independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

There should be a free vote on abortion

WE'RE LED to believe that we in Ireland live in a pluralist society, where all views are not only tolerated, but welcome. We're led to believe that we live in a free society, where one is free to express their opinion and follow their beliefs. We're led to believe that this isn't a totalitarian regime akin to North Korea or China that we live in. And yet at times I wonder.

The moment has arrived where Ireland will finally decide whether or not to legislate to provide for abortion, and much discussion has taken place over the past couple of months on the issue, and indeed even more will take place over the coming months also.

I have no difficulty in accepting the fact that there are many different views, from those who believe in the right to choose, to those who hold the right to life of the unborn as equal to that of the mother, to those who feel its solely a woman's decision. But one thing that I do have difficulty with, is the decision by the Government not to allow a 'free vote' on the issue when it comes before the houses of the Oireachtas. The Government has stated that all of its TDs and Senators must vote in line with what the Cabinet decides, and any individual's beliefs, opinions, feelings, moral views or ethical standpoints about abortion do not matter.

I fully understand how such a ' whip' might be necessary when it comes to most legislation that passes through the Dail and Seanad, even for something like the annual Budget which might contain provisions that particular TDs or Senators disagree with. But when it comes to an issue like abortion, surely it should be different - it's a matter of life and death literally, and because of that a free vote should be allowed.

And as for the idea that all views and opinions are welcome, one Senator in particular has proven this not to be the case. In the recent hearings held in the Seanad chamber on the abortion issue, many different groups and organisations presented their views and a wide range of experts gave evidence. One such group to be represented was the Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Christy Jones presented their views quite respectfully and articulately.

However, Senator Ivana Bacik was decidedly unhappy that Church representatives should offer their views at all. In replying to Bishop Jones' presentation she said ' Can you say what business it is of a Church whose members are entirely and exclusively male and celibate to pronounce in such absolutist terms on such a critical issue in terms of reproductive rights for both women and girls?'

Ms Bacik accused the Catholic Bishops of opposing the legislation on the basis of "misogyny towards women", which is defined as a hatred of women by men. Rather than engaging with the debate, or even discussing the Church's position as outlined so clearly by Bishop Jones, she chose instead to attack those presenting. It seems that she simply couldn't handle the clear argument being presented, and chose instead to attack the speakers.

The problem for Bacik was that Bishop Jones articulated clearly the Catholic position on abortion: Women who suffer from a serious physical illness are entitled to all treatment necessary to save their lives, and sometimes the child may unintentionally die in the course of this treatment. This is both pro-woman and pro-child.

Bishop Jones mentioned both mother and child in his contribution, but Bacik never mentions the life of the unborn child in any discussion on abortion - it's as if for her, the child does not exist. Of course she's entitled to her opinion, just as the Catholic Church are entitled to theirs, but that doesn't give her the right to decide that hers is the only opinion that is worthy of being heard.

We live in a pluralist free society, perhaps it's time someone pointed that out to Ms Bacik and her colleagues who seem to want to muzzle any debate and ram through their agendas regardless.

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