There must be better way than by taking life Irish Times Saturday July 14th 2007
When the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) issued its annual report this week, it was interesting to revisit its mandate as established in 2001, writes Breda O'Brien .
Firstly, it is supposed to provide for a reduction in the number of crisis pregnancies by the provision of education, advice and contraceptive services. Secondly, it is to bring about a reduction in the number of women with crisis pregnancies who opt for abortion by offering services and supports which make other options more attractive. Finally, it is to provide support for women after crisis pregnancy.
There are some worthwhile aspects to what the CPA is doing. One of the genuinely positive initiatives has been the provision of a DVD for parents on how to talk to children about sex. The advice is commonsense and down-to-earth: stop thinking about it as "the talk" and see it as an ongoing process: it is not just about physical facts, but an attitude to relationships: most teenagers want their information to come from parents, and the process is not complete until you have shared your values with your child.
Certainly, the numbers of teenage births have fallen, as have the numbers of women giving Irish addresses to abortion clinics in Britain. There has been a small rise in the numbers seeking abortion in places such as the Netherlands.
The reasons for the decline in the abortion rate (the number of abortions per thousand women in the population) from 7.5 in 2001 to 5.2 in 2006 are probably complex. Whatever the reasons, it is welcome. One reason may be that lone parenthood is no longer as stigmatised as it once was. Also, images of unborn children have not just been seen in specialist books using so-called 4D imaging scans, but even in television advertisements for cars and insurance. It is difficult to deny the humanity of a thumb-sucking foetus.
While the CPA may have played some role in the reduction of numbers seeking abortion, it is difficult to see how it is doing so by making "other options more attractive". Every new counselling service being set up offers details about abortion clinics, although not referrals. 57 per cent of funding for crisis pregnancy counselling goes to organisations that provide abortion clinic details, and the CPA is in ongoing dispute with the Irish bishops over Cura's decision not to provide the Positive Options leaflet.
The leaflet treats abortion as a positive option, which is most definitely not in the spirit of the second part of CPA's mandate. The agency claims that "positive options" refers not to the choices women make regarding the outcome of their pregnancies, but to accessing counselling, which it says is always a positive option.
That would be like a counselling service for people who feel suicidal stating that the fact people had accessed the service was in itself a positive option, regardless of outcome. The outcome matters, and it matters most to the people in the situation. Furthermore, I doubt very much that women and their partners in crisis believe that the CPA slogan "no judge, no jury, just information" refers to the choice of accessing counselling options.
You don't find advertising with slogans such as "There is always a better way than abortion" being funded by the CPA. At best, they are studiously neutral about the difference between parenting, adoption and abortion. They do spend 6 per cent of their funding on supported accommodation, and they conducted a literature review on work-life balance which concluded that supportive workplaces, childcare and flexible working practices encourage women to think they can combine work and motherhood.
There is lots of research available about the negative outcomes for women who chose abortion. The CPA could require all counselling organisations receiving funding to distribute leaflets informing women that research suggests that choosing abortion results in higher rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviours. In the CPA's current incarnation, that is extremely unlikely.
While deeply sympathetic to women who choose abortion because they can see no other way out, I have little sympathy for those who attempt to frame abortion as a human right. Ironically, given that the impetus to legalise abortion came from feminism, there is a strand within feminism that may be sowing the seeds for a completely different viewpoint on abortion.
One school of feminist thought on ethics and social policy proposes that the rhetoric of rights and justice is inadequate if it does not also take into account an ethic of care. Eva Feder Kittay is one of the most influential writers in this area. She says: "A care-based ethic speaks of moral relations not only between equals, but among those who are unequal in age, capacities, and/or powers. Within a care ethics, relations of responsibilities and relationships of trust to those who require our care or assistance are stressed." She also states that while western culture exalts independence, that dependence is the natural state for every human being at some stage of existence, whether it be childhood, illness, impairment and frail old age.
While Kittay remains pro-choice, her work and that of other feminist thinkers shows a way of reframing feminist thinking on abortion.
Currently, the emphasis on the autonomy of the woman, and her ability to make a choice regarding her own body, ignores the idea of a care ethic based on relationship and responsibility. It follows from Kittay's ideas, that in order to be genuinely inclusive, the rhetoric of compassion and empathy must include all the parties in abortion. Currently, the inability of the foetus to live independently of the woman is seen as the ultimate handicap, one that denies them an automatic right to life.
Looking at the world through the lens of a feminist care ethic, which emphasises bonds, responsibilities and intergenerational care-giving, does not range the rights of the woman against the rights of her child, but puts them on the same side.
Society in turn then has an obligation to provide care for the woman that would genuinely support her in giving life rather than taking it. For most human beings, this approach is somehow more whole, as there must always be a better way to solve our human dilemmas than ending the life of another human, no matter how small he or she may be.