Richie Sadlier: Men are missing from the abortion debate
The focus has been on trusting Irish girls and women, as if men are above reproach
Abortion services are accessed annually by thousands of women living in Ireland – the only impact your vote can make is on how safely they have them. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A few years ago, I was invited to attend an event I was told I would enjoy. No more details were given, other than it was an all-male guest list, most of whom were current or former sportspeople.
After an initial drinks reception, we were asked to make our way into the main room to attend a workshop. Before we got there, however, we were asked to queue up to complete a small task individually in the room next door. When it was my turn to go in, I was given what seemed like a very simple instruction.
“Just look straight into the lens of the camera, Richie, and complete the following sentence, I am a man because . . .”
What!? Christ. I froze.
Couldn’t think of a thing. My head was racing but my mouth didn’t move. I am a man because . . . ? I started to wonder where the footage would be used, which didn’t help. Would we all be watching each other’s answers in the main room later? I quickly tried to think of something that would be acceptable to an audience of male sportspeople. Nothing. Then I tried to forget the imaginary audience and just give the answer I thought to be true. Still nothing. Then I figured I just needed to say something because the silence was killing me, but I honestly couldn’t think of a thing that made any sense.
I was visibly floundering, so some gentle encouragement came from behind the camera. “In your own time, Richie. There are no wrong answers. I am a man because . . .”
“Sorry lads, my mind is completely blank here.”
I couldn’t have been there more than three minutes, but it felt like an eternity. They let me off the hook, so I continued into the main room as instructed, slightly unsettled that I had no idea why I thought I was a man. Or more to the point, perhaps, I had no snappy phrase that summed up what I thought it involved.
And now in addition to my lack of clarity about what manhood entails, I’ve been accused countless times recently of not being a ‘real man’. It would appear that supporting a woman’s right to have full agency of her own body is at odds with some contemporary views on masculinity. A man isn’t a man if he isn’t imposing his will on women.
I’m voting Yes because I want to become a father and raise children in Ireland, but the Eighth amendment affects the quality of care my partner could access if she became pregnant. I’m voting Yes because I accept the reality that Ireland has an abortion rate comparable with countries where abortion is legal. The Eighth amendment just denies women access to having them safely. I want my nieces and nephews to have equal rights over their own bodies. And if a mate of mine became pregnant I’d like her to have the final say in any discussions around what she should do.
I’ve no interest in what anyone thinks those reasons reveal about me personally, but there’s a missing element in this debate we’ve been having about sex, pregnancy and parenthood, and that’s the behaviour and conduct we expect from Irish men. So far, it’s been mainly about the level of trust we have in Irish girls and women, as if us men are above reproach in our general behaviour.
Listening to some of the No campaigners, you’d swear Irish men refuse to have sex until the relationship is stable and long-term. You’d think there isn’t a man in the country that would be willing to have unsafe sex or that has ever used a method of contraception that has failed. And when news of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy comes along, they only ever respond with total support and unwavering commitment. They’re even offering to take sole custody of the babies when they’re born such is their commitment to the rights to life of every foetus. If that’s your view of Irish men, then judge women all you like, but if you can acknowledge it’s far from the truth then you can’t vote No. Well you could, but you’d have to concede it’s blatant hypocrisy.
Our roles as men were discussed a lot in the workshop I attended that night, with almost every angle you could think of mentioned at some point. What qualities make a decent manager, captain or team-mate, and what do we think is expected of us in relationships of all kind. A central theme of this referendum is how we’d respond to women who need support, and only you can know for sure where you stand on that. Would you answer their call or pretend you didn’t know they rang?
If your concern is the misuse of contraception, support those of us that are pushing for change in how sex education is delivered in Ireland. If you worry that abortion will be used as a form of contraception, read up on how women are physically and emotionally impacted by having them. Throw your weight behind our efforts to educate young people in this area to help reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies and the spread of STI’s. The Eighth amendment offers nothing in terms of changing people’s behaviours but introducing a fit-for-purpose curriculum in sexual health certainly would.
So, if you’re still unsure how you’ll vote, go by how you think you’d respond to a woman who is asking you personally for help. If you’d usually pretend you’re not home, vote No. If you’re the type that would ignore her calls on your phone, vote No. If you’d prefer to enforce your will on her and deny her a choice in what she should do, then vote No because that’s the Eighth amendment in action. It sweeps all the vulnerable women under the carpet like they don’t exist and points them in the direction of airports and harbours to get help from there.
If only there was a better way.
The good thing about voting to repeal the Eighth amendment is that you can continue to see the world as you currently do. Nobody will force their own values or beliefs on you. Your attitude to pregnancy and babies won’t have to change in any way and your approach to life, love and sex can stay the same. You get to live and act the way you always have in this area, and if it’s repealed, all your female relatives and friends will get to do likewise.
Repealing the Eighth will help create a society the Yes side promote but retaining it won’t deliver the scenario the No side desire. Abortion services are accessed annually by thousands of women living in Ireland – the only impact your vote can make is on how safely they have them. Either support them or abandon them, the choice is yours.
A woman you love may need your Yes vote sometime very soon. I’m voting to repeal because life is complicated and we all need help.