Abortion is a childcare issue. People don't consider abortions when they feel confident about their abilities to nurture children. They don't consider having one when they know they will be supported by family and, more importantly, by society. People consider abortions when having a baby seems like the end of the world. If our society was one that truly supported parenthood, having a baby would not be a crisis.
Parents who see abortion as an option may be single; they may also be in a committed relationship or married. A significant proportion of women going to Britain for abortions are married with children, but feel they could not cope with another child. The largest proportion are women who feel they cannot have a child because their lifestyle will not support it. This isn't selfishness - it's practicality.
The question is why? Why should having a child be anathema to our existence? By appointing Olive Braiden to look at the area of crisis pregnancy, the Government appears to be acknowledging that sex education, effective contraception and more general support for women in a "crisis" pregnancy is important. Her Crisis Pregnancy Agency will be co-ordinating, drawing up a strategy and preventing abortions by preventing crisis pregnancies. However, Pat Kenny asked Braiden the relevant question on his radio show when he wondered if the new agency was "a political ploy by Bertie Ahern to be seen to be doing something...window dressing really". Amen. That's exactly what it is.
Abortion, above all, is fundamentally about childcare. If a single mother has to give up her education, move back home, or give up her job, what kind of a life is that? No wonder she takes the boat. Or if a woman with three children knows in her heart of hearts that she cannot cope with a fourth, who is going to help her? Braiden says her agency will. But to be honest, I don't think your average woman with three children is going to phone a State agency and ask for help. She's going to take the boat.
In this society, we struggle privately with these issues, expecting little support and getting less. If you are single and struggling to pay high rents and working in a job where they hired you because you don't have kids (it's not supposed to happen, but it does), how are you going to deal with being a parent? If you are in a committed relationship or marriage, and you and your partner are both working to pay an expensive mortgage, and if you're paying £800 a month for childcare for your two children, how are you going to afford another child? There are lots of reasons why people have abortions, but a lack of support for parenthood is one of the major ones. This includes: if a potential parent faces financial penury as a result of parenthood; if he or she has to give up a job or surrender education to care for a child; if he or she realises that having a baby would be impossible because childcare is so expensive. An abortion then seems like a sensible option.
To put it another way, if pregnant women and their partners were guaranteed affordable housing and affordable or even free childcare - not to mention family-friendly working - they wouldn't have to have abortions. But for this to be the case, we'd have to be living in a society which values childbirth and children. And we don't.
Parents in Finland get three years off with pay after a baby. In the Republic, if you combine maternity leave with parental leave and holiday pay, you might get six to eight months, if you dare take it. Once you get back to work, you'd better not act like you have a baby if you want your career to progress. Why are women not rising to the top in the civil service, in law firms and in medicine? Because they have families. And having a family is a career crime for a woman. Many women, particularly in management positions, fear their employers will see maternity leave as a betrayal.
Society's attitude that parenthood is a cross, not a joy, starts with birth. In Holles Street hospital today women having their second or subsequent child are being sent home 24 hours after birth; it's 48 hours, sometimes less, after a first birth. If you get three days in hospital, you're lucky. This has happened because of a midwife shortage. Why the shortage? It's stressful work - with Irish midwives supervising many more births than elsewhere, partly due to a baby boom in Dublin. The work is badly paid considering the responsibility midwives have.
We've got to this point because our society undervalues childbirth. Holles Street is offering a 24-hour phone line for support. A phone line? A new mother with a crying newborn that needs to be breastfed needs sleep, not a phone line.
Another example is when you have a child with a disability. You are on your own. You'll have to fight for every scrap of care your child gets (see panel).
Then there's the mortgage crisis: you and your partner want a house and children. It's the Irish dream. So you buy a house many miles from where you grew up. Both partners often face commutes of two hours each way. That's fine until the first baby arrives. Then parents have a choice: put the baby in a crΦche from 7 a.m., or have one of the parents quit working. So one parent quits, if he or she can afford it, and ends up depressed and on medication due to the isolation and pressure of being alone with young children all day. The working partner arrives in the door at 8 p.m., after a two-hour commute, and is expected to bring parenting relief to the stay-at-home parent, who is close to breakdown.
This isn't an exaggeration. GPs have told me about the phenomenon and it's real.
I could go on. The reality is this: we are living in a society in which having children is a liability. The lack of affordable childcare and family-friendly working hours is the major reason. I can write about this forever but nobody in Government is listening. They're just pandering on the abortion issue, as if an exquisitely written Bill could solve any of these problems.