FATAL foetal abnormality is a term that has been bandied about as the clincher to force politicians to deal with abortion, which means, of course, repealing the 8th Amendment so that enabling legislation can be passed.
But an abstract argument does not capture the public imagination, so real-life stories are now being embedded in the arguments for expanding abortion legislation in Ireland.
The stories are moving and sad.
Emotionally, it matters little whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. You feel the devastation of this strange intrusion of death into a pregnancy narrative that should be all about life and joyful expectancy.
The agony of waiting for new life, knowing it is doomed, is heart-wrenching.
Abortion does not erase this pain, but it may appear to offer earlier closure. It is the choice of some women in this situation, who see it as a way of bringing forward the inevitable and of allowing them and their families to get their lives back on track sooner.
Is it not humane to allow them that choice?
Surely, is abortion not justified in this instance, if in no other?
What argument can there be in maintaining a rigid, principled position just for the sake of it, in being more pro-life than nature itself?
It is possible to be empathetic with these families and yet point out that the fatal-foetal abnormality argument is dishonest, manipulative, and disingenuous.
It is being used by people like TD Mick Wallace to force the door open to abortion on demand. He has said that he believes women have the right to chose for themselves.
He rightly judges that fatal-foetal abnormality (and not rape, or any other grounds affecting mother or baby) is the most compelling case for change.
The bringing forward of a bill to allow abortion for women whose babies have been diagnosed with fatal-foetal abnormalities is unconstitutional.
In fact, it would not suit his agenda, because should the Supreme Court allow this exemption, there would be no need to repeal the 8th Amendment and abortion would be restricted to fatal-foetal abnormality.
This would be highly problematic, as fatal-foetal abnormality is not a medical term. It is a construct to justify abortion and you only hear it in that context.
As a term, it is also elastic.
There are many life-limiting conditions that can be diagnosed as pregnancy advances, and which of these would qualify under legislation is anyone’s guess.
What kind of prognosis will qualify in respect of life expectancy?
What conditions qualify as ‘incompatible with life’ (another elastic term) and which do not?
If a healthy foetus suffered lethal damage during a complicated birth, could his or her life be prematurely ended?
And say the baby’s condition was one that would have qualified for abortion before the mother went into labour? Most people in this country would react with horror to such a suggestion.
Why? Because a born baby is a human being you can touch; you can look into their face.
You can hold his or her hand, and he or she can clasp your finger.
That is the only difference. That is why it is easier to deny the humanity of the unborn than any other category of persons.
Not surprisingly, countries where abortion has been freely available for many years have made the inevitable transition to euthanasia, the inevitable slippery slope, because you cannot undermine the value of human life for one category of person without undermining it for all.
In Belgium, euthanasia has been extended to children and infants, in certain circumstances. America still retains a double standard, whereby babies can be killed at any stage before birth, but cannot be once they are delivered.
Bizarrely, no one breaks the law if the baby is just deprived of care and nourishment, and allowed to die within the folds of a blanket on a hospital slab.
Taken in its narrowest meaning, fatal-foetal abnormality is understood as an anencephaly, a medical condition where part of the brain fails to develop.
It is possible to diagnose whether such a baby can survive birth for longer than minutes. All the stories we hear are from women who have had such pregnancies.
The incidence of anencephaly is one in every 100,000 births.
It is also reduced radically, by up to 70% in fact, if women take folic acid before becoming pregnant.
With such measures for prevention, the incidence becomes minute in terms of birth defects.
One wonders what conditions Mick Wallace was referencing when he stated that two babies were born every week in Holles St with fatal-foetal abnormality.
How does he understand the term? Every person born carries a genetic script that predisposes him or her to one or other life-threatening conditions.
The story of an anonymous woman, known as ‘ Isabel’, which featured in this paper, is, like other such stories, a trip-wire argument unless you tread with care.
Isabel’s baby was diagnosed with ‘spina bifida, but she had never heard of anencephaly’. We are led to conclude that Isabel’s baby suffered both conditions.
She had a traumatic abortion in England, which greatly added to her suffering.
She felt that the experience could have been better at home or in another English clinic. How much different could it be?
Abortion centres deal in death, not life. For their staff to do what they do requires a degree of denial that would make them very uncomfortable with a woman who wanted to take away the remains of her ‘baby’ so she could have an imprint of his feet.
That she was handed something that looked like a shoe box containing his remains should not have surprised her.
Likewise, when Mick Wallace bemoans the way some women in Isabel’s situation are posted the remains of their babies in ‘jiffy bags’, he should consider the far more degrading treatment of aborted babies in clinics where staff are conditioned to see their remains as medical detritus, apart from the harvested organs that are their sad and ironic legacy to medical research.
Another story tells of a woman who chose to carry her baby to full term. Her preferred option, initially, was abortion.
The experience of giving birth to a son, at full term, was bittersweet, but life-affirming when compared to the experience of Isabel.
She cradled him with the support of staff and had him lie beside her in her bed.
She called him Luke, and kept mementos, like photos and foot prints.
Finally, she had a burial for him after a non-religious service.
She does not say which choice might have been best. Stories like these cast a light on the issue, but what are the narrators’ stances on abortion?
We need to be fully informed and look at these stories dispassionately, as well as sympathetically.
The decision to repeal the 8th Amendment is a momentous one and we need to make our decision with the head, as well as the heart.
Abortion stories are sad and complex. If there was a way of erasing all difficulty and suffering from life without creating worse consequences, no-one would stand in the way.