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The pro-life lobby

Denigrating bona fide pro-life campaigners as uninformed dinosaurs is simplistic and too easy

I am in favour of liberal laws on abortion. I once initiated an abortive master’s thesis about it, coming down in favour of the liberal approach. This magazine has always taken a liberal stance, outlining all the obvious anomalies in the Irish regime. We have devoted cover and editorial space to the issue and given serial platforms to the lead campaigners. We would never of course give a cover to the pro-life agenda.

However, I do not consider the issue is simple. For instance Una Mullally, a columnist in the Irish Times, says people are asking: “How could Ireland allow same-sex marriage yet deny women the right to choose?”. That is banal. More blatantly she has declared: “Personally, I believe there is no ambiguity to what needs to be done”. There is.

Though the debate never addresses it, the problem is that: it is impossible to say what rights apply to a foetus. We only have a language for human rights. The lexicon doesn’t come close to addressing the rights of animals, nature, or life that is on course to become human.

I am loath to criticise anyone who believes a foetus has enough of the stuff of humanity to benefit from human rights. I can understand why someone would take that view. I can understand that they may even see abortion as equivalent to murder and be driven to campaign on the matter with the zeal that would demand. I do not share the view but I respect it.

As a feminist, I am reluctant to pronounce on a matter where a man can never be burdened with the downside of the zealous approach. I also consider society could not really function if women, upon whom humanity depends for the early nurturing of the species, drew obvious conclusions from any regime that coerced them to bear children they did not want to bear.

Because of the complexity of the issue and indeed of modern lives, because unwanted pregnancies inevitably bespeak trauma of a sort, and contraception is not properly provided, or even explained, to vulnerable young people, I would abhor any attempt at moralising over women who are contemplating, or have had, abortions.

A blog by comic Tara Flynn puts it well: “I had an abortion. I am not a murderer. I am not a criminal. I am not a vessel”.

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Nevertheless abortion is not an issue I am comfortable with nor one I think anyone should be comfortable with.

I do not shy from saying that abortion is best avoided. I cannot agree with the view, recently ventilated, that it is the “opposite of wrong”, though certainly it can often be that, for a particular person.

None of this is to say that certain aspects of the debate cannot be treated as black and white. It seems to me that Sabina Higgins was in fact not deviant, for example, when she said that it is uncivilised to prohibit pregnancy terminations where there is a fatal foetal abnormality. It seems to me she was, through it all, really only asserting a fact. I would also tend to believe that prohibiting terminations even after rape or incest is akin to enslaving women.

But the central pro-life, anti-abortion proposition is more difficult to definitively denigrate.

Against this background I am worried by the hegemonic unassailability in the media of the pro-liberalisation voice. This voice is the ascendant one though the dominant media deny even this. To the extent that mainstream media review the quality of the coverage of abortion, they seem to be biased to the point of denial. For example an article, again by Una Mullally, in the Irish Times under the heading: ‘Greetings from Ireland – the land of balance and crazy abortion laws’, claims:

“Just as broadcasters made fools of themselves clambering for anti-gayrights opinions in the lead up to the marriage referendum, they continue to see voices that are pro-choice as things that need to be not listened to but opposed. What ‘balance’ is really about is censorship. Women get balanced. Gays get balanced. If only they’d stop talking about their rights. If only we could keep our fingers in our ears without hearing these horror stories. Balance. Help”.

Village has dealt elsewhere with the phenomenon that right-on agendas suppress the facts, choosing to apply the evidence to the opinion rather than the other way around. For example it does seem that media treatment of the tragic Savita Halappanavar case tended to overemphasise the role of the failure to provide an abortion in her death, where medical deficiencies seem to have been the actual immediate cause.

Liberal media cover stories where denial of abortion causes death but often do not cover cases where abortion causes death.

Village promotes equality. It is a byproduct of that agenda that views that do not endear themselves to the editorial slant of the magazine, provided only that they are tenable, should get an occasional airing, even if fashion has deserted them, indeed especially if fashion has deserted them.

Typically such views are designated to contrast them with the views of the magazine – “counterpoint’, “contrariwise” etc.

The progenitors of the 1983 Eighth amendment were incompetent and their wording foolish, making the recent ‘Celebrate the Eighth’ rally offensive, but as we can see from that event and more generally, for example in the US, the pro-life viewpoint is not moribund.

Mullally believes that: “Fine Gael’s shirking needs to be called out…What we need on abortion is political leadership”. The problem is that the leadership Fine Gael would provide if it stopped shirking is simply not in the direction Mullally advocates.

By Michael Smith