Victory?

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Content note: hostility to agency, anti-choice rhetoric, suicide

So, it’s happened. The Dáil has passed the second stage of Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill by 138 votes to 24. While I’m pleased that our elected representatives have finally ensured that pregnancy need no longer be a death sentence for a woman, I don’t really feel like celebrating. I’ve outlined in an old post why I believe this legislation does not go far enough, but having reflected on it more in the meantime, I’ve come to the conclusion that, not only is this legislation too narrow in its remit, it is actively harmful. It is too restrictive, too punitive, with its terms almost feeling like an Inquisition of the Pregnant.

The reprehensible section 22,  which recommends a jail sentence of FOURTEEN YEARS for those who have terminations outside of the law absolutely needs to go. It is cruel, inhumane and cements abortion stigma in the law of the land. It conjures up for me a vision of a future where a suicidal pregnant woman who has been denied an abortion, but survives an attempt to take her own life  is convicted under this law because the pregnancy was ended. It paves the way for a repeat of the horrendous story of Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana, USA. Even if this law is *never* fully enforced, its mere existence  it creates a climate of fear and shame, and places women who have abortions outside the terms of this legislation into a category alongside some of the most violent, most heinous criminals out there.

A referendum needs to be held to repeal the Eighth Amendment.  We absolutely need to legislate for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities and for pregnancies arising from rape and incest, that’s a given; I’d go further, and argue that we need to legislate for abortion on request. In my ideal world, a person who was pregnant and no longer wanted to be should be able to end their pregnancy safely and legally.

In an Irish context, given our oppressive history and long-standing hostility to abortion and reproductive justice, the success of this bill is a massive breakthrough, I accept this. However, I’d have a bit more of a spring in my step this evening if this legislation was less, well, anti-choice.

I Refuse To Call Them Pro-Life

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How did we let the term “pro-life” slip into our lexicon as the standard synonym for “anti-abortion?” As a phrase, it is utterly redundant. Also, that opposition to abortion is the metric for being considered pro-life is utterly ridiculous. One might oppose abortion but perpetuate oppressive ideas and structures that are anti-life. For instance,  politicians may be dyed in the wool “pro-lifers” favour austerity measures which may cause deep personal hardship and psychological trauma; more of that later.

In discussions surrounding pregnancy and abortion, anti-choicers tend to pay lip service to the lives of women, but their main concern is with the fate of the foetus.

What was pro-life about the treatment Savita Halappanavar received?

What is pro-life about forcing people to endure a pregnancy that may irrevocably damage their health? What about denying sick pregnant women lifesaving medical treatment, as in the cases of Michelle Harte and Sheila Hodgers?

What is pro-life about forcing a person who has been raped to carry that pregnancy to term?

What of the twelve people who travel abroad on a daily basis for terminations? Where’s the compassion in forcing someone to go through the stress of arranging flights, accommodation, organising time off work,  perhaps childcare?

I could go on an on. These examples underscore the dis-ingenuousness of a  pro-life position for whom a foetus  trumps the suffering of pregnant individuals.

These so-called “pro-lifers” are also disingenuous and cowardly. They know as we all do about the incessant traffic to the UK, and are quite happy to see women slipping away in the night like criminals, without the support of their families. These are women with the means and wherewithal to do so. What of the women who don’t? Do these people, who claim to cherish life, think that suffering an unwanted or harmful pregnancy is somehow a fitting punishment for these women? Do they think that physical, emotional and psychological torment is an appropriate sentence for the crime of being female and poor?

The following is a list of TDs that voted against a motion to reverse the cuts to home help hours. I’ve somewhat arbitrarily chosen this particular set of cuts, as there was a neat list available online;  I could just as easily be talking about a myriad of other cuts to services, such as the mobility allowance, respite care and special needs assistants. Among these names you’ll notice Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh, John O’Mahony, Peter Fitzpatrick, Damien English, Michael Creed and Billy Timmins, all who have, according to this Irish Times article, have expressed reservations about the abortion legislation. Let’s focus on Peter Mathews for a minute. Mathews has been most vocal over the last few weeks and months about the life of the unborn, not least on this unforgettable star turn on Tonight with Vincent Browne. Clearly, for Mathews, women and girls register a good few points lower than unviable foetuses on the scale of things that are worthy of concern.

Home help services are provided in order to assist people to remain in their own home and to avoid going in to long-term care. It is imperative to the quality of life for families throughout this country. Now, Mathews sees himself as a champion of life, but what about life as it lived on a day-to-day basis? How can you claim to be pro-life when you are actively approving measures that are making life more difficult for people? Would it be audacious to suggest that in straitened circumstances may opt for abortion in order to feed the family she already has? Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, that is an avenue closed to women in Ireland without the means to travel. Women with money have options, women who don’t have babies.

I’m pro-life, I don’t know anyone who isn’t. I am also pro-choice. I don’t think being pro-choice is the opposite to be being pro-life. On the contrary, I believe that the pro-choice position is inherently pro-life, as it respects the nuances of life and people’s various lived experiences. Anti-choicers who have anointed themselves custodians of the pro-life cause are not only supremely arrogant; they are the term a great disservice.

Abortion legislation, the Eighth Amendment and working toward a pro-choice society

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Well, I’ve done it, I’ve finally pulled the finger out and carved out my own little space on the internet! For my first WordPress venture, I’m going to share some ramblings on the abortion issue.

After 21 years, it finally looks as if we are making some headway with legislating for the X case. However, having studied the wording of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, it is clear that little will really change here, and the familiar scenario of women booking a flight to the UK will be replicated again and again.  There is no provision for women or girls who are victims of rape and/or incest, nor is there one for women with fatal foetal abnormalities. I am cognizant of the fact that the government has limited scope with which to legislate, it is becoming increasingly clear that, in order for real change to take effect, we need to repeal the eighth amendment.  At the minute, the debate is framed in terms of saving lives, but what of women who-whisper it- are simply pregnant and no longer want to be? The anti-choicers have set the agenda for the abortion debate here to the extent that we rarely hear from women who have lost jobs and livelihoods; women in abusive relationships; mothers who have had their supports cut due to harsh austerity merits and can barely support the family she has, let alone a new baby.

Once the legislation is in place, there is still some work to be done to create real reproductive choice for women in this country

Access-women need to be able to have access to a safe abortion. As it stands, abortion is a reality in this country, but by and large these women are women of means. According to @AbortionSupport, women who travel to the UK incur expenses of anywhere between £400 and £2,000 or more, and that is before we take into consideration payment for necessaries such as childcare. Rural women, poor women and young girls who are dependent on their parents need to be able to undergo abortions at a location that is convenient, involving a minimum of expense and time.

One of the most crucial changes that needs to occur is putting an end to abortion stigma. Women need to be supported in their choice and feel that they can be upfront with their GPs and other health professionals. Abortion on request is frequently presented# as a lifestyle choice by people such as this misogynist, but abortion is more often than not a very responsible choice.Twelve women a day travel for abortions-they are our sisters, cousins, friends, girlfriends, wives and co-workers. This is not some abstract academic conversation, it is an everyday reality for women, so why can’t a woman say in a confident and matter-of-fact way “I had an abortion?”

Of course, to ensure real reproductive choice, women and families must also have the necessary support. The religious right constantly bandies about phrases such as “anti-family” when referring to marriage equality, but are reluctant to describe the inhumane regime of austerity, that is deeply detrimental to well-being of families as such. 

While the need for access to contraception and comprehensive sex education for young people goes without saying, we must also remove the stigma against teenage pregnancy and parenting. We need to demolish the baseless, misogynist myth of the feckless girl who “got herself pregnant” and value teenage mothers

Finally, we need to stop idealising the so-called “traditional” family unit of Mum, Dad and 2.4 children and value all family arrangements, be they single mums or dads, same-sex couples, foster families, etc. A cheesy cliché it may be, but support, nurturing, respect and love is not exclusive to “traditional” set-ups. 

Pro-lifers urge us to “love them both”. I agree; let’s love all children who are wanted and love women, their lives and their right to choose.