VICTORIA WHITE: TDs wring their hands and use women’s bodies for political gain

If we legalise abortion, the only arbiter of when it is accessed must be the pregnant woman, writes Victoria White.

What is our problem with a woman deciding for herself? If we legalise abortion, the only arbiter of when it is accessed must be the pregnant woman. Any other kind of abortion law is disgraceful, demeaning, unenforceable, and fundamentally dishonest.

I respect any honest argument whether for or against the legalisation of abortion. But I hate the mealy-mouthed dishonesty which has Dáil deputies rallying around Mick Wallace’s call for legal abortion for pregnant women after they have been examined by two medics who have jointly certified that their babies will not live long outside the womb.

I hate it almost as much as the original ironically named Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill which allows for the termination of an unborn baby’s life if the pregnant mother says she will otherwise terminate her own life.

Only with that gun to their heads did the TDs of Leinster House feel it allowable that a woman should have the right to end her own pregnancy. Except the gun was plastic and they were holding it to their own heads.

TDs wring their hands and use women’s bodies for political gain

Everyone knew it was a trick to distract our attention from their responsibility to move towards a referendum on our abortion laws.

Today’s vote plays the same trick. I keep seeing in front of me the image of a woman in a magician’s cabinet on a stage. The magician keeps finding new slots in which to insert his knives but the woman keeps smiling.

She is a woman caught in a desperately unwanted pregnancy and the magicians are the TDs who are trying to get her out of the cabinet. They slice her every which way they can but the last thing they think of is opening the cabinet, when all the time she just needs to be let out. She needs a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and if it is repealed she needs as full and as frank a discussion of new abortion legislation as this reasonably healthy democracy can provide.

I would be in favour of precisely what Leo Varadkar has said he does not favour — abortion on request or demand — and I would make the time limit as short as is practicable. If you are morally opposed to abortion I understand that the time limit doesn’t make any difference.

I believe most women invest more in their pregnancies as time moves on and most do not suffer terrible grief over early miscarriage, by which nearly a quarter of pregnancies end. If a woman requests an abortion within this eight- to 10-week period she is unlikely to suffer physical or mental consequences. She knows that and like most she adjusts her moral compass accordingly. Women’s moral compass is often different to men’s because their experience of life is often different than men’s.

An unborn baby depends on a woman’s body in a way which is not articulated by our Greek-Judaeo-Christian morality, made by men for men. In it, there is a simple distinction between individuals and it is easy to accord them all the same human rights. In a woman’s body there is no easy distinction between her being and that of her baby, a distinction which grows as the baby grows.

I wish no woman ever felt the need to end her pregnancy but if she really wishes to it is impossible to stop her and stay within the parameters of basic human rights. She will find a way, as women have always found a way since time began.

Attempting to ban abortion won’t stop it and will always be subject to the kind of questions Mick Wallace is raising today. The only thing that will reduce the rate is changing the society in which women make these decisions.

TDs wring their hands and use women’s bodies for political gain

What infuriates me about Wallace’s bill is the idea that the State would pick and choose the babies which are to have full human rights, that it could put into law that an unborn baby with little chance of much life outside the womb is more abortable than a healthy baby. What infuriates me is that that Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, John Halligan, and others would attempt to be judge and jury on which kind of pregnancies should continue and which shouldn’t. And much, much worse, it infuriates me that John Halligan, Sinn Féin, Labour, and others would attempt to be judge and jury on whether a baby resulting from rape or incest should live or die.

Josef Mengele comes to mind, picking and choosing between the good, the bad, and the ugly. Do I think our society is damaged by the fact that most disabled kids get to be born? No. Do I think the UK gains from the fact that 90% of kids diagnosed disabled in the womb are said to be aborted? No.

Do I think the UK, where abortion is legal at 24 weeks, is a jurisdiction in which, in the words of TD Kate O’Connell, “a civilised and compassionate approach to women’s health is par for the course”? No. Should any bill be passed by conscientious deputies legalising abortion without a time limit, except where the woman’s life or health is at risk? No.

By singling out babies which we describe wrongly as ‘incompatible with life’ for special treatment, we risk going back to how it was 30 years ago when Fiona Cronin was told Andrew, her baby with anencephaly, had died when in fact he was still alive 27 hours later. He was, as she says, “rejected and hidden away” when all his mother wanted to do was hold him for what little time they had. She wasn’t asked and so Andrew lived and died without the comfort of her presence.

Wallace’s legislation silences the mother’s voice in a different way. It is underpinned by the belief that she should be the last person to make the decision, that we must get that crisis pregnancy off our consciences by externalising the blame.

Mick Wallace
Mick Wallace

“She would have killed herself and the baby, your Honour.” “The baby was incompatible with life, your Honour.”

This is the script we follow, when all the time everybody knows that Mick Wallace and Clare Daly are hoping these terminally ill unborn babies will spring the magician’s cabinet for all women who are pregnant and wish they weren’t.

And, notwithstanding their undoubted sympathy for the women in question, it is basically a political ploy.

And every TD in Leinster House today will make a decision about despairing parents and sick babies to bolster their own political position, whatever it is. No-one will tell the truth.

If a woman requests an abortion within this eight- to 10-week period, she is unlikely to suffer physical or mental consequences

More on this topic

How a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion tabooHow a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion taboo

UN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern IrelandUN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland

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