Compassion’s role in voting on Eighth Amendment
Breda O’Brien: Voting for abortion is voting for despair and overt trust in HSE
This abortion referendum is not going to bring in abortion for cases of rape and incest or babies with life-limiting conditions. It is going to bring in abortion for women who need the compassion that honours our primal need to protect our children, not the grim provision of tablets to end a child’s life. Photograph: Alan Betson
Voting yes in the upcoming referendum is not a vote for compassion. It is a vote for despair about the prospect of creating a world where there is always a better solution than ending a new human life.
Compassion is a beautiful word, coming originally from the Latin, pati, to suffer, and com, meaning with. In some dictionaries, it is given an additional meaning, which is the wish to relieve suffering.
The Greater Good Science Centre (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley, says that compassion is one of 10 keys to wellbeing.
Darach Keltner, the faculty director of the centre suggests that compassion has deep evolutionary roots.
Evolutionary science lost sight of this for a long time, preferring to focus on the survival of the fittest as an endless vicious competition, but Charles Darwin argued in The Descent of Man that sympathy is our strongest instinct, sometimes stronger than self-interest.
Keltner says the reason for the centrality of compassion lies in the nature of human babies. They have very big skulls because evolution favoured the development of the brain over everything else.
In order to fit through the birth canal, “our babies were born profoundly premature and dependent upon people to take care of them”.
He says that “our babies are the most vulnerable offspring on the face of the Earth. And that simple fact changed everything. It rearranged our social structures, building co-operative networks of caretaking, and it rearranged our nervous systems.
‘We became the super caregiving species, to the point where acts of care improve our physical health and lengthen our lives. We are born to be good to each other.”
Slogans and suffering
Compassion is a slogan used on many pro-choice posters.
There is genuine compassion at the heart of the pro-choice movement, compassion for those who find themselves in truly difficult situations, and a desire to relieve that suffering. The question is, why do people who are pro-choice believe that compassion for the newer human cannot co-exist with compassion for the older human?
Why do they think that taking life is a compassionate action?
And yet sometimes, someone breaks ranks, as Nell McCafferty did recently, before recanting her heresy and declaring herself an enthusiastic repeal supporter once more.
McCafferty asked whether we were ever again going to celebrate what she called the “plenitude of pregnancy”.
She used to think that pro-lifers were lying about the development of the unborn child and what happens in abortion.
Then she googled and found that pro-lifers were right about some things. She saw the 12-week pregnancy, where “they suck their wee thumbs and they have toenails, fingernails, arms and legs”.
She said she was tired of the killing, killing, killing. She said that her alternate title for her talk was going to be “Here’s your abortion, shut up. That’s going to be the cure for everything.”
I think what McCafferty was articulating is that abortion is a solution on the level of the individual. You do not have to provide houses or childcare if the woman solves the problem on her own.
In 2013, the international Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion stated that research shows 40 per cent of abortions are motivated by economic reasons such as poverty, with 31 per cent due to reasons related to a partner, who might be absent, unsupportive or abusive.
Poverty, lack of support and having to miss out on work or study opportunities: how free are women’s choices when these are the reasons?
We are told that we need to trust women. That argument suggests that abortion is primarily an individual decision, which leaves the rest of us and our society off the hook. But women need support in challenging times, need love and compassion in order to carry on.
The repeal movement asks too little of society and trusts too little in the fiercely compassionate strength women can muster when linked into a network of support. Instead, women are fed slogans about trust and choice, which just leave them alone and feeling they have no good options left.
Women are fed slogans about trust and choice, which just leave them alone and feeling they have no good options left
This abortion referendum is not going to bring in abortion for cases of rape and incest or babies with life-limiting conditions. It is going to bring in abortion for women who need the kind of compassion that honours our primal need to protect our children, not the grim provision of tablets to end a child’s life.
While decrying the way women have been treated in the cervical cancer scandal, many of the same people cannot wait until the HSE oversees abortion.
They see no irony in the HSE becoming for the first time not just an institution that through incompetence and indifference damages people but an institution with a mandate to end the newest human lives. We are not being asked to trust women. We are being asked to trust the HSE.
Voting no is a vote for a country where compassion is not selective. Voting yes is a vote signalling despair that we can ever bring about a country where women do not feel forced to choose to end life because there is no better alternative.