I am a feminist. I believe in equal rights for all genders. I believe that nobody should be discriminated against based on their genitalia or lack thereof. For years I have been frustrated by Irish society, which is so inherently sexist. Ireland has always vaunted women; the “Irish mammy” is a cliché which we propagate regularly. A frightening amount of men claim to be “Mammy’s boys” on their Tinder bios, which they feel will awaken our own inner mammies, allowing them to transition smoothly from being babied by their mothers to being mollycoddled by their girlfriends. The modern Irish man appears to be a fictitious beast, with a few shining exceptions: Bressie with his ability to speak out about mental health and wellness; the Happy Pear boys, Stephen and David Flynn, with their passion for healthy cooking and yoga; my pals Tom and Mike, who are well-read, well-dressed, and well able to look after themselves.
Ireland has been held up as a beacon of friendliness and neighbourliness for many years. It is a place where you can leave your door open, where you can walk home alone at night, without fear of assault. Last year, Ireland proved itself to be more progressive than I could possibly have hoped, when we voted for the legalisation of equal marriage. I drank Prosecco with my sister while watching the count, and celebrated for the full weekend. How lucky we were, to live in this little green country with a big heart!
There is one area where our country is utterly heartless, and that is in its treatment of expectant mothers, dealing with crisis pregnancies. The numbers are well-documented, 12 women a day travelling to Britain for abortions. Just this week #twowomentravel was trending on Twitter, as two brave souls live-tweeted their trip to England to procure an abortion. The writing was not sensationalist, merely despondent. These two women could have been any of us. They were not looking for 15 minutes of fame. They simply shared one of their most harrowing journeys with the nation, the world, and Enda Kenny. They tagged Enda Kenny, our elected leader at the time, in all of their tweets. He did not have the courage or graciousness to respond to one tweet. Simon Harris, Minister for Health, acknowledged the issue, but half-heartedly alluded to the Citizen’s Assembly, rather than calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.
The Repeal Project, Repeal 8, Free Safe Legal, and a number of other organisations have been rallying together over the last few months, and have organised a March for Choice on 30th September in Dublin. This is an opportunity for all those interested in equal rights to show the government, and the world, how serious we are about this cause. It has been a very visual campaign thus far; the REPEAL jumpers have been an internet sensation. The stark white letters against a black backdrop are immediately recognisable, and are so empowering. I read an account of a woman who had recently had an abortion, who said how supported and lifted she feels when she passes someone in a REPEAL jumper. That such a small gesture can be interpreted like this highlights how little support Irish women actually receive on the subject of abortions.
I always try to have an open mind, and to entertain opinions which are vastly different to my own. As Aristotle put it “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. I struggled somewhat with this during the Marriage Referendum, as I find it so foreign that people would want to actively stop two loving people being together and happy. While it was slightly facetious, I had to agree with the people saying “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married”. The same tenet applies to the abortion debate: If you don’t like abortion, don’t get an abortion. That people are so comfortable playing God with other people’s lives is terrifying and fascinating all at once. The comments section on any online article, which reveals the murky underbelly of society, is rife with middle-aged men extolling the virtues of carrying pregnancies to term. This group seems an unlikely bunch to be availing of abortion anytime soon, yet they feel absolutely entitled to shout about the indecency of the procedure. More frustratingly still, there are a lot of women who hide behind the veneer of religion and piety, and make these women out to be flagrant hussies, who drop their knickers at will, with nary a thought for the consequences. Their lack of compassion is chilling. They condescendingly list contraception, and emergency contraception, as if accidents never happened, and people are knowingly becoming pregnant just to cause a stir and get an abortion. I’m certain nobody chooses that path. Who would willingly travel to England for a costly surgical procedure, with little or no after-care, and the possibility of facing criminal charges in Ireland? Nobody I know of.
Interestingly, society seems to treat abortion differently, depending on the reason for it.
- The foetus is not viable, or has a fatal foetal abnormality: Understandable and very sad, but maybe the mother should be stoic and carry the baby to term, and then be a grieving mother and receive boundless sympathy.
- Childbirth may kill the mother: Understandable and also sad, but it’s a toss-up as to whose life is more worthy of saving.
- The foetus was conceived by rape/incest: Understandable, but it’s not the baby’s fault is it? I am enraged by this viewpoint, as if it is the mother’s fault, silly girl getting raped.
- The mother is suicidal: Oh don’t be silly, she can get medication or counselling, it’s not the baby’s fault.
- The woman does not want to have a baby: SHAME! SLUT! REPENT! Abortion on demand will be the death of all of our Christian beliefs.
The term “Abortion on demand” is an emotive one, used repeatedly by the anti-choice brigade. It suggests drive-thru abortion clinics, which you swing by on a Sunday before going for the cure. It brings to mind queues of “demanding” women, having repeat surgical procedures rather than buying the pill or condoms. It is a calculated term, suggesting that people will have abortions willy-nilly, as they are so easily available.
The anti-choice brigade is wily in their wording. They refer to themselves as pro-life. They obviously refer to the life of the foetus, not the life of the mother. They should actually be referred to as pro-pregnancy, pro-birth, and pro-existence. Once the baby is born they have no interest in what happens. The baby has not been murdered, God’s will has been done, and they are justified. They do not stick around to see the baby, unwanted and unloved, perhaps in abject poverty, perhaps born to a mentally unwell mother who cannot provide the love and stability a baby needs. They do not care if the baby is living in squalor, with a migrant mother who cannot get a job as she cannot speak the language. They do not care if the baby is living with a mother who drinks herself into a stupor every night to numb the memories of the sexual abuse she suffered that resulted in this baby. They do not care, as the baby is living, and they are pro-life.
We, as a country, are failing women; women who are at their most vulnerable, pregnant women who do not know who to turn to, for fear of judgement or pity. These women should be cherished, cared for, and supported. They should not have to book flights to a foreign country, to access healthcare which should be freely available in their local hospital. As many people have said, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be available in every clinic. Women are not second class citizens. Women are equal humans, deserving of equitable healthcare and respect. Women should be afforded the most basic human right: Bodily autonomy. We trust women in one of the most challenging roles, becoming a mother. We should trust women to choose whether or not this path is for them. We should trust women. Women are equal. Trust women.