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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 18 April, 2014

Lisa McInerney: What’s so terrible about abortion-on-demand?

It took this long for the State to really address medically-necessary termination – so how long is it going to take for it to address the wider complexity of

Lisa McInerney

THE ABORTION BILL put forward by Clare Daly was defeated by a remarkable 101 votes to 27 last week, despite the blustering showboating of many TDs following the death of Savita Halappanavar.

We need legislation to allow Irish doctors to make confident decisions on the care of their patients; there’s no getting around that. Our public representatives are aware of that. The question, really, is not if legislation will be enacted, but when. Ireland’s politicians will dither, waffle on about the need for reflection, and hop from foot to foot wringing their hands, their delaying the inevitable conveniently acting as a sort of political appeasement to those who would oppose the legislation.

In short, they’ll sit on the fence up to the point where they can claim they only moved because they were pushed off.

And this is for medically-necessary abortion: termination in cases where pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, including by risk of suicide. Many of those who are advocating abortion legislation stress this. Medically-necessary. Extreme situations. Last resorts. Abortion-on-demand, we are told, is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Even the term is loaded, isn’t it? Abortion-on-demand. It suggests unreasonable women stamping their feet until they get their own way, abortion as another facet of a culture of insufferable entitlement. Its structure dissuades objection, but all the same it begs the question: what’s so terrible about abortion-on-demand?

“Step in the right direction”

The idea of providing full abortion rights is a controversial one, but that women should be able to choose to terminate an unwanted or unviable pregnancy without having to defer to State guidelines should not be such a disturbing idea. Legislating for medically-necessary termination is a step in the right direction… in so far as you can call a couple of inches’ shuffle, a couple of decades too late, a step at all.

It will hopefully save the lives of gravely ill pregnant women, but it will not solve the problem. Thousands of Irish women will continue to travel abroad for abortions every year at considerable expensive, greater risk and significant stress. The stereotypical Irish woman travelling abroad for an abortion is a teenager or college student, a girl who “got herself in trouble”. She’s single, immature and selfish.

The reality is that there is no typical abortion-seeker. Statistics are hard to come by here in Ireland, for obvious reasons, but for our nearest neighbour (and main abortion provider) the UK, 49 per cent of pregnancies in 2011 were performed for women who had partners, and 51 per cent for women who had already given birth, somewhat laying waste to the notion of self-interested youngsters with promiscuity problems choosing to prolong a partying lifestyle.

In the USA, three-quarters of women who chose to terminate a pregnancy cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals, three-quarters said they could not afford a child, three-quarters said that having a baby would interfere with work, education, or the ability to care for dependents, and half said they did not want to be a single parent, or cited problems with their husband or partner. Fifty-four per cent had been using contraception.

“Wanton disregard for the miracle of existence?”

Meanwhile, the National Abortion Federation has reported that 72 per cent of women who seek their services are already mothers, a figure that had climbed by 10 per cent since the economic crash. The implication is that an unplanned pregnancy is more likely to become a crisis pregnancy during times of economic stress; basically, that women and couples are choosing to terminate because they cannot afford another mouth to feed. Wanton disregard for the miracle of existence? More like pragmatism.

So that there is a significant percentage of couples and parents choosing termination should, if nothing else, show that the reasons women seek abortion are diverse. The next step is recognition that these reasons are valid, not flippant, throwaway excuses made by bad people.

And it is very easy to dismiss women who travel abroad for abortion as being weak or self-centred. The laziest method of attack is to claim that women dealing with a crisis pregnancy have only themselves to blame, that their downfall was in wanting to have sex without accepting the consequences. It is a very misanthropic view to think of a baby as a negative “consequence” and to believe that women should be forced into motherhood as a punishment for being lackadaisical about their fertility. Shrugging about ‘short straws’ is not a feature of a compassionate society. Nor is stipulating that an unwanted child must be born to appease the moral anxiety of people who’ll never meet it.

The human body works against us; that’s a hard, cold fact of life. Methods of contraception fail. People make stupid mistakes. Partners walk out. Foetuses sometimes cannot survive outside the womb. People are coerced into taking chances. Women are raped. In anti-choice arguments, none of these factors are of consequence. The right to life must take precedent over the rights of a life already living.

Do we believe in Ireland that if we continue to disregard the fact that women have pursued and obtained abortions since time immemorial, it will eventually go away? It won’t.

“Abortion is not a pleasant concept”

Abortion is not a pleasant concept. As a procedure, it is invasive and sometimes painful. As a life choice, it has complex consequences that are unique to the woman or couple involved.

Some people do struggle to come to terms with their decision. Some feel nothing but massive relief. No woman chooses abortion on a whim, and no couple choose abortion as the best contraceptive option available to them. It is absurd to suggest that allowing “abortion-on-demand” would lead to some sort of revolving door scenario where the loose and the louche would get termination after termination as an alternative to the myriad easier contraceptive options available to us here in Ireland.

Allowing individuals the right to choose the option that best works for them will not cause the irreversible degeneration of Irish society. It would simply mean that women who are choosing abortion anyway could do so in their own country.

Believing Irish women to be heartless harridans who need to be kept in check by a stern government shows a failure of compassion, understanding and intelligence. Given the reality that thousands of Irish women travel for abortion every year, assuming that Ireland is some sort of utopia for the unborn is even more ludicrous. There are many reasons Irish women opt for abortion, and none of them are capricious.

There’s a lot of talk from the anti-choice side about how Irish women deserve better than abortion, and that’s true. Irish women also deserve better than financial hardship. And car crashes. And cancer. Life is difficult, and so, Irish women deserve better than blanket bans on legitimate options because of the uncertain moral code of a minority of unsympathetic blowhards.

Another statistic: illegal, unsafe abortion causes 70,000 maternal deaths and 5,000 disabilities worldwide every year. The regard for life need not be confined to the supposed sanctity of the womb. If we wish to act on preventable deaths, we would do well to start with something as palpable as that.

Read previous columns on TheJournal.ie by Lisa McInerney >

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