Legislation must save life of mother not take life of child
There is at least one issue that pro-choice, pro-life and all shades between can agree on – the need to preserve a mother’s life. Where there is no hope of survival for an unborn baby due to immaturity, and where the infamous “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother” is present, the concern is always to prevent one tragedy turning into two.
That consensus might not stretch much further than that. Pro-choice advocates might believe that a threat of suicide is a valid “real and substantial risk”, while pro-life people might believe that abortion as a “treatment” for suicidal ideation is neither desirable nor helpful.
A letter by eight psychiatrists this week claimed the key point in recent research is that “where a pregnancy is unplanned, the mental health outcome for those women who have an abortion is the same as for those women who go on to have a baby”. But if abortion makes no positive difference, in what sense is it a treatment?
Ironically, the very research to which the psychiatrists provide an internet link suggests outcomes are not all the same: “There were some additional factors associated with an increased risk of mental health problems specifically related to abortion . . . if a woman has a negative attitude towards abortion, shows a negative emotional reaction to the abortion or is experiencing stressful life events, health and social care professionals should consider offering support, and where necessary treatment, because they are more likely than other women who have an abortion to develop mental health problems”.
Careful about claims
Abortion and the care of mothers are such sensitive subjects that we all need to be careful about the claims we make. What matters is not having something passionate to say, but the truthfulness of what we say. Language and distinctions matter. They matter when it comes to life, and they matter when it comes to law.
There is an attempt to blur the distinction between life-saving treatment for a mother and a deliberate attempt to end the life of her baby. Anyone who wishes to maintain that distinction is apparently being dishonest, motivated by a desire to maintain some unrealistic ideal of Holy Catholic Ireland, and unwilling to acknowledge reality.
The belief there is no difference between attempting to save a mother’s life and any other medical procedure where the intention is to end the life of a baby is held by Fintan O’Toole, among others. Fintan is a fine writer, who spends a significant proportion of his professional life examining in forensic detail the nuances of language in drama, and how language serves to illuminate profound human concerns.
If he cannot see the distinction, I despair. He has asked rhetorically, “When is an abortion not an abortion?” I believe a better question is, “When is a termination of pregnancy not an abortion?” The root of the word “abortion”, according to the OED, comes from the mid-16th century Latin word, aboriri, meaning “miscarry”.