Certainties are out of place in abortion debate
Opinion:We stood to honour Savita. Outside the Dáil, blocking the buses, sitting on the pavement, making our point that yet again politics had failed and women had suffered. But we weren’t entirely at ease. The raucous rhetoric subdued our clapping. We sidled away from the strident pro-abortion placards. We recoiled at TDs being called hypocrites when all they were was inept or lily-livered.
Yet we knew we should be there and aeons away from the pious certainties of the anti-abortion lobby. We were pro-choice, but with reservations, a lonelier stance perhaps but one that seeks to embrace complexity, the true arena for all ethical choices.
Garret FitzGerald put it well. The intriguing challenge in politics, he said, was to behave ethically while still effecting compromise. There were no simple answers. Politics was primarily about acting on ideas that had been moulded and reshaped. It should not be fuelled to appease certain classes of people or place. Its essence was the embracing of uncertainty.
The mystic Osho invites us to do just that. Two of his comments could indeed assist in any ethics debate. Commandments, he says, “create difficulties for people because by the time they are given they are already out of date. Life moves so fast, it is a dynamism, it is not static”. He urges us also to be responsible, using the word responsible in “the literal sense: respond to reality”. We must not cling to seeming certainties.
The Pyrrhonians said that we knew nothing and were not even sure of that. They suggested we “suspend judgment”, or, as Montaigne expressed it, “hold back” from certainty, of which we can add there are so many victims.
I can’t forget two, perhaps a half century ago. The weeping young mother, weighed down with kids, who was told by her confessor that contraception was sinful. You see, her husband was a sailor, he was rarely home and when he was he “wanted his wife”.
Or consider the Kerry ganger with whom I shared a grotty room in London’s Camden. “If I had the education,” he said, “I’d write a letter to the Examiner. They [priests] would prefer me over here with 12 fatherless children, rather than at home on the farm with six.” Bitter, he was, yet each night he knelt to pray, to whatever god was left.
Austin Clarke acidly depicts such plights. “Her tiredness obeyed/That Saturday night: her husband’s weight/Digging her grave. So, in nine months, she/Sank in great agony on a Monday.” Such demeaning was not only within the Catholic stockade.