COLETTE BROWNE: Time for people to put pressure on politicians over abortion issue

A RECENT opinion poll revealed 96% of Irish people would have voted for Barack Obama in the US election so why, if we hate Republicans so much, is the State’s attitude to abortion an identikit copy of that party’s pariah fringe?

Even those Republicans yet to be convinced by the theory of evolution were appalled by some of their candidates’ comments on abortion throughout the campaign.

Todd Akin had a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent until he tried to defend his blanket opposition to abortion by saying “legitimate” rape victims would never need one.

Richard Mourdock, attempting to defend his extreme anti-choice views, opined that pregnancies from rape were “God’s will”.

Not to be outdone, John Koster said that he was opposed to offering women abortion in cases of “the rape thing”, and then decided to keep digging by arguing that an abortion would only “put more violence on a woman’s body”.

Incredibly, considering their obvious erudition, all three were trounced at the polls.

Perhaps they should consider moving to this country where their minority views would have some currency. Hell, they’d probably win an endorsement from the Iona Institute and romp home in a general election.

While the Democrats moulded a successful campaign around the Republicans’ “war on women” — fundamentally, a desire to control women’s reproductive rights and restrict access to abortion — in Ireland, that war was won long ago.

Currently, our politicians are engaged in an existential crisis about the awful prospect of having to legislate to allow women, whose lives are in danger, access to an abortion.

Read that sentence again and really think about what it means. If you’re a man, think about your mother, sisters, wife, girlfriend and female friends. Would you prefer they die rather than have access to an abortion? Because that’s what this is all about. In this progressive European country, successive governments have steadfastly refused to introduce legislation that would allow women, who would otherwise die, access to life-saving medical treatment. Elsewhere in the Western World, such an odious public debate, displaying such a disgusting disregard for the lives of women, would be treated with the contempt it deserves.

Here, it’s considered controversial by some to say that, actually, women’s lives take precedence over an unborn foetus and at the very least a legislative regime, governing access to an abortion when it’s a medical necessity, should be introduced.

It’s Twilight Zone stuff — especially when one considers that a majority of the Irish people endorsed the very limited terms of the X Case in a referendum in 2002.

Those Irish politicians paralysed by cowardice and cynically ignoring their conscience on this issue should look at the carnage that was wrought on the Republican Party last week by a very important demographic — women.

Naked self-interest being at the root of most politicians’ decisions, if they won’t act in women’s interests then maybe they’ll act in their own.

Women flexed their muscles in last week’s American election and proved to be a powerful political force to be reckoned with.

Clearly concerned with the likely erosion of reproductive rights under a Romney administration, women opted for Obama by an 11-point margin. The difference was even more pronounced among single women, a massive 36 points.

Patently, economic issues also played a part but, for example, voters in one poll sided with Obama as being better at “dealing with issues of concern to women” by a 24-point margin. In crucial swing states, four out of ten women ranked abortion as their number one issue with 75% of these supporting Obama.

Ultimately, Republicans’ peculiar brand of patronising paternalism, presuming to dictate to women what they should do with their bodies, played a decisive role in Romney’s downfall.

As Republicans now begin a period of self-reflection, in which the fiscal conservative wing of the party battles the bible-thumping base for control, one glum strategist summed up their quandary when he said the GOP was a Mad Men party in a Modern Family era. The world has moved on and left the social conservatives, and their pious moralising, behind.

The question for this country is how long will it take Irish politicians, some of whom appear to be trapped in a 30-year time warp, to realise that they too are living in the past? An opinion poll in this newspaper in 2010 found that 60% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 believe that abortion should be legalised.

According to a 2011 study, 52% of Irish GPs believe that abortion should be an option for any woman who chooses it while only 11% agree with our highly restrictive abortion laws.

More recently, a poll in the Sunday Times in September found that 80% of voters would support a change to the law to allow abortion, if the life of the woman was at risk, with only 16% opposed — those devout Christians who would rather see women in a morgue.

These are the facts. Yet still, somehow, the myth that a majority in this country are avowedly pro-life is continually perpetuated and, worse, given credence.

The anti-choice lobby, to their credit, have managed to so petrify generations of politicians with threats of electoral Armageddon that TDs continue to ignore, not only referendum results, but successive polls that show a huge liberalisation of attitudes on this issue.

SO, instead of debate we get silence, instead of progress we get stasis, and instead of action finally being taken, at the behest of the European Court of Human Rights, reports are commissioned and go missing in action.

If this depressing history has taught us anything it’s that craven politicians will be content to bury this issue until the pro-choice majority decide to make their voices heard over the disproportionate din of anti-choice lobbyists.

Instead of voting for politicians on the basis of their ability to fix potholes, or fill out medical card applications, maybe more weight should be given to whether politicians would prefer women to live or die if faced with a life-threatening pregnancy.

Perhaps politicians should be routinely asked if they favour traumatised rape and incest victims having to travel outside the jurisdiction to avail of abortion. Instead of allowing them to bleat about “sensitivity” and “complex situations” why not find out if they are misogynists and would force women, who find out early in their pregnancy that their foetus will not survive outside the womb, carry those babies to term?

Maybe those TDs fond of judgmental preaching should be asked if, faced with a crisis pregnancy, they would opt to deny their own daughters a lawful abortion in this country? It’s time that the pro-choice majority did more than merely shout at the TV when Senator Ronan Mullen starts his interminable sermonising and finally fought back in the war on women.

In a democracy the people — not TDs and not narrow interest groups — are sovereign and the people have repeatedly spoken on this issue. It’s time that politicians listened.


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