Here’s why I’m pro-choice: a beginners’ guide

abortion ireland choice

There are a few things guaranteed to get a response from my social media followers – Penneys’ bed covers, feeding my dog with human utensils (what? The dishwasher totally sterilises them) and telling people that I’m pro-choice. The messages range in severity from the supportive (“Thank you so much for speaking out about this really important issue”) to the politely dismissive (“You wouldn’t be pro-choice if you’d ever had a baby”) to the censorship-loving extremists (“I think it’s extremely damaging that you are sharing your damaging views to hundreds of young, impressionable women”).

I write back to them all: I say thanks; I say, well I’ll never know now, will I?; I say, actually it’s thousands – and I like to think I’m helping them.

I am very aware that, for those people who consider themselves avidly anti-choice (I know they’d like to term themselves “pro-life”, but it’s a moniker with which I politely disagree; it would be more accurate to say, “pro potential life but not pre-existing life and definitely not pro-woman”), there is little that can be said to change their minds. But for those people who sit on the fence – who say, “well, I’m pro-choice, but…” there is a lot that can be achieved by explaining the reasons why I am, and always will be, pro-choice.

My pro-choice beginnings

When I was in secondary school, we were taught religion by a nun. In sixth year in school, we had a talk from a pro-life activist. She told us all about how life begins at conception, and showed us photographs of what happens “babies” when they are aborted (late-term, of course).

Later, I asked our religion teacher if we would be receiving a talk from a pro-choice activist. A lot of us were approaching legal voting age, and I felt it was unfair to just give us one side of the story. Needless to say, the answer was no.

From small roots grow tall trees

In a way, I was born pro-choice; I have never, ever understood how any individual could seek to limits the rights of another, based on their own sense of morality, ethics or personal choice. Even when, as a 16-year-old with dreams of having a family of her own, I would have uttered sentences like, “Well, I’d never have an abortion myself, but I wouldn’t deny that right to someone else… Why should we force anyone to have a baby she doesn’t want?”

It feels like common sense, right?

And the reality of it is: we very rarely force women to carry babies they don’t want. Although, to our great shame, it has happened.

There was the Y case, in which a young woman, a foreign national, arrived in Ireland pregnant – she had been raped in her home country, and wanted an abortion. But, without documents, she couldn’t travel to the UK. She was deemed suicidal, and went on hunger strike; the HSE obtained a High Court injunction to hydrate her, and her baby was delivered by Caesarean section at 25 weeks.

So, in summary: a young woman was raped. She did not want to have the baby. Psychiatrists confirmed that she was suicidal, but the Irish State kept her alive until they could forcibly remove her baby – a baby she did not want to carry to term – from her body. Could anyone ever argue that this is okay?

The 8th amendment doesn’t just hurt women seeking abortions

The 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution essentially places the life of the unborn – that is, the life of a fertilised embryo, from the moment it is confirmed as such – on a par with the life of the mother. So that, if you wish to terminate your pregnancy; if you wish to halt the growth of cells (that may or may not become a baby), you are denied the right to do so based on the fact that the Irish Government has decided that group of cells is as valuable as you are. Your worth is measured as being exactly equal to a fertilised embryo the size of a grape.

Of course, this judgment doesn’t just harm women who don’t want to proceed with their pregnancies; it harms those who do, too.

Remember Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist who died in hospital in Galway due to complications arising from a miscarriage at 17 weeks. Afterwards, it was deemed that doctors essentially placed the welfare of the newborn – refusing to terminate the pregnancy, despite repeated requests to do so by Savita and her husband – above the growing risk to Savita’s life.

Women will have abortions – whether you agree with them or not

For me, this is the ultimate sticking point. For those who want the 8th amendment maintained, for those who declare themselves “pro-life” and say that Ireland should never provide access to abortion for anyone, under any circumstances… How do you hope to achieve these aims?

If you think about it realistically, you will never, ever succeed in your goal of forcing Irish women never, ever to have terminations. In fact, nine women per day travelled for terminations in 2015, according to stats from the UK. That’s nine women, every day, who are forced to travel to another country to undergo a procedure that, essentially, boils down to this: their right to choose whether their body is used to create another human, or not.

The only thing that our current laws ensure is that women are taxed for their abortions; they must take extra time out of their lives; they’re often forced to have terminations later than they would like to (because it’s not always that straightforward to up and go to the UK at a moment’s notice).

For those women who are opting to terminate their pregnancies because a doctor in Ireland has told them their child will not survive or, indeed, will suffer greatly upon delivery, the reality is even starker: it drags out a procedure that they hoped they’d never have to undergo.

And, above all else, it forces the truth underground. It forces us to feel ashamed of our choices, to feel ashamed of decisions made about our bodies, our lives and our futures.

Is this what we want for our women? If your answer is yes, then please, tell me again how you can consider yourself “pro-life”.

20 Replies to “Here’s why I’m pro-choice: a beginners’ guide”

  1. It’s just not black and white, at all. I hear and respect your opinion and am not going to argue against any of it but deep within my soul, I honestly feel that abortion is wrong. I’m not in any way religious so that’s not where my viewpoint is coming. I do think that there should be exceptions for cases of rape, mental/physical health concerns for the mother or fatal fetal abnormality but I just can’t make peace with abortion outside of that.

  2. You say it’s impossible to say it’s ok for a woman to carry a child that is the result of a rape if she doesn’t want to. Well, as a person produced from a rape. In the country I was born abortion is illegal now. At the time it was illegal except in cases of rape, when the life of the mother was at risk or there were serious congenital disorders detected. Evidently I was not planned, my mother was destitute and of no fixed abode but she morally accepted that the “group of cells” hadn’t hurt her and hadn’t done anything wrong. So she carried me, gave birth to me and gave me up for international adoption; itself a risk to all parties involved at the time. I am “pro life” as my birth mother continued with her life, having done something so unimaginably difficult, i was given life and live comfortably in the developed world, eternally grateful to a woman I’ve never met for considering the person I would become beyond the fertilised embryo, and my parents gained a new life that they longed for and struggled through years of obstacles and beauracracy to gain. My mum is a reason I will always be “pro-women”. The lives of others have been changed as 5 of us adopted from the same country around the same age grew up knowing each other and our families. Please don’t undermine the value of my or anybody else’s life by sugggeting when women should have an abortion, that a group of cells shouldn’t be allowed to develop because of who the father is or that other people’s lives can’t be changed when they have had struggles starting their own family. I know that political opinions can seem extreme to those on the other side but if you want abortion to be an option, it is just that. And it doesn’t suddenly mean it’s “okay” or that a woman should be allowed she definitely not encouraged to do it “whenever and why ever they want” as you have previously said on your snapchat.
    I do admire you publicly engaging in such an emotional debate, and understand it’s importance and hope you find my view neither dismissive nor extremist.

  3. Hi Rosemary,

    I am very much in agreement with all of your points.

    The implications of the 8th Amendment on maternity care and women’s health including those who are trying to get pregnant also need to be discussed and clearly outlined.

    People who do not agree with abortion may not realise the implications that the 8th Amendment has beyond abortion and in this way I feel the campaign to repeal the 8th would appeal or make sense to more people if they realised that it affects or potentially affects them, their partners, their daughters, their sisters in many ways.

    I find it hard to believe that anyone regardless of religious persuasion or political leanings would agree with putting the lives of women in danger, and as such feel if they realised this they would be in favour of repealing the 8th amendment.

    The Midwives for Choice have put together a really informative video on this, it can be found on their Facebook page.

  4. @ LOK

    I completely understand your point of view and in a way I feel the same. To me a foetus is a baby from the moment it is conceived, but I’m still quite avidly pro-choice. That is because while I believe for my own personal morals I would never have an abortion for myself, that doesn’t mean that I can dictate other people’s morality. Scientifically, it’s not a human being. I feel that my personal beliefs have no bearing in what other people believe and I have no right to tell other women what is a crisis pregnancy or not. If they feel it’s a crisis pregnancy then they should have access to a medical procedure that the availability of which is deemed a human right by the EU, UN, and, most importantly, WHO.

    Basically, it comes down to the fact that I can dictate what happens to my body by deciding to never have an abortion, but I can’t deny or interfere with the rights or other women to decide what happens to their body – even if their choice is something I wouldn’t choose for myself.

  5. Im writing this here and Snapchat as im so grrrrr….Your article on Pro Choice is really well written and as always you keep it interesting but so annoying!! You’re talking about halting the growth of cells which just goes to show you that you don’t see the baby as was it is… a baby! I get its your opinion and all that jazz but did you know that abortions happen up to 24 weeks in the UK? That’s a 6 months pregnancy.. how can you not admit that that’s a baby ? I have a friend that was born at 23 weeks and survived and is a fine build healthy man today and you’re telling us that that’s okay? That my friends life was not as important as his mother’s? You’re article is informative but why not speak of the limitations ? Abortions are going to happen no matter what… unfortunately that is just something that will eventually happen… but why not speak of the time limits of how many weeks until you can’t. .. or are you honestly saying that if a woman had an abortion at 35 weeks (unlikely) but if she did your opinion would be “well it’s her body…” Do you not see what’s wrong with a 24 week (6 months) abortion…. it’s crazy…. they have a heart a face hands toes nails head everything … you also make great points about the two women who died.. but what about all the women who committed suicide after having an abortion… its huge but not speaked of as much… I don’t only think of the baby I’m thinking of how that women will feel for the rest of her life… maybe she will be fine but statistics show that a high number of women regret it. If and when this goes through we cannot let it happen at such a late stage which is currently happening in the UK…. Gawd this turned into a proper rant. … soz

  6. Another misinformed piece. I am 100% pro choice myself, but ireland has come a long way since the case of Savita. Maybe you should familiarise yourself with the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, 2013, which places the women’s life above the life of her child should her life be in risk.

    Like I said, im 100% pro choice, but I find the approach of the Repeal campaign needlessly polarising and overly militant. They shut down genuine conversation and have an “you’re either with us or against us, stance”. Many people who are against abortion aren’t doing it for religious reasons, that’s a very narrow minded stance.

  7. Thanks for the click, Penny – every visitor counts!

  8. No bother. Now, want to engage with the points I made? Or just continue to be dismissive and ignorant?

  9. Do I want to engage with someone who’s left about 40 comments on my blog over the past month, all of which being dismissive of and ignorant to MY experiences? No, not really – but, like I said, please do keep visiting!

  10. Lol. Thought as much.
    Very brave of you to admit you’re doing this all for the clicks. That much was clear from the get go but thanks for clarifying.

    40 comments? I doubt it’s that much but some have been back and forth having conversations.. that’s what this section is for right?
    I’m guessing you wouldn’t have a problem if they were 40 comments of fawning fangirling praise.

  11. Penny, I don’t “have a problem” at all – I’m just not interested in debating with someone who’s clearly determined to take me down a peg or two. That’s your issue, not mine.

  12. Not taking anyone down, I’m interested in critical debate. You clearly are not.

    Also, I find it overly offensive that you’d include this article in what you call “MY experiences”. Do you think that this issue effects only you Rosemary? Can no opposing voices express their views? (I’m actually for repealing the 8th, just to clarify How ignorant of a statement to make.

    You put three articles out into the public sphere, but go on the defence and attack when people don’t agree with your stance. “Stop being ignorant and dismissive of my experiences”..
    If you’re not ready for a critical and reproaching comments, then maybe don’t put “your experiences” out there for the public to comment on.
    Simple.

  13. Penny, your dismissiveness of my experiences was clearly in reference to the other blog post with which you’re obsessed, in which I talk about my rape.

    In this instance, there’s nothing to debate. I never stated or implied that anti-choicers are always anti-choice for religious reasons; nor did I deny the existence of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. I don’t think that act is enough, nor do I think it would necessarily have prevented (eg) Savita’s death. We can’t allow the onus of decision-making for women’s lives and futures to be put on medical professionals who are simultaneously in fear of prosecution for breaking the law, so tbh it’s not hugely relevant to the discussion at hand.

  14. Well you said “my experiences” what you mean is “my experience”.. and I was not dismissive, critical yes.
    I have a different opinion to you on what happened: many people do. I’m not “obsessed with it” (now that’s dismissive) I’m simply engaging in discussion, this is what you wanted, right?
    Anyway, that is neither here nor there for now and irrelevant to this discussion.

  15. Penny, engaging in a discussion is one thing. Leaving comment after comment saying the exact same thing, refusing to hear what anyone else is saying (or even trust that the person who was there may in fact have more knowledge of it than you) and then, when I finally stop responding to you, visiting daily* to leave more comments reaffirming your scepticism and disgust at my recollection is not “engaging in a discussion”. In my opinion, yes, it’s bordering on obsession. I get what you’re saying – I’ve got it all along. I just don’t agree with it, and you repeating it, over and over again, is never going to bring you the result you want.

    *hyperbole

  16. Visiting daily? Hyperbole indeed. I visit when I get a notification through e mail that someone has replied. Most of my comments have been in response to your points; if anyone is being dismissive here, it is you, completely and utterly.

    Also, to get back on point:
    I’m surprised that the campaign isn’t asking for a constitutional right to abortion – allowing the Dáil to legislate for it would leave the issue at the hands of Ireland’s dysfunctional and out of touch political system. The 8th should instead be amended to define “life” as beginning at X number of weeks (the specific number of weeks to be debated, I don’t know enough about the science behind this to comment), before which time abortion would be unrestricted.

    I feel that many pro-choice people will get a nasty surprise if the 8th is repealed when they discover that existing law still does not allow abortion on demand. A new constitutional amendment seems the safest way to go.

    Whether Ireland’s demographics are yet sufficient to allow such an amendment to pass is another matter of course. The result of the gay marriage referendum would make me optimistic but I personally know people who were vehemently pro gay marriage and are equally vehemently opposed to abortion so I doubt it’s as clear cut as it might seem.

    So, to summarise, repealing the 8th would still not allow for abortion on demand. If the amendment disappeared under the constitution tomorrow, abortion on demand would still be illegal in this country under the 2013 Act.

  17. Andrew Forde says:

    Hi Rosemary,
    I cannot agree with your prochoice logic. Please see summary of prochoice logic :-
    [redacted: link to pro-life site run by a Canadian political lobbyist org]

  18. Hi Andrew! Thanks so much for engaging with the topic at hand – although I reserve the right not to share anti-choice rhetoric here (there’s enough of it elsewhere). If you would honestly force women to give birth against their will, then we have a fundamental difference of opinion and we’ll never change each other’s minds. I think the most important thing is considering the health, welfare and safety of the women involved, and accepting certain inalienable truths – such as, women will always have abortions.

  19. Peter Dempsey says:

    Rosemary – are you a Social Justice Warrior?

  20. As someone who has had an abortion, and is pro choice, I find the flippancy with which you describe the “ball of cells” so offensive.
    Don’t think you could be more offensive and alienating if you tried. And I say this as someone who is pro-choice (within reason).
    A clump of cells? Why do so many women feel distraught at the thought of having to abort, but financially and for so many other reasons they can’t have a child right now? Why do people get counselling afterwards? Why is there after care? Why do so many women feel tremendous guilt and even regret? Have you heard of post abortion trauma? Do you have any regard for the emotional and psychological legacy that abortion can leave? Sure “it’s just a clump of cells”, you make it sound like it’s as easy as going to the doctor to get a mole removed, FFS.
    If your friend miscarried, would you tell her “ah sure it’s just a clump of cells”.

    It’s alienating and insulting shite like this that will cause the 8th to remain as it is, I hope you know.
    Where is the voice for the women who have, through whatever circumstance, had to abort their baby and feel tremendous guilt and regret? Who is advocating for us? I don’t see my abortion as something as simple as getting rid of “a clump of cells”, it was hard and it was hard for a reason.

    Please, before you speak, check yourself and think of women like myself and the women whose babies have fatal abnormalities but would love for nothing more than to have kept them. Please do not trivialise what is an exceptionally difficult decision. People running around with vagina hats on and holding crude signs about fucking politicians do not represent my voice or my point of view, they alienate and divide.

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