LOUISE O'NEILL: Men are not the ones who will be left holding the baby

You might not like the idea of abortion. You might never like it. No one is ever going to force you to terminate your pregnancy.

I was lucky enough to see Tara Flynn’s one-woman show, Not a Funny Word, in the Abbey Theatre this week. It was a ferocious, brave performance and while at times it was hilariously funny, the scene in which Tara talked about her abortion was far from humourous. 

Abortion, you see, is not a funny word. As she described sitting in the waiting room at a clinic in Holland, surrounded by couples, my heart broke for her. 

I wanted to phone all the women I knew and make them promise that they would never go by themselves. I couldn’t bear the thought of another friend taking that journey alone. 

I will be there, I wanted to tell them, I will to be there to hold your hand.

Perhaps you’re reading this article and you are anti-choice. You think what Tara (and the other 12 women who leave this country every day to avail of abortion services) did is wrong. More than wrong, you think it is murder. 

Tell me, what would you like to happen? Would you throw these women into jail for 14 years? 

Would you wait at the airport and detain them, refuse to allow them to travel? 

Would you force them to carry the foetus to full term, keeping them strapped to a hospital bed until their nine months is up? 

Would you stand by while a woman took her own life because the thought of giving birth to a child she felt completely ill-equipped to parent has driven her to such wretched measures? 

Is that what ‘love them both’ means to you? 

Restricting access to safe, legal abortion has always had monstrous repercussions. 

Backstreet butchers, women throwing themselves down stairs, young girls attempting to induce abortions with coat hangers. 

Do you believe that anyone would resort to such methods if they weren’t desperate?

The issue of class and privilege is also one that cannot be forgotten. What about the women in direct provision? 

Women who would find it impossible to scrape together the money needed to travel, let alone paying for the abortion itself? 

Another child born into a cycle of poverty while the same people who scream ‘murderer’ at anyone wearing a Repeal sweater complain about single mothers manipulating the welfare system. Love them both, indeed.

And it is single mothers. As much as men might want to have their voices heard in this debate, as a general rule they are not the ones who will literally be left holding the baby. 

Why do you think that the male contraceptive pill has languished in the darkness, despite the fact that men are fertile 24/7 and women are fertile for only six days per menstrual cycle? 

Why do you think that the burden of avoiding unwanted pregnancy primarily falls to women? Because men will never have to stare at a pregnancy test in horror. 

They will never understand the feeling that their body is suddenly not their own, that it somehow belongs to the State and the Church in a way that is unfathomable in 2017. 

They will never have to make the decision about whether or not they should terminate a pregnancy. They will never have to leave their country to avail of basic healthcare. They will never sit in a waiting room in Holland alone without someone there to hold their hand.

What about adoption? I hear you say, as if pregnancy and child-birth don’t take their toll on the body, as if there are no risks involved, as if women haven’t died in Ireland crying out for an abortion but no, not here, “this is a Catholic country, dear.”

Well then, she should have been more careful. (Always she, she

should have been more careful, she

should have kept her legs shut. Boys will be boys after all, they can’t help themselves. Women have to be better. Women must be careful

.) 

If she didn’t want to get pregnant, she shouldn’t have.... She shouldn’t have what? She shouldn’t have had sex? 

It’s been interesting to see the attempts to differentiate between ‘good’ abortions and ‘bad’ abortions. 

As Tara remarked in the Q&A after Not a Funny Word, if you believe that abortion is acceptable in the case of rape or incest, then it’s not abortion itself that you have an issue with. 

It’s the manner in which the woman became pregnant. Think about that. Do you truly believe that women should only have sex if it’s for procreation? That having sex for pleasure is inherently wrong for women? 

Ireland has always tried to control the female body and to police our sexuality. 

It’s baffling to see people wring their hands in distress at the stories emerging about mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries and still failing to see the direct lineage between these appalling institutions and the presence of the eighth amendment in our Constitution today. 

All point to a lack of trust in women’s abilities to make the right decisions for their own bodies, their own lives. And it’s just not good enough anymore. We need to trust women. 

You might not like the idea of abortion. You might never like it. You don’t need to. No one is ever going to force you to terminate your pregnancy. 

We’re not here to change your mind about the moral implications of abortion. However, you cannot continue to demand you have the right to make decisions regarding another person’s healthcare. 

No matter what you believe, Irish women have abortions. They have always had abortions, and they always will have abortions. Repealing the eighth amendment will not affect that.

The next time you’re in the airport, take a look around. 

Twelve women a day. Scared, angry, alone, maybe sick with nausea, wishing they could have told their mother or their best friend. 

Twelve women we have exiled, made criminals of, told to keep their secrets for the rest of their lives for fear of recrimination and judgement.

Now, tell me again. What exactly would you like to happen to those women?

Louise O’ Neill is the author of Only Ever Yours and Asking For It

@oneilllo


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