Would you force someone to stay pregnant against their will?
On International Safe Abortion Day pro-choice campaigner Tara Flynn explores what it means to be pro choice
Pro-choice campaigner Tara Flynn at the March for Choice, which was organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, in Dublin city centre. Photograph: Eric Luke/ The Irish Times
I once cried when our old washing machine was taken away. Obviously, I quickly cheered up when I realised the replacement didn’t need a crowbar to unlock it or a bucket at the door when you did prise it open. But we’d always had that old machine and it had somehow managed to do more or less what it was supposed to. Until it didn’t. It was broken, not even good for the clothes. Still, its presence gave me something, I’m not sure what. Stability. Continuity. Change is often frightening, challenging, but there comes a moment when you realise it’s the only way.
Even conversationally broaching the repeal of the Eighth Amendment can cause consternation here in Ireland. I understand: talking openly and frankly about reproductive rights is brand new to us. Personally, I’ve had a lot of reading to do; I realised I didn’t have the facts, even the words. We’re not taught them.
You can be strongly morally opposed to abortion and still be pro choice
Until now, the narrative has been weighted towards only one set of beliefs. It doesn’t help when such a nuanced issue is crudely framed as binary debate, yet the media love of a bunfight (not solely an Irish concern) and multitude of commentators seemingly bent on obfuscation shape it as such. So often, this leads to the wrong question being asked:
“Are you for or against abortion?” It’s a fine question if you’re faced with making the decision. It’s something you should know. But it has no place when talking about other people’s bodies and their right to determine their own lives and futures. That’s none of our business. No two pro-choice people will have the same response to that question. Attitude to abortion is not what makes a person pro choice.
Pro-choice people come from wildly varying backgrounds and positions on when life begins, or whether we’d ever have an abortion ourselves. What unifies us is the firm belief that the pregnant person knows what’s best for them. We trust them. We believe them.
In the two years since I came out about having an abortion, I’ve found most people to be supportive. Even those who find the topic unpleasant will say “That’s your business.” They might not realise it, but they’re pro choice. You can be strongly morally opposed to abortion and still be pro choice. It’s the “that’s your business” part that’s key.
I, for one, wouldn’t want to put grieving families through legal hoops at such a time
That we all need rounded, balanced education on this issue is an understatement. We need to assess what’s already happening in our country and ask more useful questions. Like, why would people ask for later gestational limits, if the mantra is “as early as possible”? (The majority of abortions take place prior to 12 weeks.) Well, the vast majority of later cases are wanted pregnancies gone tragically wrong. I, for one, wouldn’t want to put grieving families through legal hoops at such a time. I’d prefer them to be able to access the appropriate medical care for them. I believe most people would.
Why do we say that the stance that abortion is acceptable only on grounds of rape or incest is not a moderate one? Because the procedure in those cases is the same as for an abortion for any other reason. So it’s not the procedure people oppose; it’s the circumstances under which the person got pregnant, and whether they’re deemed to have suffered enough. That’s quite extreme, when you think about it. Not to mention legally and practically unworkable.
However, asking for broad access, I’m sometimes told, is “scaring people”. That’s what’s scary? What about people being forced to continue pregnancies with which they can’t cope? Or harming themselves? Or risking a 14-year sentence? Or for those lucky enough to have means, being forced to travel for the medical care they need?
It seems, for some, there’s comfort in denial. They may like the idea of Ireland being abortion-free, but it’s not. Nowhere is. Our rates are comparable with countries where it is legal, the only difference is the hardship we inflict on pregnant people trying to access it.
Change can be frightening, but it’s not as frightening as the status quo
And on that point, good news: should the Eighth Amendment be repealed and our laws made more compassionate, the landscape would not change. Rain would still fall. Buses would still arrive two at a time. Washing machines would still break down. If we get safe abortion access here, those who don’t want to think about it can go back to pretending it’s not happening.
There are plenty of questions to be asked about this issue, but only one truly pertinent one: “would you force someone to remain pregnant against their will?” And, if “yes”, “what would you do to enforce that?” I believe most people’s answer is, “that’s your business”. I thank them for their compassion. Change can be frightening, but it’s not as frightening as the status quo.
- Today (Thursday, 28th September) is the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights International Safe Abortion Day. UN experts are calling on States across the world to repeal laws that criminalise abortion. For more see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22167&LangID=E