Facts will convince many young people to vote no to repeal
Katie Ascough: Students must be presented with both sides of abortion debate
Each of us knows at least one person who is alive and with us today because of the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
I will never forget attending an abortion debate in UCD in which an unborn child was passed off as “a thing the size of my heel [pointing to platform shoes] with no brain activity”.
Dehumanisation is a key tactic for the pro-repeal lobby. It is extremely convenient for them to forget that a child at just 21 days has a heartbeat, at six weeks has brain activity, and at 12 weeks can suck her thumb.
Buzzwords like “choice” and “healthcare” are often employed to make the ending of these human lives appear a little more palatable. In a world of likes, clicks, and shares, it is important that we dissect misleading soundbites and buzzwords before we vote on the Eighth Amendment in May.
It is often commented that the youth vote will be important, and possibly even decisive, in this referendum. However, I wouldn’t make assumptions about which way young people will vote.
First of all, student apathy must be overcome. UCD students union’s vote in 2013 shaping their policy on abortion was only voted on by an underwhelming 8 per cent of the student population, with only 3.7 per cent of the student body voting in favour of the adopted policy.
Second, freedom of speech must be allowed. I have been notified of pro-life groups all across Ireland being blocked from existence and denied budgets a fraction of the equivalent pro-choice group’s allowance on their campus. I have heard from dozens of students saying they are intimidated to voice their pro-life opinion for fear of backlash. That, to me, does not sound like choice nor, much less, freedom of thought.
Third, if undecided students could be presented with two sides of the debate, I would be confident and looking forward to seeing a large youth turnout in this referendum. However, given the imminence of a referendum and the current oppression of freedom of speech in universities and ITs across the country, I am not holding my breath for a fair and open debate before May.
If an open and fair debate were to be had, it would be important to discuss the abortion culture in our neighbouring countries. Remarkably, as of November 2017, only 6 per cent of Irish people were aware that just across the Irish Sea in England,one in every five pregnancies ends in abortion. Some 98 per cent of these abortions occur due to social reasons, and 37 per cent are repeat abortions. That’s 20 per cent of my generation, the Millennials, missing. According to the same Amárach research, only 10 per cent of Irish people knew that in England and Wales 90 per cent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are aborted. If we were to repeal our Eighth Amendment, in the short to medium term, we could expect a similar abortion culture in Ireland.
Thankfully, the Irish rate of abortion is much lower than this, and we can safely say that tens of thousands of lives have been saved thanks to our Eighth Amendment. In fact, each of us knows at least one person who is alive and with us today because of the Eighth.
Someone I grew up making tree houses with, and I’d now consider one of my best friends, is alive because of the Eighth Amendment. His mum had booked an abortion in the UK, but during a delay she found one friend who offered to support her through the pregnancy. She also reflected on all the women in her life who had regretted having an abortion, but realised she had not met one woman who regretted keeping her child.
Today that mum is an active LoveBoth, Vote No campaigner, and her son is a 20-year-old master’s student and a close friend of mine and many others. He is a valued human being who almost missed out on a chance at life. If more stories like his were told and shared, I hope people might change their mind about abortion.
Unlike the pro-abortion propaganda would suggest, the Eighth Amendment has saved thousands and thousands of Irish lives. It is scaremongering tactics to suggest that Ireland is an unsafe place to be pregnant because of the Eighth Amendment. In fact, according to 2015 World Health Organisation figures, Ireland is a safer place in which to be pregnant than either the UK or the US which have abortion on demand.
It is no surprise that the polls are beginning to swing in favour of retaining the Eighth Amendment. The LoveBoth, Vote No movement is confident that during the course of the campaign, this trend in the polls will gradually continue, especially as the facts and stories behind abortion come to light.
In essence, there is nothing “middle-ground” about being pro-repeal, as the USI and other groups claim. The UK introduced abortion in a very similar way to what is being proposed to Irish people now, on supposedly “restrictive grounds”. Today, the UK’s abortion figures have increased almost tenfold since legalisation of abortion in 1967.
To my generation, I would pose the question: where have we come to if we measure progress on human rights by the ability to end life? Instead, let’s find better ways to support women and children and offer life-affirming alternatives to abortion.
If nothing else, let’s be open to talking and presenting a fair platform in this debate. You deserve to hear both sides.
Katie Ascough is a member of LoveBoth and former president of UCD students union