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'Abortion on demand' phrase pushes idea women will get abortions as easy as choosing a Netflix movie

The term is left hanging in the background of debate, casting a vague and supposedly scary shadow over the future, writes Dr Robert Grant.

THE PHRASE “ABORTION on demand” has taken a central place in the debate surrounding the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. It is used most often by those who do not wish to repeal the amendment for fear it will lead to “abortion on demand”: a situation we are to assume is to be avoided.

It also invoked by those who wish to appear somewhat understanding about complex cases, such as fatal foetal abnormalities, but make it clear that abortion should only be introduced in cases where certain criteria are met.

Again, we hear the refrain that while there are many grey areas, we do not want Ireland to become a culture with the “floodgates opened to abortion on demand”.

A phrase left hanging in the background

The phrase does a lot of heavy lifting for those who use it, without actually saying anything specific. It is left hanging in the background of debate, casting a vague and supposedly scary shadow over the future.

We are left to infer from the way it is used that abortion on demand is a bad thing, something to be avoided.

The words “on demand” are most often associated with contemporary, technology-driven consumer culture: tv on-demand, films on-demand, printing on-demand, banking on-demand. It’s a phrase that encapsulates the goals of modern consumerism. We customers should get whatever we want, as soon as we want it, even if it’s something we don’t really need or will soon get bored of, as we tend to do.

So when it is used, it conjures in the mind of listeners an image of impatient, demanding consumers who want their products or entertainment whenever they feel like it.

By using this terminology within debate on abortion, all of these negative associations are subtly dragged into the discussion. A linguistic trick takes place where the policy of providing safe, legal abortion services to women, becomes associated with a culture of impatience, laziness, selfishness, thoughtlessness: all the worst aspects of consumer culture.

This is the implicit meaning behind “abortion on demand”.

In literal terms, stripped of the consumerist overtones, the phrase merely describes a situation where abortion services are safe, legal and available to women who wish to make that choice, for whatever reasons they deem fit. There is no specific criteria to be met, beyond term limits.

Not trusting women 

One would only assume that abortion on demand was to be avoided, because one does not trust women to make the choice with the requisite thought and consideration it deserves. And so, arguing that this is a bad thing comes from a lack of trust and respect for Irish women.

The use of the phrase “abortion on demand” perpetuates a misplaced fear that if we (our government) don’t decide exactly when it’s OK for women to make this choice, there is a risk that Irish women will suddenly reveal themselves as silly, thoughtless, selfish, lazy, impatient, demanding people and start getting abortions with the same amount of thought involved in selecting a movie on Netflix.

But this image doesn’t match with the women we all know in our lives. Irish women are well aware of what is involved in making the choice to have an abortion. They make that choice in significant numbers every year and do so from a place of consideration and responsibility, with the added weight of rejection

What’s needed in this debate is something to bridge the gap between the women we know, respect, and love in our lives, and the public perception of women that is subtly sustained by the use of “abortion on demand”.

Stories like Roisin Ingle and Tara Flynn are so important 

This is why the stories of Roisin Ingle, Tara Flynn and others are so important to the debate we are having. Coming forward publicly with such stories is not something anyone should be forced to do, but in order to show that the Irish women who make this choice are ordinary, intelligent, responsible people, it is necessary. The X-ile project is building on this work by creating an online gallery of people, from all walks of life, who have had to access abortion services outside of Ireland.

Even if these stories leave you unconvinced that Irish women can be trusted to make this choice themselves, then banning it is still not the answer. As has been repeated ad nauseum: making it illegal doesn’t stop it from happening, it merely piles shame, guilt, and rejection on top of an already difficult

“Abortion on demand” carries a dishonest implication about the possibility of free, safe, and legal abortion services in Ireland. And when viewed through a lens of trust and respect for Irish women, is not something to be feared. It is something to be embraced.

Robert Grant has a PhD in Philosophy from Trinity College Dublin, where he is currently a tutor in Logic and the History of Philosophy. He blogs at robert-grant.squarespace. He tweets at @RobGrant77 

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