Tuesday 11 December 2018

The Eighth Amendment splits opinion

Irish people will face agonising and difficult choices when they vote on the abortion debate

Repeal the 8th march showing demonstrators at the rally on Merrion Square. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Repeal the 8th march showing demonstrators at the rally on Merrion Square. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Thousands of people took part in the annual 'Rally for Life' march at Merrion Square, Dublin. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Maria Steen and Kate O’Connell

We have now witnessed the opening exchanges of the upcoming referendum debate on the Eighth Amendment. Based on these, here are some of the tactics we can expect to see over the coming months.

1 Don't debate. Repeat the mantra

On January 18 I appeared on RTE's Prime Time to debate the issue with Ivana Bacik. Throughout the interview, I felt she studiously refused to answer questions put to her.

A document that surfaced last week suggests that this is a tactical decision. The minutes of a meeting of the Dun Laoghaire branch of Repeal the Eighth advise campaigners: "In media coverage/interviews do NOT debate. We can set the rules, they often need us more than we need them."

This is not the approach of a campaign that believes it can win the argument on the merits; it seeks to disguise the weakness at the heart of the pro-abortion position. This is achieved by the repetition of mantras: 'Healthcare', 'Choice', 'Compassion', 'Middle ground', 'Trust women', 'It's complex'.

Repealers hope they can simply chant slogans without engaging in reasoned or logical exchanges. Who cares if the slogans are false? (What kind of healthcare sets out to kill someone? How is this compassionate?) The important thing is to deflect from real thinking by lulling the audience into a false sense that they are doing a kind and progressive thing - by voting away children's pre-natal rights.

2 Emphasise 'reality'

Two popular reasons for legalising abortion among politicians are the use of the abortion pill and the fact that "it's happening anyway".

The first, the illegal importation of the abortion pill, should be of concern to anyone who has women's health at heart. The pro-repeal answer to this problem is to legalise it. However, according to a BBC report, despite the abortion pill being free and widely available through the NHS, many women in the UK are buying the pill online illegally regardless.

If abortion were to become legal and women continued to import the drug illegally here, what would be the response then? To clamp down on the importers? Why not do that now? As to the second point, it is wrong to suppose that the mere fact that people do something means that it should be lawful. The smoking ban is a good example. The 'reality' was that lots of people smoked indoors. Yet the Government banned it.

Why? Because smoking indoors harms other people. A moral judgment, rather than a factual observation, was made by politicians that this was wrong. Not only did the Government make this law with a view to changing public behaviour, it even enacted legislation requiring cigarette packets to carry disturbing images of the effects of smoking on the human body.

Yet dare someone suggest that the Eighth Amendment is a good thing in that it has prevented - or at least reduced - the deaths of infants in this country? Dare anyone publish disturbing images of the effects of abortion on the body of a baby? What about other images? Now, it seems, even a beautiful image of a baby in the womb or a child with a disability used in the context of this campaign is beyond the pale. This is despite the fact that these pictures highlight the humanity of the child growing in the womb and of those with disabilities and are a reminder to us all of what is at stake here.

4 Play the man, not the ball

Another crucial tactic is to discredit opponents. This tallies with PR advice allegedly received by a pro-choice group and leaked on social media last week.

Those in favour of legalising abortion are advised constantly to link pro-life views with the institutional Catholic Church, because it taps into antipathy to the Church deriving from various scandals. This ensures that anyone proposing a pro-life viewpoint is simply written off without any need to address the merits of what he or she is saying.

Not only is this unfair to the many non-Catholics who are pro-life, it is calumnious towards the many good people in this country who go to Mass, say their prayers and help their neighbours. Watch for descriptions of pro-life people as anti-choice, backward, religious fundamentalists and patriarchal misogynists. These cheap insults are fashionable on Twitter, but may also be heard in the Dail chamber.

5 Fudge the disability question

Watch Repeal campaigners shift uncomfortably in their seats, or else become indignant at the suggestion that they are supporting eugenics.

Yet none supports a ban on abortion in the case of disability. Ultimately, they think people should have a choice to kill disabled children before they're born.

The Oireachtas Committee feigned concern by saying that disability shouldn't be a ground for abortion. However, it recommended that abortion can be sought for any reason (or none) within the first three months. If a disability is detected during that time - as it can be - abortion will be freely available.

After 12 weeks, the committee recommended that abortion be available up to birth where the mental health of the mother might be affected. In the UK, 97pc of abortions take place on this ground. The abortion of disabled babies here would simply be hidden within the statistics. Indeed the committee betrayed its real attitude in the report by describing children with disabilities as a "burden". The State, it said, should provide better support and facilities for people whose children have special needs.

You might ask: why aren't support and facilities also suggested for those who seek an abortion for other reasons? Why the exception for disability? Where is the rhetoric of choice now? The truth is: the committee - which was overwhelmingly in favour of legalised abortion - knew well that by removing all pre-natal protections from the Constitution, people would be free to abort babies with disabilities as they wish.

6 Never mention the baby

This is the golden rule. However, Catherine Noone let the cat out of the bag on Sean O'Rourke's programme last week by conceding that "of course abortion means the termination of a child's life". This is the obvious truth from which the pro-abortion lobby wants to distract us, and the reason why repealers do not - as they like to pretend - occupy some sort of moderate, middle ground.

Every abortion means the deliberate killing of a child. No amount of sophistry from the pro-repeal camp can alter that.

It is crucial that repealers don't allow people to think about the baby - or the child or adult the baby might grow into. They object to any mention of the baby as "emotional rhetoric", or any imagery that might remind people of the humanity of the child in the womb.

Maria Steen works with the Iona Institute think-tank


Myths and untruths are being spread to confuse the real issues over abortion

There wasn’t a stage in my life that I can clearly identify as the moment that I became pro-choice. I honestly don’t think there is for anyone.

Most people I meet don’t feel aligned to the fervently pro-choice or the fervently no-choice groupings, seeing themselves instead as somewhere in the middle — the broad and varied middle ground.

If you ask them some direct questions and challenge them to try to relate to a woman seeking an abortion, they invariably feel uncomfortable and say things like, “Look I don’t want to know, I don’t want to be involved — that conversation should be between a woman and her doctor,”: or, “I’m pro-life but I wouldn’t object to a woman who was raped being able to get an abortion, sure she didn’t set out to have sex.”

If you ask people, “Why do you think a woman would want an abortion?”, the same awkwardness ensues. “Well I suppose because she doesn’t want to be pregnant,” comes the reply.

Keeping the Eighth Amendment in place as it is does not solve any of the problems that the middle ground have with our unworkable abortion laws.

By virtue of the fact that there are circumstances in which they feel abortion should be provided, they are effectively in favour of repeal, without fully subscribing to the strong pro-choice views associated with most repealers.

The other side of the debate know this. They recognise that the middle ground is where most people are, and that this grouping will ultimately decide the result of the upcoming referendum.

Their tactics seem to be based largely around instilling fear, distrust and confusion so that (they hope) the majority of people will err on the side of caution and leave the amendment untouched — as a sort of “lesser of two evils” approach to an issue they’re not quite sure how to handle.

You will see and hear these tactics all around you during the campaign, as myths and untruths are spread around like fake news.

One of the most frequently thrown about of these myths is that the Eighth Amendment has saved 100,000 lives. It’s plastered all over pamphlets handed out in front of the Dail, on the tip of every no-choice pundit’s tongue during interviews, and, controversially, it was sprawled across a billboard in Northern Ireland that was recently challenged and upheld.

This is heralded as a victory by the no-choice campaign, but the language used by the Advertising Standards Authority tells a different story.

Their official line read: “Because we considered that readers would understand the figure to represent an estimate, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to materially mislead readers”, which you could say roughly translates to “the public will know better than to take these claims seriously”.

The premise behind the entire claim is deeply flawed, framed by taking the known number of abortions had by Irish women who travelled, over the span of two decades, and then subtracting that figure from a series of ‘‘assumed’’ abortions that would have happened (but didn’t) if the Eighth Amendment were not in place. It then uses other countries’ abortion rates as a stand-in for these non-existent Irish abortions.

Confused? You should be, the assertion of these grounds as fact will continue to be widely circulated in the months ahead — so it’s important you know the truth.

As opposed to the guessing game that is made of what Ireland’s abortion rate could have been over the last 20 years, the reality of the last four decades — under the anvil of the Eighth Amendment — is a devastating laundry list of cases which our courts and our consciences have wrestled with.

Moreover, the evidence is clear, Irish women who do not want to be pregnant will find a way to end their pregnancies.

It has helped many women in Ireland to be so near to the UK and their safe, legal abortion access. A minimum of 10 to 12 women leave Ireland every day to seek termination services abroad.

A further three Irish women a day, on average, are taking tablets at home that they can order online and have delivered by An Post.

This medicine they order is unregulated and unlicensed — and as with all medication sourced illegally, there is the potential for it to cause actual harm due to the lack of medical supervision involved once a woman takes custody of the tablets.

Medical termination, or ‘‘abortion pills’’ are something that will be discussed a lot as the campaign continues. They are being taken daily, secretly by Irish women and girls.

We, as elected representatives of the people, wanted to know more about them, so we asked for specialists in the areas of obstetrics and gynaecology to come before the committee and explain to us how the tablets work.

Dr Peter Boylan, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, gave us the opportunity to learn from his experiences at the frontline of obstetric and gynaecological care in Ireland. Dr Boylan has delivered more than 6,000 babies in his career and attempts to characterise him as an pro-abortion, agenda-driven witness can only kindly be described as malicious in the extreme.

“Medical termination is performed by the administration of two medications. Mifepristone blocks the action of progesterone, a hormone necessary to support pregnancy before the placenta develops and misoprostol makes the uterus contract.

“Taken in combination two or three days apart, these tablets have a success rate greater than 90pc if taken in the first trimester.

“The first tablet is taken in a clinic or doctor’s surgery and the second is taken at home.

“The woman then experiences symptoms the same as a miscarriage. The rate of side effects is extremely low.

“Pregnancy as a result of rape could be dealt with in a straightforward way by legislating for the legal prescription of the abortion pill which I have previously described”, he said.

We set out as a committee to learn, to understand and to find out the truth of the consequences of the law as it stands. It is faintly ironic, on reflection, that we were ultimately left with no choice but to be pro-choice.

Kate O’Connell is TD for Dublin Bay South

Sunday Independent

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