Nell McCafferty: ‘Pro-lifers are right about some things’

Veteran campaigner compares abortion to the mass slaughter at the Somme

Nell McCafferty has said she is a reluctant supporter of abortion. File photograph:  Collins

Nell McCafferty has said she is a reluctant supporter of abortion. File photograph: Collins


Veteran women’s rights campaigner and journalist Nell McCafferty is a reluctant supporter of abortion, a conference has heard.

Ms McCafferty, a founder member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, told the Women in Media conference in Ballybunion, Co Kerry: “I’ve been trying to make up my mind on abortion. Is it the killing of a human being? Is it the end of potential life?”

She said she could not answer the question. “But it’s not that I’m unable – I am unwilling to face some of the facts about abortion.”

The writer and broadcaster, who participated in the 1971 “contraceptives train” to Belfast to protest against the prohibition on the sale of contraceptives in the Republic, said “the pro-lifers are right” that allowing terminations at the 12-weeks stage of pregnancy means the dismembering of babies in the womb.

She said the Irish women’s movement had demanded contraception to end what former minister Nuala Fennell called the “nightmare of unremitting pregnancy”.

However, Ms McCafferty said: “There is no conversation these days about abortion.”

She recalled the 1983 abortion referendum campaign, when “the pro-lifers were going around showing videos and telling us all that babies are being dismembered in the womb through abortion.

“I thought, ‘Nonsense.’”

She said she recently googled what a pregnancy looks like at 12 weeks. “They [the babies] suck their wee thumbs and they have toenails, fingernails and arms and legs.”

She said that in an abortion “they scrape the contents of the womb. The pro-lifers are right. Out come the wee arms and legs, and I thought: ‘Oh God, is this what I am advocating?’”

When asked, Ms McCafferty confirmed that she would be voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion, in the forthcoming referendum on the issue.

“I believe that abortion is necessary and [it is necessary] to have it [available] as freely, legally and widely as possible.”

‘Cruel country’

Ms McCafferty was speaking during a discussion entitled: “Celebrating 100 years of the vote for Irish women: Would the Irish suffragettes be happy with the progress to date in securing equality?”

The State, she said, “is a cruel country in which to be pregnant. I am forced to advocate abortion. Even though I know it’s necessary, it is grim and I am sick of it, 100 years after we ended the mass slaughter of [the first] World War.”

The 74-year-old said she was part of the last generation that had mothers who worked full-time in the home.

She asked who was now celebrating pregnancy and motherhood.

She said couples were out working and were exhausted when they came home, and could not afford the children they had.

She said: “Abortion was beyond our consciousness and here we are, 100 years after slaughters like the Somme and places like that, offering abortion on request.”

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