A woman's plight exposes our hypocrisy on abortion
Martina Devlin The Irish Independent
I was having a tooth drilled when Ray D'Arcy began reading aloud a listener's email. His Today FM show was playing in the background but I paid no attention initially -- preoccupied by the dental treatment.
The story proved impossible to ignore, however: its details demanded a hearing. A 28-year-old single Irishwoman was explaining why she flew to England recently for an abortion, what happened during the course of that harrowing day, and how she felt in the aftermath.
She described fainting in the airport as she waited five hours for her return flight to Ireland, and the guilt, shame, and above all secrecy, which added their weight to this daunting experience.
If the procedure had been available at home, it would have taken two hours. Instead she caught two flights, underwent an 18-hour day and endured the experience on her own because of the stigma attached to abortion, which remains illegal in Ireland.
Her conclusion was that women should not be obliged to travel to another jurisdiction if they decide against continuing with a pregnancy; that the State is shirking its duty towards living citizens -- as opposed to unborn ones -- by denying them the option of a termination on home ground.
There were three women in that dental surgery on Tuesday morning: the dentist, her assistant and myself. All of us were riveted.
For the first time, I sat on in the chair after my molar was filled, reluctant to leave. I wanted to hear the outcome -- we all did. Afterwards we looked at one another, dazed.
The three of us did not share a viewpoint on abortion, but none of us felt anything but compassion for the woman. An appalling experience was intensified by the State's Pontius Pilate approach to abortion: do as you like but not in our back yard.
We venerate motherhood in Ireland, between our Virgin Mary cult, our Mother Ireland iconography and the general Mammy fixation.
Yet even within this context, it seems excessive that our laws make motherhood compulsory. That's what our anti-abortion decree amounts to -- mandatory mothering.
The nature of the human condition is to buck against what is obligatory, so women have always tried to circumvent pregnancy in circumstances where having a baby is unwelcome.
In previous years there were DIY abortions, sometimes with disastrous results. More recently, Irish women from both sides of the Border go to Britain for terminations.
Politicians find this export trade convenient, since it saves them from the inevitable furore that would be stirred up by legislating for abortion.
Tearful, scared and often alone, these women deal with their pregnancies in circumstances made more distressing by our unwillingness to accept that abortions happen, whether we legalise them or not.
No one takes the decision to end a pregnancy lightly, and no doubt many live with guilt. But they do what they need to, for a variety of reasons. Compulsory motherhood is never advisable.
By vetoing abortion, one sector of society is imposing its moral standards on another. It is not just making windows into women's souls, but usurping control of their bodies.
The subject is a guaranteed catalyst for dissent, with middle ground difficult to find. People are either vociferously pro-choice or passionately pro-life. Some pro-lifers denounce abortion as murder, and claim legalising it would lead to abortion being used as a form of contraception.
Few pro-choice advocates would argue that abortion is positive -- most accept it as sad, and best avoided -- but they defend a woman's right to decide for herself.
A woman would have to be
very stupid to see abortion as a birth control option. It comes down to the rights of the mother versus the rights of the unborn child.
For me, the rights of the living always take precedence over those not yet born, but many -- perhaps the majority in the country -- disagree. Their viewpoint is enshrined in the Constitution, which protects the unborn baby.
But this shield does not mean that no Irish child is ever aborted. It means abortions happen outside our territory. In this age of cheap air fares, no line is being held.
The abortion debate is coming to the fore again because it is being mobilised as ammunition in the anti-Lisbon campaign.
Alarmist tactics have already begun. European law cannot impose abortion if the Lisbon Treaty is passed, but protesters suggest that ratifying the treaty will bring about backdoor admission to abortion.
Abortion has only entered the discussion as a means of manipulating people into voting against Lisbon.
This is no climate in which to be eurosceptic -- indeed, we are in danger of self-destructing if we reject Lisbon a second time -- but activists urge anyone opposed to abortion to reject the treaty. It's scaremongering, but some find it persuasive.
European law cannot supersede our constitution and abortion law will remain a matter for each member state. But it is more convenient for anti-Lisbonites to stir up doubt and confusion.
Meanwhile, thousands of Irish women go to Britain to have their abortions, and the Irish State looks the other way. Hypocrisy has always been our drug of choice.