Wednesday 25 January 2017

Doctor's Orders: We need to talk about Breda and abortion

Dr Ciara Kelly

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

Upset: Many women experiencing distress often live in a jurisdiction where abortion is illegeal (picture posed by a model).
Upset: Many women experiencing distress often live in a jurisdiction where abortion is illegeal (picture posed by a model).

I wouldn't normally put pen to paper in response to a columnist in another publication, but in the case of Breda O'Brien's article in the Irish Times last week, 'Women tell me their stories about abortion all the time' I need to make an exception.

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Breda says firstly that Irish women do talk about their abortions and what's more they talk to her. Intuitively, it feels unlikely that women who believe their abortions were the right decision, would choose Breda, a known anti-abortion campaigner to discuss such a deeply personal matter with. So I can only presume that those who do are part of the 2pc of women, who've had abortions and who feel distressed afterwards and regret them. Which may, of course, skew Breda's impression of women's reactions to having had an abortion - perhaps making her think more women proportionally regret them, than is actually the case.

But I must take exception to her point that Irish women generally do talk about abortions because that simply isn't so in my experience. Since I went on record as being pro-choice, innumerable women have told me their stories about abortion. Women who've been bottling this up, often for years, afraid to tell a soul. Up to one in ten Irish women have had an abortion but many never tell their GP - so strong is the sense of shame. So powerful is their fear. One women told me she never even told her obstetrician, even though she knew that complications, relevant to her imminent delivery, had occurred. She put her own health at risk, rather than be subjected to the unbearable judgement she thought she might receive. She felt tormented by her weakness but too vulnerable to speak.

Breda also cites as a bad thing, the fact that pro-choice counselling organisations, allegedly tell women - who are distressed post abortion - that they made 'the right decisions for themselves at the time'. Presumably if that's bad, these organisations should instead agree that yes, the distressed woman has in fact done something dreadful. The sad logic of that is completely depressing.

She talks about attempts to dehumanise babies by referring to them - factually correctly (depending on the stage of development) as embryos and foetuses. Instead she wants us to refer to microscopic clusters of cells as babies. Is that to reinforce to women that they actually are murderers - deserving the 14 years maximum sentence, currently the law here, for procuring an abortion?

There are women distressed by having had an abortion. Two per cent of women. And although their number is small their experiences are important. However, those women are most likely to be experiencing distress, if they come from a jurisdiction where abortion is illegal. And where society condemns them as sinful, criminal and bad.

What about all the women in crisis? Most of whom will never speak of it publicly but who do talk of it, in small clinical rooms, in tears, talking about a baby who won't survive after delivery or telling the likes of me, they cannot go on. They would rather die than continue with their pregnancy.

We must acknowledge those women who agonise over the decision but decide to proceed with a termination. And feel mainly relief - when the very tough journey to the UK or beyond is done. No Breda, these women don't believe - your words - that their decision is "morally equivalent to the extraction of a wisdom tooth." But they do believe it was the right decision for them at the time. Their experience is also valid.

Anyone trying to diminish the bravery of people like Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle, for speaking out in a society where a quarter of a million Irish women since 1980 have been silent - should think long and hard about their slant on humanity. An embryo shouldn't have the monopoly on compassion.

@ciarakellydoc

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