Tuesday 21 October 2014

Niamh Horan: Abortion debate requires something greater than love

There is one quality we 
need above all when 
dealing with women
 contemplating abortion, says Niamh Horan

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Protests: Hollie Leddy Flood and Fiona O’Neill at a Choice Ireland demonstration on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Abortion is the easiest thing in the world to be against. Until you find yourself in a crisis pregnancy.

Most people reading this will be lucky enough never to find themselves in that position.

And because of social stigma and shame, most of you reading this will never know if your daughter, sister or best friend - even girlfriend - has ever gone through the traumatic experience of having to undergo an abortion.

Thankfully, she'll pick up the phone and make that call alone.

She'll lie awake at night, alone, and wonder if she is making the right decision.

She'll go through a procedure with no one holding her hand, or rubbing her brow, no one by her side to tell her that it's okay. That she's not a bad person.

That mistakes happen.

She'll come home and hide it. And the physical aftermath and the terrible pain and the endless sleepless nights and the night terrors and self-loathing.

If she's lucky she might come to terms with it quicker than others.

Chances are she won't. Because- as we've figured out by this stage - she's only human.

She'll go back to her job and have to leave the office every so often when a panic attack rises up inside her, out of nowhere, for no reason. She'll wake up in a cold sweat when flashbacks take over her mind.

She'll withdraw from her friends, close relationships, her family.

But that's all okay for the rest of us because we've got to keep our conscience clear that it's not happening on our turf.

Because, at the end of the day, that makes us feel like good people.

And we allow ourselves to believe that we still maintain decency in our otherwise pretty liberal lives because we can casually defend what they call 'pro-life' over a coffee with friends, pints with a mate or with our family when it comes on our television screens.

But it's all meaningless, really, because we will never be there. We'll never really go that journey.

For the first time in my life I went to a protest last week.

Third Level Education fees, the war on Iraq, the banking bail out couldn't stir me as much as hearing one line uttered by the girl at the centre of the c-section case.

She was describing the day they told her - after pleading for weeks to end her crisis pregnancy - that she would need a solicitor.

She said: "I just listened to what they said without looking at them."

It turned my stomach.

She had no control over what happened to her body any more.

Is there any more frightening position for a woman to be in?

People - who have never had to go through an abortion - talk about 'pro-choice' as though it is the process of choosing between two paths - full of abundant possibilities.

My guess is that Frederica Mathewes-Green got a bit closer to the reality when she described it as the same choice an animal caught in a trap has when it wants to break free from its own leg.

No woman ever, ever wants to go down that road.

The only difference you are making when you fight against abortion in this country is to ensure she does it alone.

Not here. Because you won't allow it. And alone. Because the social stigma you add to it means she can't talk to anybody about it.

I look at the gay marriage debate and see how 85pc of people are in support of it and how the act will finally be brought into law next year. But that's easy for most of us now that we all think about it logically, isn't it? Because at the end of the day that is about love, the greatest act of all. And who can really argue with that?

Abortion, on the other hand, isn't.

We have seen the posters (which by the way are a drop in the ocean compared to that terrible trauma a woman has to go through. So if you campaigners are trying to make her feel bad - I would say, unfortunately, you are wasting your time) and heard all the words associated with it that have nothing to do with love.

They are a world away from it.

Murder, selfishness, and of course people ask: 'what kind of mother would do that to her own child'?

I would argue that if you wish to understand this issue as much as you would any other - it will take a far greater emotion than love.

It requires you to reach down to the very depths of your soul. To find somewhere in you the ability to pull yourself out of your own set ways of thinking about the world.

To put yourselves in that woman's shoes.

It requires that much needed emotion in the world today.

It requires compassion.

If it was your mother, daughter, sister, friend, you had to look in the eye just before she made that journey.

If she looked at you and said 'mam, dad I need your help' or confided in you, as a friend, and said 'I don't want to go through with this'?

What would you say? If you need any help with your conscience I can only nod towards German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who noted: isn't compassion the basis for all morality?

I asked one of my own friends the other day what was the key ingredient that turned the tide in this country on gay marriage.

He replied: "The argument around gay marriage changed when people started coming out - the problem is that abortion is talked about - but the people who have actually had life experience of it don't talk about it."

You can argue the rights and wrongs of it till the end of time but it's only possible for people to cling to their own little non-reality based theories when they don't have real living examples in front of them.

It's about visibility. It will take people who have gone through it to speak out. Personal stories from every section of society.

Rich, as well as poor. Old as well as young. Married as well as single.

They are out there. You are just not hearing them because these girls and women are just too terrified and too ashamed to talk.

I think it is amusing - all those people who say they are 'pro-life'. As Caitlin Moran pointed out - they wax lyrical about the sacrosanctity of life when they have also demonstrated, fairly comprehensively, that they can happily live alongside everything that is contrary to that.

They walk past the homeless on the street with a shrugging acceptance, in the same way as they flick over the channel after a few minutes when confronted with people living in the depths of war or famine.

But, hey, they can all easily live with that too because most will never find themselves in their terrible position.

Just like abortion. It's the easiest thing in the world to be against.

Until you find you are faced with it yourself.

Sunday Independent

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