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Sunday 25 February 2018

'She isn't choosing from a menu' - Citizens' Assembly hears criticism of 'abortion on demand' term

Dr Patricia Lohr (Right) pictured earlier this year at the Citizens’ Assembly. Photo: Damien Eagers
Dr Patricia Lohr (Right) pictured earlier this year at the Citizens’ Assembly. Photo: Damien Eagers

Laura Lynott

A UNIVERSITY College Cork lecturer has criticised the term “abortion on demand” - stating terminations were not like "choosing from a menu" while a Dublin City University lecturer urged rape victims to give birth because abortions wouldn't bring "justice."

The two polar opposite views were presented by Dr Joan McCarthy, lecturer in nursing and midwifery at UCC and Dr Donal O’Mathuna, from the department of nursing and human sciences at DCU.

While Dr McCarthy gave her pro-choice view to the Citizens’ Assembly, who met in Malahide, Co Dublin, Dr O’Mathuna, focused on his pro-life stance, urging Irish people to follow “the good life,” even when it came to post-rape pregnancy.

"The phrase abortion on demand is a harsh description of the decision the woman has to make," Dr McCarthy said.

"She isn't choosing from a menu, she has to take in the constraints, other children, dependents, poverty, her health risks, her life risk."

“Contraception, abstinence, are ways of avoiding reproduction, but contraception fails,” Dr McCarthy told the 99 members of the Assembly.

“Women can become pregnant from coercion or rape, women and men can make mistakes and there’s bad luck.

“Women can fall pregnant and they are unduly burdened.  Pregnancy disproportionately places responsibility on women and girls...the psychological impact of a crisis pregnancy is burdensome.

"Women and girls are best situated in a moral view, to weigh all factors, because they are most interconnected to the foetus, the most well positioned to say what are the relative factors, responsibility to other children, dependent relatives, education or career.

"Because of the Eighth Amendment…clinical practices have posed serious risks to women, it tramples on their rights...I suggest we repeal and replace with rights that reconnect women and girls...create rules where children are wanted, cared for and loved.

"It places a double burden on women and girls who can't travel, they're forced to continue pregnancies and undergo risks, or try to gain illegal abortions.

"It discriminates against women in the asylum system, the traveling community, the ill, or those who have a disability which means they can't travel."

But Dr O’Mathuna gave a very different view to the members, echoing religious sentiment harking back to years gone by about morality and abstinence, even suggesting “institutions and family” should be there to help a woman and child post crisis pregnancy.

But the most shocking statement he made came when he referred to female victims of rape who find they have become pregnant as a result of a crime.

"Rape is abhorred," Dr O'Mathuna said, "But the unborn had nothing to do with the harm that was inflicted there, why should they be the ones who have their chance of life removed because of that terrible situation.

"Allowing the unborn to grow and develop, protecting and nurturing them, allowing them to become autonomous, the right thing in other situations, and how they came to be, should not be the determining factor of what determines their chance of life.

"This would be very difficult and challenging.  I know some people born after rape and they are very happy with the lives they have and are very grateful for the choices their mothers made.

"Taking away the life of an innocent because of a man's crime is not going to take away any pain, nor is it going to promote justice.  Allowing life to come from a heinous crime can let some good come out of a terrible situation."

He also spoke about sexual liberation in Irish society today, saying:  "If we get into bed with someone else, we take on certain responsibilities, whether we acknowledge them or not. Intended or unintended, a pregnancy may result and that's why becoming sexually active is such a momentous decision in people's lives, whether they think about that or not.

"Societies have urged people to reserve sexual activity, until there is a committed, permanent relationship there, that's ready to welcome a child into society."

Dr O’Mathuna made such comments despite saying earlier it was a positive the "clergy and husbands" had less autonomy on the rights of women in Ireland today.

His notion of "the good life" in society, he said could include having money, a house and family, an "ideal" he had seemingly created. This was something he was questioned on by members of the Assembly, who suggested this view was not based on reality and Dr McCarthy said he was trying to "impose" his own ideas on others and that was not societal autonomy.

He accepted that many people today in Ireland didn't view sex as being directly connected to creating a life.

But he added, this view was a mistake because the two were connected and if Irish society wanted to put children first, this would be recognised and there would then be less crisis pregnancies.

Dr McCarthy said she was “concerned” by her counterpart’s description of “forgiveness” around women who have crisis pregnancies or abortions.

She stated the right to bodily autonomy for women was a “human rights issue” and nothing less.

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