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Lisa McInerney: The loudest voices in pro-life camp discredit the civil ones

There is common ground to be found between pro-life and pro-choice people, writes Lisa McInerney, but plastic foetuses and death threats are eroding it.

Lisa McInerney

EVEN AS SOMEONE who’s strongly pro-choice, I believe that I could find some common ground with most pro-life people. After all, it’s the same sentiment that involves both standpoints: empathy. It’s just that that empathy is directed towards different recipients.

We may never see eye to eye, but that common ground may at least give us room enough for civility.

But there’s just no reasoning with some people.

Rot has taken hold in the pro-life faction. What should have been a source of ethical and spiritual debate at this time has become, to its detriment and the amusement of its opponents, a hotbed of petulance, insensitivity and extremism. Rational voices have been drowned out by hollow sentimentality and wanton disregard for science or statistics.

Those who wish to make Ireland the safest place in the world to bring up a baby are shouted down by those who are fine with it being the safest place in the world to simply have one. A church which decades ago surrendered its claim to the moral high ground is now alleging to represent the principles of a state. The Life Institute and Youth Defence refuse to cooperate with any official investigation into their status as political lobby groups, lest that interfere with overseas funding. Those with the loudest voices in the pro-life campaign have, in their rírá, managed to discredit it wholly.

Reports of abuse and threats

A substantial number of public figures involved in the drafting of Ireland’s abortion legislation (still woefully restrictive and conservative to the point of Pyrrhic victory) have reported receiving abuse, threats and – how to put this? – plastic geegaws and religious souvenirs from pro-life citizens.

Enda Kenny reported receiving model foetuses and letters written in blood. After an exchange he described as “sinister”, TD John Halligan had propaganda delivered to his home after midnight.

TD Regina Doherty received emails from  pro-lifers (the irony!) threatening to burn her house down while her children were inside, or cut her throat from “neck to navel”. Government chief whip Paul Kehoe confirmed that Doherty wasn’t the only TD to receive such emails.

And counsellor Kieran Binchy posted to Twitter photographs of a stunningly bonkers leaflet he’d received, which stated that the X Case was managed by a cabal of paedophiles and rapists and blamed Eamonn Gilmore for – wait for it – the secret screening of snuff films.

Of course, not all pro-life people are violent, paranoid or completely off their trolleys. As a movement, though, it attracts more than its fair share of zealots and loons, and it’s this minority, live from La La Land, that erodes our common ground.

Extremism quietly tolerated

There cannot be reasonable discourse between pro-choicers and pro-lifers while such extremism is played down or quietly tolerated. And the problem with that point is that the perceived victimhood sported by many prominent pro-life voices – and, one might suspect, their willingness to plump the numbers no matter what – prevents their telling more fanatical allies to cart their psychoses to the nearest A&E.

Senator Rónán Mullen, when he’s not expounding his concern for women “traumatised” by abortion or recommending women in untenable pregnancy be confined to a hospice till God chooses to relieve them, has played down the abuse received by his fellow representatives as being par for the course in public office. This would be the same strongheart who wondered if being asked to stop smirking during a meeting with the TFMR group wasn’t “defamatory”. It is disappointing that his response to the Taoiseach’s report wasn’t one of condemnation for the alleged perpetrators, but rather constituted an attempt to deflect attention from the negative aspects of the pro-life campaign.

Then there was the put-upon desperation of pro-life spokesperson Caroline Simons following the publishing of the abortion legislation, where she dismissed an Irish Times poll showing support for the legislation at an overwhelming 75 per cent as being deliberately misleading, intimating that correspondents were too easily confused by polls. Well, it was either that or admit that the overwhelming majority of those polled likely think she’s barmy.

The legislation does not offer choice

Let us be straight on this: in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill we have legislative guidelines for Irish doctors who need to save a woman’s life by terminating a pregnancy.

That is all. It does not offer a choice to women made pregnant by rape or incest, women in unviable pregnancy, women unable or unwilling to bring up a child. It is in no way a prochoice bill. This legislation will simply enable doctors to save lives where lives need to be saved. Fourteen per cent of those sampled in that Irish Times poll disagree, fundamentally. Speaking for that minority you have Ronan Mullen, and Caroline Simons, and the Catholic bishops, and the bane of Enda Kenny’s postman.

This minority is protesting legislation which will save women’s lives, a stance that’s misanthropic and viciously small-minded. They do so by ignoring facts, twisting figures, flinging woe betides and intimidating servants of the state. Unchallenged in their nonsense, they’ve made their own faction a conglomerate of clowns. They call themselves pro-life, but they would condemn a woman to death to maintain the warped notion that termination of pregnancy is never necessary, to maintain the ludicrous notion that Irish women don’t want, need or have abortions.

Though we hope there’s always common ground, it’s become apparent that this facet of pro-life activism is, to put it quite brutally, intolerable. It is offensive to Ireland, to its people, to its medical community. It contradicts the very morals it seeks to impose. And let’s face it, anyone stockpiling plastic foetuses for intimidatory purposes is probably too far gone to connect with.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

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Lisa McInerney

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