The Repeal the 8th movement has recently brought the issue of abortion to the fore of Irish life. While the right to choose to have an abortion seems fundamental, there is a danger that repealing the 8th Amendment will be seen as the end rather than simply the means to valuing women in society.
As a woman, I have strong opinions regarding the 8th Amendment, as it is an inherently sexist piece of legislation as it stands. However, also as a woman, I have strong and negative opinions on certain aspects of the campaign. Yes, if the 8th Amendment is repealed, the state is respecting the female right to choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy, and this must be a positive thing.
However, in this case, we must be especially careful not to devalue the role of the mother or those women who choose to keep wanted and unwanted pregnancies alike. Furthermore, we must resist the temptation to dehumanise the Pro-Life lobby, to condemn them as bigots, and to censor healthy debate.
It is no secret that Irish abortion law has been found wanting when compared to Human Rights standards. It is a shameful thing that in this country, in this day and age, incest and rape victims are forced to host and carry the result of their degradation and suffering with little to no support, financially, mentally or legally.
Indeed, the fact that rape is still such an issue is reflective of an alarming social view of women that is entirely separate to the issue of abortion. Incidentally, the need for abortion in such cases would be negated if rape and incest were more successfully targeted. Thankfully not all women will face such hardship as rape or incest in their lives.
Nonetheless, the campaign for abortion is seen as a campaign for bodily autonomy for women. And yes, it is in many ways. However, it is crucial to retain a firm grip on the reality of the situation.
Recently, a member of TCDSU’s Repeal the 8th campaign said that, “Until women have complete control over their bodies and their reproduction, women cannot be viewed as equals”. I understand the intention of this statement was to point out the double standard in reproduction, sex, and childbirth faced by women, and the relative ease with which men can shake off such responsibilities.
However, at the same time, assertions like this one, while being common catch-phrases of the campaign, are somewhat unrealistic and misleading. Firstly, even using the term “complete reproductive control” is dangerous.
Could that, for instance, be read to imply that abortion should allow women to abort children who will suffer learning disabilities, physical disabilities, syndromes etc? What is the extent to which women can choose what they do and do not wish to carry? Is this something we can morally oversee?
Secondly, no one, not even a man, has complete control over their bodies. That is a sad but inevitable fact of life. I understand that women’s bodies function in a way that is different to men’s reproductively, but complete bodily autonomy is impossible, as demonstrated by multiple diseases that no one asked to have. And, as such, promoters of Repeal the 8th should confine their language to the bounds of reality.
Of course, the idea of Free, Safe, Legal, which is all very well in theory, is another tricky one in terms of bodily rights. I agree completely that victims of rape should be entitled to free abortion, and that, in the instance of a risk posed to the mother or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, abortion is a medical concern, and should be free of charge.
However, if abortion is not for these reasons, then it being free is surely not a bodily right, nor an exercise in autonomy, let alone economically viable.
I was recently at an event where someone said that the only solution to world hunger was free and legal abortion, as this would combat overpopulation. While I don’t imagine this isolated opinion to be reflective of most people’s understanding of abortion, I find it alarming that such ideas are entertained — and that such careless language as above is being associated with the campaign.
Similarly, as I marched for Choice on Saturday the 24th, some of the slogans being chanted were disturbing to me. People who chant, “Pro-life, it’s a lie, they don’t care if women die” neither deserve to be entertained nor lent any credence.
This is inflammatory, libelous and wrong. To deny that abortion is a moral issue is fallacy, and as such, people with moral objections are entirely entitled to air their views without being branded women-killers. After all, there is out-roar whenever the Pro-Life lobby implies that their Pro-Choice counterparts are guilty of infanticide.
In short, the Pro-Choice lobby is in danger of creating a censorial environment, in which the people of Ireland are inhibited in expressing their moral qualms, and their opinions. Of course, introducing the right to choose will not force any Irish woman with moral objections to abortion to avail of it at any time in her life, any more than it does now. One could argue that the Pro-Life campaign would not be as affected should the 8th Amendment be repealed as the Pro-Choice lobby are being affected by its remaining in place.
Nonetheless, if the Pro-Choice campaign desire a democratic decision on abortion in the form of a Referendum, they should not drown out other voices, as this is inherently anti-democratic.
Other elements of the Repeal campaign have arguably done more damage than good in their somewhat warped promulgation of their increasingly insular message. Not so long ago, a picture of a Luas message asking passengers to give up their seats for pregnant women was circulated on social media. This image was graffitied.
The slogan, which read “This is Jess. Jess is pregnant. As kind human beings, let’s offer our seats to Jess” was changed to “let’s offer basic human rights to Jess”, crowned with a large “Repeal the 8th”. No mention of the choice to keep or abort was mentioned.
This picture was widely circulated, and lauded by Repealers, and wrongly so. It seems incredibly ironic that a campaign based on the “right to choose” would so disrespect the choice to have a child, or to keep a pregnancy. Such messages as this imply that any woman who is pregnant desires, and is being denied, an abortion.
It insinuates that any pregnant woman who is not exercising her right to stay un-pregnant is a deviant and in some way unfeminist. It ignores the fact that the majority of women who become pregnant wish to be, and, more than that, is insulting to any women who choose to see an unexpected pregnancy through. This photo is yet more evidence of the low place in society occupied by mothers, and is a poor reflection on the Repeal the 8th lobby and cause.
If we are going to argue for “complete reproductive control” for women as a fundamental human right, then let’s talk about women who can’t get pregnant and wish to. Let’s talk about women who have kept unexpected pregnancies (which is heroic in my opinion), and are subsequently offered little to no help by society, government or campaigns such as this one which has come to proclaim abortion as the only option.
While Repealing the 8th is a step towards liberating some women, it is in danger of drowning out mothers. The cost of childcare in this country, for example, is inhibiting to mothers who wish or need to work. On the other hand, the tax system is inhibiting to women who stay at home with their children.
The point is that there are more issues surrounding women, surrounding women’s reproductive experience, and surrounding their lives as mothers which are not covered by the abortion debate, and which, more than that, are neglected because of its belligerence.
It is clear that abortion comes of imperfect circumstances which should be righted. Yes, our predominantly male government needs to respect the majority of Irish females who wish to remove the eighth amendment from our constitution. A woman who wishes to rid herself of a baby does not undertake to do so lightly, either now, when she is forced to travel abroad, or in the future, when she will presumably be able to do so in Ireland.
Just as abortion is a traumatic experience, so is carrying out an unwanted pregnancy, or giving birth to a child that one feels one cannot support properly. Firstly, the patriarchal mindset which still views an unwanted baby as a solely female responsibility needs to go. Secondly, the proportion of the Repeal lobby who insinuate that all pregnancies are, or should be, unwanted (as demonstrated by the Jess graffiti) should use more sensitivity and discernment in what is otherwise a legitimate campaign. Thirdly, the idea of “complete bodily autonomy” is unrealistic and is not helpful in this campaign.
Repealing the 8th is a necessary step for this country, democratically speaking, but abortion is not a one-size-fits-all solution to women’s oppression.