One answer may be contained in a letter to this newspaper. On Thursday last, Rory O’Donovan wrote eloquently about abortion advocates’ misuse of language. He was miffed at the phrase ‘pro-choice’ instead of ‘pro-abortion’. He said: “As a pro-lifer, I feel the language of those seeking abortion rights has been softened and accommodated to the point where it resembles the cute puppy-dog playing with toilet paper, while the primary purpose of the product is never mentioned.”
Mr O’Donovan didn’t intend the irony of his use of the phrase ‘pro-lifer’. If you’re blaming the other side for misuse of language, don’t describe your side with a term that is more inaccurate. ‘Pro-life’ suggests an attitude to life that is more positive than that of people who don’t share your view. So, for example, someone who devotes his/her life to helping other people is not pro-life because he/she is not opposed to abortion?
The failure to see the wood from the trees is not monopolised by one side in this debate. As news of the death of Savita Halappanavar has unfolded in public, the polarisation of the extremes on both sides has come into sharp focus.
Language is one example of how crazy the debate can be. ‘Abortion on demand’ has entered the lexicon of phrases on this issue. It throws up the image of an angry — usually young — woman striding into a clinic and demanding that she receive an abortion. How ludicrous is that?
What woman, in the throes of a crisis pregnancy, and all the mental anguish that accommodates that, is in the mood to ‘demand’ anything?
We have also been treated to the phrase ‘legal clarity’ in the political theatre. This, presumably, is because the word ‘legislation’ is now regarded in some anti-abortion quarters as dirty.
It is inaccurate to describe anybody as ‘pro-abortion’. This is like describing somebody as inherently ‘pro-war,’ because they advocate that, in some circumstances, war is unavoidable.
People who are opposed to any form of abortion like to use language that suggests the procedure simply never happens in dear, old Ireland. We know this to be inaccurate, as doctors effect terminations here when it’s necessary, although the instances are not recorded.
Procedures carried out in this country have been described as ‘an evacuation of the womb’. This, of course, propagates the notion that there are no circumstances, even now, in which abortions are performed in hospitals here, which is simply inaccurate.
But then, in typical Irish form, little about this debate is conducted in a direct manner. Most analysis of the debate posits two extremes, consisting of, maybe, 20%-25% each, and a great expanse in the middle where views are more fluid.
On the anti-abortion side, the prevailing attitude is that no legislation must be allowed for the X case. They are opposed to any facilitation for women whose health is in danger, for the victims of rape, for those whose pregnancy is unviable, because, as they see it, any of that would open a door that would only widen thereafter. These people propose that no legislation is required for X, despite the testimony of a number of senior obstetricians that confusion can only be addressed through law.
On the pro-choice side, there may well be an attitude that any legislation is welcomed, not necessarily on its own merit, but because it does open that door. The pro-choice side would like to see that door widened into a liberal abortion regime.
Then, there is the middle ground. In this vast expanse, empathy demands provision for women whose pregnancy is blighted by the kind of circumstances outlined above.
There is an acceptance that life is not black and-white, and that human beings are entitled to address their personal plight how they see fit, irrespective of the impact that has on the religious beliefs of others.
All opinion polls in recent years suggest that this approach is gaining traction. By the same token, few in this middle ground would like to see abortion universally available.
Like many people, I would consider myself to occupy that middle ground. However, it is those who push the absolutist position, determined that no provision at all be made, whom I find most offensive.
Take the organisation that calls itself the Life Institute, of which there is no equivalent on the pro-choice side. This outfit grew out of Youth Defence, a group with a dark history of intimidation in this debate. It emerged last week that Life Institute representatives have made 56,000 phone-calls to politicians since last summer, advocating their absolutist position. Fine Gael TDs, in particular, have been targeted.
In some instances, 10 phone calls a day have been received by the politicians’ office. All of which gives rise to the question: when does lobbying degenerate into harassment?
Fine Gael get little sympathy in today’s world, but, God love them, having to engage with that shower 10 times a day must be enough to drive anyone around the bend.
The tragedy of Ms Halappanavar’s death has brought the moderate voices to the fore. The demonstrations in our cities have shown that people who refrained from involvement now want the State to act in a grown-up manner.
People on what might neutrally be described as the ‘anti-choice side’ have genuine beliefs. But they represent a minority view, if opinion polls are to be believed. It is no longer sustainable, in a Republic, that their religious beliefs dictate policy to the citizenry. Not just that, but their attitude to doors being opened in the future to liberal abortion suggests they see themselves as the moral police for tomorrow’s citizens as well as today’s.
Thirty years ago, the anti-choice side foisted a referendum on the State that was unwarranted. Abortion was illegal, and could never have been changed, short of legislation.
Since then, nothing but grief has arisen from that amendment.
Every time efforts have been made to introduce laws that reflect the rights of citizens, the anti-choice side have kicked up blue murder, spreading fear, and, in not a few cases, harassing lawmakers.
The ferociousness of their campaigning has led to a scenario in which the main political parties will not allow a free vote on any forthcoming legislation on this issue. We are at a point where the democratic system is afraid of the consequences of elected representatives voting according to their conscience on what is regarded a moral matter.
It’s high time all of that ended. The country should no longer be held to ransom by a small, vocal group, irrespective of how genuine their personal beliefs may be.