Miriam Lord: Stoney-faced silence from anti-abortion absolutists
Not a peep from retainers as Varadkar calls their bluff over concern for hard cases
Because everyone was so busy being respectful, it seemed inappropriate to start up a chant in the chamber when the awkward silence descended.
But, as the ditty goes, they were all very quiet over there.
The truth hurts.
After years and years of pouring cold words from closed hearts, the absolutists had nothing to say when called out on their fake concern for the hard cases.
When Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald nailed their rank hypocrisy, they kept schtum.
For over 30 years they, or those like them, had plenty to say about those hard cases when fighting with every fibre of their being to have them cast out of their own country, along with their less deserving, casually exiled sisters.
Then five years ago, they deliberately turned their backs to the hard cases when vehemently opposing every syllable in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDPA). Despite their unstinting efforts inside and outside Leinster House – the histrionics, the filibustering, the pressurising of colleagues, the unfounded scaremongering – that legislation passed into law.
Just one tiny concession and they railed against it, vowing to overturn it if ever there came a chance. That Bill recognised just one hard case, the hardest case of all: women who will most definitely die unless their pregnancy is ended.
But even the PLDPA was a step too far for the politicians who voted against it and were proud of the fact.
A death’s door directive for a gravely ill woman.
And they voted against it.
And they have remained implacable in their refusal to give any comfort to women who have been raped or women carrying a baby which won’t live outside the womb and who want to end their pregnancies.
Because you can’t trust women, who will be lining up to pretend they’re dying in order to procure abortions. And if they aren’t acting out death scenes in surgeries the length and breadth of Ireland, they’ll be pulling the wool over gullible doctors’ eyes by being suicidal all of a sudden.
As late as last weekend, Senator Rónán Mullen was sounding troubled about what exactly constitutes mental health, particularly where it pertains to a woman who may be experiencing a crisis pregnancy.
There is “a lack of evidence that mental health is health” was his astonishing remark while he ruminated on “the suicide thing” and other aspects of the PLDPA during an appearance on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. It so angered his fellow Senator Grace O’Sullivan that she called for him to come into the Upper House “to explain to us why he said that he does not believe that mental health is health”.
The Green Party politician told the Seanad on Tuesday, “I don’t know what utopia he lives in but I live in a world where mental health is a real health issue to which we in this country . . . are not giving enough time.”
Meanwhile, back in the Dáil, the Sinn Féin leader was determined that people should not forget the doom-laden words and actions of politicians and anti-abortion campaigners who stood in total opposition to the PLDPA before it was enacted.
These same people are now trying to say that they supported it and that it gives more than adequate protection to women, but sure if it doesn’t, it mightn’t be a bad idea to take another look at the hard cases again.
And grant them their fervent wish that the Eighth Amendment remains in place.
“In the course of this debate, it is important that we deal in fact,” she told the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions. “I have heard assertions from the No campaign and its spokespersons that what they call hard cases, pregnancies as a result of rape, for example, or a pregnancy with a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly, that these cases can be dealt with under the current constitutional framework, and that is patently untrue.”
Mary Lou McDonald is right.
The Taoiseach absolutely agreed with her.
“I would contend that it is actually our hard laws that create those hard cases,” replied Varadkar. “And the Eighth Amendment is too hard and forces a very hard law on Irish people and Irish women.”
He reminded the Dáil of the amendment’s “eloquent” wording.
“It says that the right to life of the unborn is equal to that of the mother, so the right to life of a foetus of only a few days’ gestation is equal to the right to life of your mother, your sister or your female friends and co-workers.”
Mary Lou didn’t want anyone to forget that the people now suddenly aware of the hard cases are the “very same people” who “themselves campaigned against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill”.
Remember, she said, that they talked about “the floodgates” opening and abortion become widely available as a result.
“They were wrong on this matter just as they are wrong now not to acknowledge that the Eighth Amendment blocks any action to legislate for what they call the hard cases. And how do we know this? We know this because we have tried.”
To suggest there is another solution is “entirely disingenuous”.
Leo Varadkar was alive to the pivoting of the previously unshakeable anti-abortion politicians and activists.
“What I see now, in the dying days, in the final days of this campaign is a tactic, a tactic by the No campaign to try and make out that there is some sort of alternative amendment that we could put into our Constitution,” he began, looking across the floor to the Fianna Fáil benches, where a majority of TDs voted against holding a referendum and even more are against repeal.
He had a question for them and the anti-abortion absolutists who now say repeal is not the answer.
“I would ask those people, 30 years after that amendment was put into our Constitution, why in those 30 years has nobody put forward an alternative amendment that would deal with all of these hard cases? Why, only three days from the vote, are people suddenly raising that as a realistic argument and alternative?”
There was silence in the chamber. The Fianna Fáil TDs who are not backing their leader Micheál Martin’s position sat stony-faced. Not a peep out of one of them.
Which is when we contemplated our little chant about them all being very quiet over there.
But the Taoiseach filled the gap, answering for them.
Because what they are scrambling to propose “is not a realistic alternative; it is just a tactic”, declared Leo.
“And I believe the Irish people will see through that.”
Once again, not a sound from the people who turned a blind eye to the hard cases when they could have acted with reason and compassion. Because they knew in their hearts that the Taoiseach was speaking the truth.
They had 35 years to act on their concerns for women and their babies. Thirty-five years to do something about supporting the hard cases. Thirty-five years to show they care about more than just the fate of the foetus.
But they did nothing.
Now their bluff has been called and compassion is suddenly conjured up for the hard cases, along with more baseless predictions about floodgates opening and the whole country going to hell in a handcart.
They have cried wolf once too often.
Do they seriously expect anyone to believe anything they say anymore?