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”.