Unrestricted access to abortion was up for debate at the Phil this Thursday. Despite teetering on the edge of acrimony once or twice, the debate was heated but respectful – there were even a few laughs.
Arguments from the proposition (pro-unrestricted access) centered around female bodily autonomy. “Who are you,” writer Una Mullally calmly demanded of a packed chamber, “to tell a woman what to do with her body? We don’t talk about dialysis on demand,” she opined, “abortion is a form of healthcare, access to which must be unrestricted by its nature.”
Anna Cosgrave, founder of the REPEAL project and the woman responsible for those eye-catching jumpers, was moved to tears at the end of her passionate speech inveighing against a country which, in her view, violates the bodily autonomy of half its citizens from the moment they are born.
Ciara O’Rourke gave a thoughtful speech opposing unrestricted access to abortion. She said that any definition of life which excluded the fetus, imbues life with some mysterious quality we don’t apply to other living things; all human lives are equal and deserving of protection. She also noted that three quarters of women who have abortions do so because of financial constraints or fears of being a burden on others and argued that we should focus on reforming society to accommodate women and pregnancy better.
The debate then moved on to discuss what some people consider to be more difficult cases. Hugh Fitzgibbon objected to third trimester abortions and Blánaid Ní Bhraonáin brought up the prevalence of sex-selective abortions and the common abortion of fetuses with Down syndrome in the UK. It’s possible that cases like these were in the minds of the sizeable minority of the audience who voted against the motion and the whole evening spoke to a diversity of views on abortion, despite the the pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy in which views on the issue are usually framed.
According to a Red C poll commissioned by Amnesty International, most Irish people support repeal of the Eighth Amendment, but only 38% support unrestricted access to abortion. This might mean that what the government proposes to replace the amendment with may influence the result of the referendum. Present an alternative of unrestricted access to abortion, and it’s conceivable that some people will prefer to keep things as they are.