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Vincent Browne: Let’s cease demanding more of women than we would dare demand of men

Writing in TheJournal.ie, Vincent Browne argues for a Yes vote on Friday.

Vincent Browne

WERE THE REPEAL the Eighth referendum to be decided on the basis of the competing campaigns, the ‘No’ side would win by landslide.

The Repeal campaign has been inept and insipid.

Just look at the posters. Nearly all the ‘Yes’ posters seem almost embarrassed to acknowledge what this is about – abortion and an entitlement of a mother to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy.

The Labour Party posters say “For our Daughters” and “For Women’s Health”. The Social Democrats poster says “Yes for dignity, yes for compassion, yes for health”. Another pro-repeal crowd poster says: “Sometimes a private matter need public support.”

How limp can you get?

The rhetoric is bland and often misleading. Especially the stuff about abortion pills.

There is nothing to prevent a medical doctor advising a woman whether it is safe to take one of these pills or not – yes, it would be unlawful for a medical doctor to advise a women to take such pills, or provide such pills, in Ireland but nothing unlawful about giving an opinion on their safety or otherwise.

Neither is it unlawful for a medical doctor to treat a woman who has taken such pills and feels unwell afterwards and to assure women, in advance of they taking such pills that their help was available. Nor is there a requirement on the part of medical doctors to report to the Gardaí that a woman has taken these pills.

It is likely that word will get around about which doctors are sympathetic and would be unlikely to report such circumstances to Gardaí.

The argument about when human life begins is also confusing. The truth is we don’t know – but it doesn’t matter.

The avoidance of the unambiguous and persuasive argument of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution gives rise to suspicions that something sinister is afoot and, in a sense there IS something sinister afoot.

The unambiguous and persuasive argument of a repeal of the Eighth Amendment is simply this:

Pregnancy is, obviously, a unique circumstances experienced only by women, whose bodies are required to give sustenance to another being – whether a human being or a being not yet quite human. And, sometimes, circumstances arise when the woman simply cannot continue to give such sustenance or feels she cannot.

This might arise for physiological or physical reasons, for instance a women living in poverty, without support from a partner, who already has, say five children, and whose life is chaotic and deeply nerve-wracking.

Isn’t there something cruel on the part of a society to demand that such a woman must persist with the pregnancy?

There are many women in similar circumstances and many more women in circumstances akin to these. And many other women in less stressful circumstances but they too must be the ones to decide on whether to continue with a pregnancy.

Just think of such a similar demand being made of a man.

Take, for instance, a man who agrees to donate one of his kidneys to save the life of another person in circumstances in which there is not another suitable donor available to keep the other person alive.

But that in the run up to the necessary medical procedure, the would-be donor found he was psychologically unable to go on with this or discovered he had a physical ailment  which would be worsened by undergoing the procedure or simply that he had lost his nerve or even that he had forgotten he had arranged to go to a football match on the day of the medical procedure.

Would we seek to criminalise such a man and his collaborators for refusing to have his body used for the sustenance of another human being?

And yet, almost by default, for centuries, we have criminalised women and their collaborators for refusing to have their bodies used for the sustenance of another human being.

Let’s acknowledge it: It is part of the misogyny that is embedded in our patriarchal culture; a misogyny that accorded women meagre legal rights for millennia, a misogyny buttressed by religions that themselves were/are deeply misogynistic – just look at the “authority” most of us were reared to respect as the source of truth and enlightenment, the bible.

Remember the 10 commandments? One of them states: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or his maidservant, or his ox or anything that is your neighbour’s.”

That places the woman in the same category of an ox and, by the way, manservant and maidservant were slaves and they too were not to be coveted – no question of they being emancipated.

All – the wife, the slaves and the ox – deemed the property of the man by holy scripture.

Both the Old and New Testaments are steeped in misogyny. One of the disciples of Jesus, Timothy, wrote:

Let a woman learn in silence and full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to be silent.

The Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures are riddled with misogyny and it is no surprise the travails of women were dismissed in these cultures as of no consequence.

Nor it is a surprise that the societies that were hugely influenced by these religious traditions have been misogynistic also – although, it is fair to acknowledge that misogyny
predated those religions but religion buttressed and embedded it.

I am not suggesting that all those on the pro-life side are misogynist, I am saying our culture is steeped in misogyny and it is no surprise we make demands of women and would be unthinkable to demand of men.

Not am I suggesting that the termination of a pregnancy is a trivial matter.

In my opinion, the termination of pregnancy is a moral issue but only the woman concerned is entitled to make the moral decision.

There are ways we could help to minimise the incidence of abortion but society has no appetite to will the means to enable this – and this is where I get to claim there IS something sinister afoot.

For instance, if we had a “Swedish style child care system” (remember the shameful dishonouring of that promise to single mothers?) pregnant women probably would feel less stressed by an unwanted pregnancy.

Or if no women were in poverty and relieved to the stress of that, or even if all women had a home. Or if our government paid due attention to the evidence of the mass rape of women in our society – the SAVI report of 2002 found that 200,000 women had been raped in the course of their lifetimes and hundreds of thousands more had been sexually assaulted short of rape and otherwise physically.

Our politicians may promise to address these issues but, yes, they can’t be trusted. And they can’t be trusted to do anything comprehensive about providing such supports to women for doing so, inevitably, would require more taxation and there is no public appetite for this and therefore no political appetite.

So, while we can, let’s do the decent thing and cease demanding more of women than we would dare demand of men. Vote ‘Yes’.

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Vincent Browne

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