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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Column This campaign is offensive – and flies in the face of the facts
If the anti-abortion billboards were really about women’s welfare they would look very different, writes Stephanie Lord of Choice Ireland.

ABORTION IS ILLEGAL in Ireland, except (theoretically) where a woman is going to die as a result of her pregnancy. Even where there is a substantial risk the life of a pregnant woman and she needs an abortion, she must travel overseas to have an abortion.

The very well-funded anti-choice lobby has made sure that any moves towards amending the law, even in the most harrowing of cases for pregnant women, have been met with hysteria about the murder of the innocent unborn. It’s no longer enough for them that women are forced to travel – now they are stepping up their sustained attack on women’s rights to increase the shame and stigma levelled at women who have had, or want the right to have, abortions.

Over the past few weeks in Dublin, over 100 anti-choice billboards have sprung up, alongside 200 Luas ads, and freestanding advertisements. We are told that there are 100 Dublin Bus ads on the way. Some of the ads display an image of a torn ultrasound scan, others display a photo of a woman’s face torn in half, with the slogan “Abortion tears her life apart.”

These billboards are offensive, they do not represent women, and they are incredibly disrespectful of decisions that women have taken, and that all women should have the right to take. The evidence consistently shows that the majority of women who have abortions believe they made the right decision in their individual circumstances.

But tactically, it’s something that’s absolutely necessary for Youth Defence and the pro-life campaign. The vast majority of the public now accept that a woman has a right to choose an abortion where there is a substantial risk to her life; a substantial number of people accept that a woman has a right to choose where there is a risk to her health, including her mental health; and a substantial number of people believe a woman has a right to choose what happens her body regardless of circumstance.

Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that Ireland had an obligation to legislate for abortion in cases where it was already legal, i.e. where there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. On the back of this, the Government convened an Expert Group to examine how the ECHR judgment should be implemented.

‘The writing is on the wall’

The writing is on the wall for the anti-choice groups. The argument that a woman, no matter how dire the circumstances, should never be afforded the right to choose has been lost. So a different argument must be used. In order to further their own agenda, the public must be manipulated in to believing the anti-choice and anti-woman rhetoric that abortion destroys women’s lives.

According to the recent Crisis Pregnancy Agency report, Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Survey, 87 per cent of women with crisis pregnancies who opted for abortion retrospectively assessed this as the ‘right outcome’. The billboards are simply an attempt by anti-abortion groups to impose their own view about that decision. To assert categorically that if a woman has an abortion her life will be “torn apart” is quite simply a lie.

What these billboards demonstrate is the anti-choice brigade’s fundamental inability to recognise that women are people and that women have the right to make decisions over their own bodies, and this includes accessing abortion services, based on her own circumstances. Women’s lives are not torn apart by abortion and these billboards represent those who want to control women’s lives.

If their concern for women was genuine they would not spend the large costs of these billboards on trying to shame women about the choices they have made. Instead, they would channel this money in to campaigning for women to have access to not only contraception, but then this would mean tolerating a world where women are allowed to enjoy non-procreative sex.

If they cared about women, they would invest their energies and resources in to campaigning for women to have the means to provide for their families should they wish to carry their pregnancy to term. But for all their talk of helping women, the anti-choice lobby don’t have too much to say when it comes to how women are affected by budget cuts. Anti-choice activists are absent from any of the conversations that happen regarding the protection of actual children. The only people who have come out publicly against including children’s rights in to the Constitution are the anti-choice lobbyists.

But for them that’s irrelevant, because the point of these billboards is not about what happens to children, it’s about controlling women.

Stephanie Lord is a spokesperson for Choice Ireland and blogs at Feminist Ire, and occasionally Irish Left Review and RH Reality Check.

Column: These billboards simply bring the reality of abortion into focus>