I am a resolute atheist, but like many in this country, both non-religious or from different faiths, I was raised in a school system where morals were taught via the christian faith. Despite not currently believing in any faith system my morals are rooted in christian teaching. The stories from the Bible from which morals were taught were tangible and relatable. Alongside many different parables were the rigid set of rules that are the Ten Commandments including such well known laws as “Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house……nor his ass…”
However the teachings of the Bible are more complex and multifaceted than simply the Ten Commandments. For instance the 8th commandment says “thou shalt not steal,” but Proverb 6.30 says: “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving”. So there is a bit of flexibility — where circumstances are extreme, the commandments can be broken.
I have been contemplating the upcoming abortion referendum in the context of christian teaching. I know that many christians are opposed to abortion based on the moral that it is never okay to kill. 99.9% of the time I would agree that killing is not okay. However I question this position in relation to abortion. Therapeutic and safe abortion didn’t exist during the time of bible stories, and so there are no teachings or parables for it.
But Jesus taught compassion, he taught through his parables to help relieve the suffering of others. Ultimately this abortion referendum is about relieving suffering. Relieving the suffering of women, of couples, of families and of foetuses who are not compatible with life. While my morals tell me it’s not okay to kill, they also tell me that sometimes abortion on medical and compassionate grounds is more than just okay, it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes the right choice is the hardest one: seeing the need for abortion provision in Ireland involves getting your head around many different aspects of life that you may never have experienced before and putting yourself in the shoes of the countless women who have traveled to seek terminations abroad. If Jesus were here in Ireland today would he stick to the Ten Commandments or would he empathize with the suffering which women experience in Ireland because they cannot access full reproductive healthcare?
We also must bear in mind that this referendum will not determine the access to abortion that will be brought in after a Yes vote. It simply will remove the hard and fast amendment from the constitution. If there is a Yes vote, then the government will legislate appropriately.
I say this because alongside the posters saying that it’s never okay to kill there are posters suggesting that by voting Yes Ireland will import England’s abortion legislation and suddenly 1 in 5 babies are going to be aborted. This is not true. If there is a Yes vote and the proposed 12 week legislation passes it will still be one of the most restrictive policies in Europe.
When making your choice for voting this May remember that if you vote Yes you are not choosing to access an abortion or be okay with abortion personally, you are allowing women who need abortion the chance to access it in Ireland. If you vote Yes you are voting to give reproductive rights to traveller women, migrant women and disabled women.
If you are worried about voting Yes because you don’t believe in killing babies, remember that most babies are wanted but due medical or circumstantial problems can not come into this world for compassionate reasons. Remember that many women accessing abortion already have children and they need to have a safe medical procedure to return home and continuing being wonderful mums.
In an ideal world we would not need abortion, but with women facing domestic and sexual violence, or babies developing fatal fetal abnormalities then we must for compassionate reasons vote Yes.
If you are still inclined to vote No then before you make up your mind I encourage you to visit a few websites and read the accounts of women who have travelled for abortions, available on pages such as In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. The testimony of these women are much more poignant and real than my meanderings and I urge you to read them and listen to their experiences.