uterus before it comes to existence? That sounds like speculation.
This isn’t a referendum on the hard cases. We should vote No because we can’t know that a life that was to be led won’t be extinguished by abortion. It may be a subjectively poor quality life, due to the circumstances of the mother and the timing of the baby’s arrival, in which case this is an argument about euthanasia, not abortion. There are plenty of children who we conclude will have a poor quality of life, but all would accept they should be allowed to live it out.
Why, also, do we hear the critical refrain “even in cases of rape” when talking about those in the No camp? There is an acceptance, on the Yes side, of the seriousness - the deadly seriousness - of abortion. If it would have played out, and statistically most detected pregnancies can, then to end that pregnancy is not about the development of that foetus at the point of the abortion, but the life that has not been allowed to live out.
It must be noted that many of the example-based arguments for a Yes vote given by campaigners are based around mistakes and misconceptions on the part of healthcare workers, not circumstances dictated by the Eighth Amendment. Training and understanding of the meaning of the current legislation should be improved to avoid these happening, not a licence to end a life given instead.
The No campaign is not necessarily on the right of the political spectrum. Many No campaigners advocate greater compassion via healthcare and social care for pregnant women, whatever their circumstances - and a greater governmental budget to facilitate this. Abortion involving Irish citizens perhaps occurs, currently often via an Irish Sea crossing, as a consequence of a shortfall in support. An option that I don’t believe should ever be on the table is taken through not enough being done to help women through pregnancies.
Instead, the received wisdom is that Yes campaigners demonstrate compassion (to women), and No campaigners none. The truth is, compassion takes many forms, and can be long-sighted. We do not end lives, even if we believe it’s before they’ve truly begun.
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