Thursday 16 August 2018

Abortion debates prove nothing is as simple as it seems

Matt Cooper
Matt Cooper
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

It's now about five weeks to the abortion referendum - and oddly, the campaign feels quite low-key so far. Yes, the topic is frequently heard on the airwaves, but not to the extent I would have previously assumed. Or maybe it's that this whole mess has been argued about on radio for so long and so loudly and angrily, that the current campaign isn't noticeably different to what we've been hearing for years.

That said, the fire started to crackle this week with a few blowouts on Liveline (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 1.45pm) and The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm). One of the ironies of the Irish abortion story is this persistent notion that the only people opposed to repeal are religious-minded, which clearly isn't accurate - yet, in a further irony-upon-the-irony, this week's rows were religiously inspired.

First Liveline heard from Eoghan Murphy, who had taken his 10-year-old son out of a Communion-preparation mass because a pro-life campaigner was invited to address the congregation. Eoghan told Joe Duffy that he and his wife had planned to have "an age appropriate chat" about the whole thing, so removed their child from the church.

Another caller, Elizabeth, said: "We have had careful conversations with our children, and I felt it was inappropriate to have that conversation at a First Communion preparation mass." Their position is understandable, though I suppose the argument could be made that Catholic teaching is 100pc pro-life, and everyone knows this; in essence, "What did you expect to hear at mass?"

On The Last Word, Matt Cooper mentioned the recent comments of two bishops: Denis Nulty, who had spoken of "a sense that we are walking with our eyes closed into an era of eugenics", and John Buckley, who argued there was "scientific proof that an unborn baby is in fact a living breathing human being" and "the child in the womb is innocent of the circumstances of conception".

Sinead Slattery of the Pro-Life campaign agreed with some of their points, though interestingly, she pointed out that her objection to abortion is not from a religious but a human rights perspective.

She said hardly any babies with Down syndrome were born in countries with abortion - citing the UK and Iceland specifically. Matt asked what was, with all due respect, a pretty stupid question: "Where is the evidence that Irish people will be like that? We have a tremendous reputation for looking after people with Down syndrome."

Why wouldn't we, though? What makes us so special or so much better than British or Icelandic people? Slattery added: "It would be naïve of us to think we'd be any different."

Also on was Gerry Edwards of pro-choice umbrella group Together For Yes, who described himself as "among the numbers who've had to leave the State after a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality". He was "very disappointed" with the bishops' comments, adding: "I could see the harm the Eighth Amendment was causing to my wife - and has done to me for many years."

I found it interesting that we had a pro-life woman and pro-choice man - proving this isn't as simple as "all pro-lifers hate women and want to control them". Anyway, expect plenty more of this over coming weeks.

Finally, a quick nod to The Green Room's (Newstalk, Sat 8pm) cool little piece on the best use of silence and sound in cinema, nosed on new thriller A Quiet Place. Touching on Oscar-winning movie The Artist, Steven Benedict noted how audiences were so respectful of its "silent" status, they kept very quiet, almost to the extent of not laughing at the jokes - "as if they were terrified of disturbing these actors on screen".

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