VICTORIA WHITE: The unborn are people too, but I will vote to repeal, for mothers

Apart from rare cases, there should be no ‘crisis pregnancies’ in a country as rich as ours, writes Victoria White.

AT 12 weeks, a baby’s basic brain development is complete.

That’s what I learned when I followed Save the 8th campaigner Niamh Uí Bhriain’s advice and googled 12 weeks’ gestation.

The cheery American woman from the pregnancy website also informed me that the 12-week-old baby’s pancreas has begun to synthesise insulin and that his or her small intestine is in place.

A 12-week-old baby is an amazing thing and there’s no denying that.

Except there is, apparently.

RTÉ’s Liveline was this week convulsed by people ringing in objecting to Save the 8th’s posters, which feature a baby — sorry, a foetus — at 12 weeks’ gestation.

The baby is not dead or aborted. He or she is happy.

But people told Joe Duffy the image was “graphic” and unsuitable to be seen by children. One caller made a comparison with pornography.

Later, on Drivetime, Niamh Uí Bhriain did an excellent interview defending the posters.

She said a full discussion could not be had in the run-up to the May 25 referendum on repealing the Constitution, to remove the implicit ban on abortion, if we “ignore the humanity of the child”. 

Accused by Philip Boucher-Hayes of making “a political point”, she defended herself again: “We can’t have an honest and open debate, if we ignore the little person whose life is going to be ended. It is unfair to vote on this issue, if we don’t remind ourselves what a baby is like at 12 weeks.”

Boucher-Hayes asked — rather idiotically — why we needed images of the baby. Uí Bhriain answered: “Because we don’t live in the Dark Ages.” But did the image not risk “traumatising” women who had had abortions, persisted Boucher Hayes?

It was not appropriate, answered Uí Bhriain, “to pretend to the women that it’s not a real, live baby”. 

She’s absolutely right. To pretend such a thing to women, or to voters in general, would be outrageous.

But that seems to be the aim of much of the yes campaign.

Not only is this fundamentally dishonest, it has big implications for how we, as a society, treat the weak, the infirm, the disabled, the unwanted.

And I don’t think it’s going to work. I don’t believe voters are that easily deceived.

I may be wrong, but I think a majority of those who intend to vote yes to repeal understand the enormity of the decision to abort a baby and realise that it entails loss of life.

This newspaper’s political correspondent, Daniel McConnell, wrote a strong piece back in March in which he made the point that the two sides in the campaign have traditionally turned away either from the horror of having an abortion or of being denied one.

He asked that we all “stop being hypocrites”. The pro-choice side was increasingly engaging in the wholesale denial of the reality of abortion, he said, and described “the forceful removal of a foetus or unborn baby with beating heart and developing fingers, toes, and brain” as “disgusting”.

He echoed, however, the words of Minister for Health, Simon Harris, that denying reality has been a bad habit in this country. It had led to difficulty and danger for the nine or 10 Irishwomen we know of who have abortions every day, let alone for those we don’t know about.

The problem with the debate rests in our cultural inability to imagine one life inherent in another one.

This is not a condition unique to a mother and baby, or even to mother and baby mammals in general. One life inheres in another in all hosts of parasites and I must insist that, in strictly biological terms, a baby’s relationship with his or her mother is parasitical.

The experience of being such a host is not, however, available to males of the human species. And males of the human species have written our guiding philosophies since we can remember.

For this reason, we have no concept of interdependent souls. Because we can only imagine separate, individual beings, we end up pitting mother and baby against each other in the abortion debate.

The yes side ignores the baby. The no side ignores the woman.

The crucial but missing piece of information is that for an unborn baby in early gestation, his or her mother is life. The baby has no life without his or her mother and no society has ever been able to vindicate the baby’s right to life against the mother’s wishes.

To do that, we would have to monitor the cycles of all fertile women, log their conjugal activities, and test for pregnancy after their every encounter. Then, we would have to lock pregnant women up, without access to shoe laces or nail scissors.

Thankfully, we realise that would be inhumane.

Even those in my extended family who say they consider abortion to be murder have no intention of prosecuting a woman who has one, or even of attempting to stop Irish women going abroad for legal abortions.

The 12 weeks proposal is really no more than a queasy compromise between our acceptance that a baby in early gestation only remains there at the behest of his or her mother and our philosophical understanding that an unborn baby is a human life.

All we can do to stop women ending their babies’ lives is administer stern warnings.

That is all our law against abortion and its constitutional buttressing have ever done.

IT IS probable that they have lowered the number of abortions, but 3,265 women a year is still an awful lot of women who have faced far more difficulty, danger, and expense than they should have done.

Particularly as the underlying hypocrisy continues of a society that is against abortion, but does nothing to prevent it.

I strongly believe that given the total dependence of an unborn baby on his or her mother, the only humane way to prevent abortion is to remove all obstacles from the way of the pregnant woman.

Apart from relatively rare medical cases, there should be no “crisis pregnancies” in a country as rich as ours.

We fabricate the crisis and many pregnant women take the easiest route out of the crisis that we are prepared to give them.

There is no life for the unborn child without his or her mother and that is why equating their lives in the Constitution is unworkable, ineffective, and contradictory.

I will vote for repeal, not by telling myself an unborn baby is not human, but by reminding myself that a baby’s birth depends on the will of his or her mother.

And that mother needs love, care, money, and a home.

Not fear.


Lifestyle

Tis the season for sequins and excess, but minimalists can stick to their style guns in the season’s next level neutrals. From low-key glitz that’s perfect for party wear to the wardrobe heroes with trans-seasonal appeal, slide into neutral for maximum style with minimal effort. Carolyn Moore reports.Low-key glitz for minimalists with this season's neutrals

How to plump, hydrate and get rid of spots fast before your Christmas party.Getting your quick fix for the festive party season

Irish photographer Seamus Murphy brought music star PJ Harvey to Afghanistan to film part of their documentary, writes Esther McCarthy.Headlong into the war zone in new documentary

Kya deLongchamps shows us how to champion our environmentWinter greens: How to champion our environment this season

More From The Irish Examiner