‘Pro-choice’ lobby sanitised discussion on abortion Bill
Anti-abortion protesters with graphic anti-abortion posters outside the Dáil during the debate on the Protection of Life Bill. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Are de facto proponents of abortion entitled to be squeamish about the nature of the consequences their activism is likely to deliver to Irish society?
This question surfaced in a rather graphic fashion this week, arising from the contribution by Senator Jim Walsh to the Seanad debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. A headline in this newspaper describing the occasion declared: “The air froze in the chamber: Walsh’s input was disgusting.”
The account underneath related in sympathetic terms how Senator Ivana Bacik walked out of the chamber. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said Walsh’s contribution was inappropriate and over the top. “I hope we don’t hear much more of this language. Irrespective of the opinions and points of view that people have on the issue, I think that by and large it has been expressed in a restrained and reasonable way.”
But if someone doesn’t believe a “foetus” has human properties what’s to be upset about in hearing the process of its elimination described?
Would any of those who objected to Walsh’s speech object to the publication of a graphic account of a rape in the report of a court hearing?
A year ago Fintan O’Toole wrote a column in which he challenged those whom he described as the “lunatic fringe” among anti-abortion campaigners to take their own rhetoric more seriously.
“If they really believe what they purport to believe – that a fertilised ovum is a human being in exactly the same sense as Nelson Mandela or Lady Gaga or the pope,” he avowed, “they are disgracefully moderate” in the face of what he said was in effect the obliteration of the equivalent of the population of Limerick over the past decade.
Yet Walsh stands accused of being, in effect, disgracefully immoderate. Because he takes his own logic to its reasonable conclusion he is deemed not to be sufficiently “restrained”.
How, then, can pro-life people avoid being either disgracefully moderate or the opposite?
I took part recently in a radio debate about the politics of the Protection of Human Life During Pregnancy Bill, along with two female journalists, both of whom repeatedly used the word “conservative” to describe Lucinda Creighton’s position on the Bill. I pointed out that this manner of depicting the issue circumvents the fact that those who oppose abortion do so because they regard the child in the womb as a human person. If this is your position there is nothing “conservative” about opposing abortion.
Creighton is, on both her own terms and any conceivable objective definitions arising from her view of abortion, a liberal who opposes the deliberate killing of human beings.
The ideological campaign to impose abortion on Irish society is propelled by semantic abuses of reason and language which succeed because they have become hermetically sealed-off from the total moral context.
The “pro-choice” side speaks chiefly about the moral context of the mother, depicting the “foetus” as no better than inanimate tissue.
The “pro-lifers” emphasise the rights of the unborn child and are frequently accused of ignoring the mother’s needs. This divergence is largely to be expected, but rather more intriguing is the way the “pro-choice” lobby has succeeded in sanitising the discussion to bring it entirely within its chosen moral frame.
One of its most effective instruments to this end has been the nurturing of a public mindset in which it has come to be taken for granted that only the perspective of the mother is to be regarded as admissible emotional evidence. The unborn child is deemed to be incapable of emotion, and it is in effect forbidden to invoke emotions on his or her behalf.
Just as the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill denies any legal voice to the unborn child, the debate which preceded its passing sought to ensure that those attempting to speak on behalf of that child would be confined to making abstract, theoretical and academic arguments. Hence, the opposition to be overcome in bringing us within a test case of liberal abortion has seemed to be not an existential resistance but merely a rearguard political reaction against what is deemed “progress” – with some flakey, “lunatic” elements which are easily slapped down.
Little wonder Gilmore is pleased with the “restrained and reasonable” conduct of the debate.
All of those who objected to Walsh’s Seanad speech voted in favour of the abortion Bill. They are entitled to disagree with Walsh, or to explain why they believe his prognostications are unlikely to be vindicated.
But they are not entitled to demand that he be more “restrained”.
If they find his descriptions of abortion “disgusting” we should be entitled to ask them if they have considered the possibility that the reason for this is that they are not entirely convinced of their own arguments and are afraid of being reached by perspective they have thus far managed to avoid.