I WAS BORN on December 7, 1992, twelve days after the Irish electorate approved a woman’s right to travel by 62 per cent. Ten months before this the State attempted to stop a 14-year-old girl, a victim of rape, from travelling to the UK for an abortion. This attempt by the State was the catalyst for a bitter cultural war.
We had become a nation deeply divided. The fault lines of anathema, a result of the clash of Old Ireland – a deeply religious culture, unquestioning in its allegiance to the Holy See, a faith before country or countryman – and New Ireland, forged from a more cosmopolitan youth counter-culture and ever-increasing educational attainment.
Or so I am told.
I was too young to understand the social revolution that was playing out in the Supreme Court and the ballot box. Even today I struggle to imagine the fear of that poor child; how can I? My body belongs to me. If you were a woman in nineties Ireland, your body was the property of the State. If you are a woman in 21st century Ireland your body is the property of State until you leave our borders.
On a stormy St Valentine’s Day 1993, I was welcomed into the place I’ve always called home by the people I consider my mother and father. I was adopted. I have never known any other parents and my rights in this area are vague at best. While I believe the rights of the adopted should be strengthened, particularly with the upcoming children’s rights referendum, this is not what this article is about. This article is about a woman’s right to choose and about respecting the choices women make.
It is entirely possible that had abortion been accessible in this State at the time, I may not have been carried to term. Despite this I believe that abortion should be safe, without stigma and legislatively provided for in Ireland.
I believe it is time our State respects the choice of women and places its faith not in the directions of a foreign head of state but instead in its citizens. In reality, my biological mother, like the more than one hundred and fifty thousand who have travelled abroad for abortion services since 1980, could have gone to England, telling nobody, but she did not.
She may have believed that abortion was wrong. Maybe her life was not threatened by a medical condition or the risk of suicide. Maybe she was strong enough to carry a baby to term and give that child up for a better life. Maybe she wasn’t strong enough and the fear of the stigma of abortion lead her to carry me to term; be damned with the devastating effect that had on her mental health.
If groups such as Youth Defence, with their deplorable posters, put their faith in a woman’s choice it may surprise them. Abortion for many women could be the final option, when all other scenarios fail them. Abortion is not the solution for every woman; but it should be a woman’s decision to make a future for herself.
Cardinal Sean Brady has recently said that any attempt to legislate for abortion will be vigorously opposed by many and he will campaign to protect the equal rights of the unborn child and the mother. Who are these ‘many’? What poll did he pluck this ‘many’ from? I don’t need to believe. I know 79 per cent of Irish voters are in favour of abortion where situations merit it.
I am old enough now to be acutely aware that the battle lines are being drawn again. I have often wondered what would have happened to me had abortion been legal and available and I find myself coming to the same conclusion each time. She should have had the choice.
Sean Rooney is a student at DCU and chair of DCU Labour.