Tuesday 27 September 2016

Barbara McCarthy: When it comes to abortion, can I be on the fence?

The sentencing of a young woman unleashed a wave of support, but I'm not sure I will be joining in, writes Barbara McCarthy

Barbara McCarthy

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

LAW: Abortion pills are illegal in Ireland. Photo: Depositphotos
LAW: Abortion pills are illegal in Ireland. Photo: Depositphotos

When I heard about the case of the 21-year-old who received a three-month suspended sentence after procuring abortion drugs online, I felt worse for the baby than for her. Reading about her flatmate coming upon a fully formed baby with 'fingers, little toes' in a bin was difficult to digest. The woman admitted to feeling sick and damaged mentally, as did I.

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I can't say many online commentators shared my opinion. They were on the #notacriminal Amnesty organic-cotton T-shirt open-top bus to Dail Eireann.

Don't get me wrong, I think every woman should be allowed to have an abortion in her own country, but can we not take a common-sense approach to this? When it comes to abortion, is it okay to be on the fence?

Abortions are a fact of life and will happen whether they are illegal or not, so they need to be made safe and available. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't honour the unborn child without getting labelled as a pro-life god freak by the pro-choice militia. Being openly emphatic towards the "pest", as the mother allegedly called it, means you're pro-choice rather than pro-abortion.

In the United States, a large ­percentage of pro-lifers are pro-death penalty. I'm not with them either. They sound like a confused bunch. No women should be punished for doing something that is no one's business, especially some fanatical Bible twat with a banner.

I asked 'Orla' (we changed her name) about how she feels, having had an abortion many years ago. "At the time I thought I had no choice, but now, 20 years later, I realise I did," she said. "I've suffered ­severe anxiety since then. It only went away when I had a child later on." Like many Catholic girls in the early 1990s, 'Orla' was visited by members of the pro-life ­campaign at school. "They used to show videos of ­abortions and then ram the whole ­killing people thing down your throat. It was ­awful," she recalled. "They'd give you these gold baby feet badges. After I had my ­abortion, I saw someone with one of them and I nearly got sick."

'Grace' (52), who had three abortions and one child, says there's more stigma attached to being a single parent or teenage mother. "There needs to be more support for them. No one stands outside Dail Eireann supporting single parents," she said. She's right. It's not just the women on low incomes who can't pay rent, it's higher earners too, who get treated like criminals when they go to social welfare looking for much-needed support.

When it comes to abortions, 'Grace', like many others, has no regrets.

"All my abortions were at six or seven weeks," she said. "Yet I find it inhumane to allow abortions up to 24 weeks, unless there's a medical issue. It sounds so hypocritical, because it's not any less a murder when you have them earlier, but I think a lot of people feel like that."

Establishment figures say it's murder if the baby is ­aborted without good reason, but if it's a product of rape, incest or a case of foetal abnormality, is that not murder too? Why punish one and not another?

Just because it needs to be decriminalised doesn't mean everyone wants to buy the organic cotton #shesnocriminal T-shirt or get on the abortion open-top bus.

For some people, like me, the photos of women with abortion pills on their tongue were crass. It reminded me of the early Nineties' acid house rave look gone wrong.

In Berlin this weekend, people protested with signed underpants in their hands. At the end of last year women tweeted Enda Kenny details of their menstrual cycle. Twelve women a day get on a ferry to the UK, yet just like the marriage referendum last year, everyone has to get their oar in and give their tuppence ha'penny, even if it doesn't affect them at all.

There are a lot of men and women who want to have children but can't, people without partners or families who lost babies, or others who made decisions they regret. Do they have to have their faces rubbed in it?

Sunday Independent

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