Sunday 11 December 2016

Decades of emotive abortion debates have brought us only greater confusion

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

'Without a story or a face, the unborn child remains at the mercy of philosophy and law.' Getty Images/iStockphoto
'Without a story or a face, the unborn child remains at the mercy of philosophy and law.' Getty Images/iStockphoto

Imagine if, every time there was a TV debate about the latest abortion-related saga, an image of the relevant ultrasound scan came up on a screen behind. While listening to the arguments we could also look at the baby whose future was under discussion - see her snub nose and high forehead. Is it likely that such presentation could avoid changing the terms of the debate?

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By now, you'll have worked out where I'm 'coming from'. This is generally the way we engage with such discussions: watching for signs of the contributor's leaning and nodding if we agree or switching off if we don't.

But here's another question: would the current controversy have arisen if the woman in question had been a middle-class Irishwoman whose coil had slipped during intercourse? Obviously not: had such a woman so desired, she would have been on the first convenient plane to London for an abortion. In this we can observe two irrefutable truths: (1) Irish controversies relating to abortion invariably focus on women of limited power and means, who become the agents of both commotion and change, and (2) in as far as the generality of Irish women are concerned, the 'abortion debate' is largely irrelevant to the choices they know to be open to them.

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