Monday, May 07, 2007

'We Can Only Hope Politicians Understand People In The New Ireland When It Comes To Tackling Abortion'

Nuala O'Faolain Sunday Tribune May 6th 2007.

I am awestruck by the way women bear and bring up children in even the most terrible situations and by the way they are so often their chjildren's protectors in the face of violence and other cruelties. In my experience, women long to be mothers if circumstances can possibly be made to allow it and when they have children will feed them before feeding themselves and will never walk away from them. I know, of course, that there are many exceptions; but I overwhelmingly trust women to act as responsibly as they can towards flesh of their flesh. Therefore when a pregnant woman, who must more fully than anyone else envisage and imagine the coming child, and measure herself and her circumstances against lifelong commitment that having that child would entail- when that woman decides to have an abortion, I respect her choice.

So- oh no! was my first thought, when news the news broke of 'Miss D' and her foetus that can never become a baby. Oh no, not abortion again! And yet there has to come a time when we can think and talk about the profound civic questions raised by abortion. Because cases like the X and C and D ones will keep presenting themselves. There are far too many sperm seeking far too many eggs in far too many complicated life-stories for it not to happen - over and over- and it will seem to some pregnant woman that it is better not to complete the pregnancy and it will seem to someone else that she should and must.

If I saw the slightest chance that any other political party would take on difficult but civic-minded task of legislating in accordance with judicial decisions on abortion which we're trying to juggle with now, I'd vote for that party. Because one thing we know for sure- Fianna Fáil have been here all the time and they have n't done anything. And we're dependent on politicians. It suits them to pretend that the hard questions don't exist. But they're in the hot seat on abortion-or, they should be. They're the branch of government we can influence through our votes. We can express our wishes through them- in theory, at any rate. And they're supposed to know us and be willing to frame legislation in accordance with their sense of what Irish people, on the whole want.

Judges can but be remote from common experience and paternalistic in manner- and that's particularly galling on the profoundly intimate subject of abortion. Last week I was a visitor to the Supreme Court in Wasghington and I felt great coldness towards the men on the bench who, a week before, had given anti-abortion forces a victory when they ruled against the method of abortion called by anti-abortion activists the 'partial birth' procedure. I was thrilled even to be in the Supreme Court building- a place where 'the republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith'- and I think the various arms of government in the United States was and is one of the great achievments of human thinking. But I sat there glaring uselessly at the five justices who formed the majority in the anti-abortion decision.

It's bad enough that men, and men only, made the decision about an experience that is absolutely gender-specific.But worse are the value judgments, put forward as reasoning, which reveal a worldview entirely formed by the experience of being male, and male of a certain 'superior' kind. Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example, suggested that a pregnant woman who chooses abortion 'falls away from true womanhood'. Somewhere else the ruling says, whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision, which some women come to regret'- and this was put forward as a reason to ban late abortion.

Some women do of course bitterly regret their abortions. But why treat women as if they were children who have to be protected against their own regret? If it were really, fully accepted that women are moral beings, just as men are, their own regret would not be used against all the other moral women who do not at all regret having an abortion. 'It is beyond Alice in Wonderland' wrote a professor from Yale Law School,'to criminalize abortion to protect women'.

This Republican-Bush-Supreme Court seems to me to have a view of women which is very much out of date and, of course, a court can be like that. But when the politicians here in Ireland grasp the abortion nettle-and some day they'll have to- we can hope they'll have a better sense of how people are- how they are now. Because people in the new Ireland- especially, perhaps women- are very different from what they were in 1992(the X case) or 1983(the anti-abortion amendment to the constitution campaign). People have changed under the influence of money and education and hope and information streaming through travel and through new channels of communication. It is surely far less clear to anti-abortion people than it used to be that it is the wish of a loving God that Miss D should carry her foetus to certain death. And it is increasingly less acceptable that in a multicultural Ireland, with all-island cultural aspirations, the views of the followers of one church should be priveleged over other views.

So, on second thoughts- no. I'm not complaining that abortion is back agian. On the contrary bring- bring it on!

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