Why the Repeal the Eighth march will backfire

Ireland’s pro-life women will not be wearing slogan jumpers, but their voices will be heard

Protesting outside a number of Government buildings, members of the the Strike 4 Repeal campaign took the streets of Dublin to seek a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

I am a woman of childbearing age. I am not a practising Catholic. I am not conservative. But I am pro-life.

I realise this makes me terribly unfashionable, and not in a cool, ironic way. But that’s my belief, and I’ve never seen the point in hiding my opinions to fall into line with others.

But this is about much more than just not being hip. If you want to ostracise yourself in social circles, or indeed become a total pariah, saying you are pro-life in Ireland today is all you have to do.

Little wonder, then, that the significant number of women who, in good faith, hold this perfectly understandable view, feel they are better off keeping their thoughts to themselves. The reaction is so virulent that it has smothered their freedom of speech. For most, speaking up is just not worth the hassle.

They won’t be out marching in slogan jumpers today, they won’t be putting a Repeal photo filter on their Facebook profile picture, they won’t be on strike in a bid to force the Government into calling a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Voices heard

Still, they are there and they are many. And unless the Repeal movement stops ridiculing them and dismissing them – either as Bible bashers or mad, or even bad – they are the ones who will make sure their voices are heard in the voting box.

Unless the pro-choice movement begins listening to dissenting voices and stops trying to force what to think on people, they may well find themselves having lost the very referendum they marched for.

In fact, at this juncture, should the parodistic Strike4Repeal somehow result in a snap referendum, it would undoubtedly be lost, in what would be viewed as Ireland’s own Trump or Brexit shock result.

When you force an idea down people’s throats, they rebel. And the saddest thing of all about it is that it is very possible that a repeal of the Eighth Amendment is absolutely the right thing for Ireland today.

Here is what Repealers won’t listen to, and what sticks in the craws of those of us hectored by them: The abortion issue is not clear-cut. Lots of us are somewhere in the middle. So talk to us, engage with us.

I fall into the pro-life category by default simply because I believe the life in the womb should be cherished and protected. What could possibly be wrong with having that stance, to deserve such vitriol for expressing it?

Their own business

I don’t believe in abortion as a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis situation. Equally, I do not judge anyone who has ever come to the decision that an abortion is the best choice for them at a given time. That is their own business, borne out of their own individual circumstance.

However, urging women to view abortion as a “human right” or a “freedom” as opposed to what it should be – a viable last-resort option in a desperate situation – is a recipe for making the crisis even worse in the long-run.

Of course, I understand the need to ensure those women suffering the grief of carrying a baby with a fatal foetal abnormality should not have to travel to end the ordeal. That is only humane for both mother and child.

I also get that it is a distorted morality for our maternity hospitals to be inexorably hardline on the equal rights of the mother and the baby. For example, if that mother has six other children at home to look after, surely the only right answer is to prioritise her life in the case of an emergency, for reasons both compassionate and practical.

On the other side, I understand that there are woman out there who, deep inside, actually do want to go ahead with the pregnancy, despite the emotional, physical and financial struggle of single parenthood – and despite the shame and the social stigma.

This is the root of their terror at finding themselves pregnant in the first place. Because in Ireland, we still discriminate against young or unwed women who choose, with undoubted bravery, to continue with an unexpected pregnancy. But nobody talks about that. Nobody marches for that.

Underneath the panic, maybe they don’t want to expel the life that is growing inside them, and this has to be considered, not dismissed. It is harmful for women not to allow them this.

Beliefs and agenda

It is grossly irresponsible to push your own beliefs and agenda, whatever they may be, on anyone who finds themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation. It is a decision only they can make, as the only ones who have to live with it. It is not you and your political ideology that could be left with a lifetime of psychological damage.

I hated the holier-than-thou Youth Defence crews that were allowed into secondary schools in the 1990s. They attempted to brainwash teenagers, handing out their “precious feet” badges, which apparently depicted the size of a baby’s sole at 10 weeks old. Rubbing it in the faces of the girls who had been unfortunate to go through the ordeal.

Now, in recent years, it is the so-called liberals who have become the biggest offenders of this militant approach to the discussion of reproductive health choices.

I say “so-called liberals” because they do not fit the definition of liberalism, which is the ability to have respect for opinions or behaviours different to yours. In fact, they can be bigots – intolerant of those with different views.

It is wrong to tell a woman what to do in the case of a crisis pregnancy. It is wrong to turn this serious issue into a trendy bandwagon, that frequently veers into crassness. Women on a stage at a Repeal event singing Girls Just Wanna Abortion makes a mockery of what is literally a life-or-death matter.

Give girls and women the facts, be non-judgemental in your support, and allow them to figure out for themselves what is the lesser of two evils. Be pragmatic about the realities of raising a child alone without painting it as an oppression instead of what it can be, a reward.

Tolerant of others

When Panti Bliss recently advised Repealers on referendum policy, urging them to be tolerant of others and to listen and engage in debate on the matter, they turned on her, revealing a very different face.

Repealers: do you want to be right, or do you want to win?

Pro-choice campaigners, I respect your view. It’s time you respected mine. Robust, inclusive debate is how we will get the right result for Ireland today, whatever that may be.

Don’t let this important vote be hijacked by those you have marginalised.

Larissa Nolan is an Irish journalist.

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