Sunday 26 January 2020

Time for Irish men to 'rise up' and take action

They turned out in their thousands in quiet, dignified protest to register their outrage at the death of Savita Halappanavar.

There were no speeches, but words were not needed to convey the fury of the women of Ireland at the death of a young woman who died in the throes of miscarrying a baby at 17 weeks.

In the hours after the story of Savita's death unfolded, there were calls across the airwaves, on social media, and in print for Irish women to "rise up" and take to the streets to voice their dismay at what happened. Newspaper headlines around the world screamed about women's outrage in Ireland due to the lack of abortion legislation.

But through all the shock, anguish and disbelief at what happened, there was one set of deep voices missing. Where were the men? We didn't hear calls in the last week for the men of Ireland to rise up. In the midst of the heartache, sadness and raw grief, we were in danger of forgetting one very important thing. Abortion is not just a woman's issue. It is not just a moral, a health and a legal issue. Abortion is very much a man's issue too.

While men did not take to the streets in huge numbers and were not to the forefront of the scenes of grief, ironically it is men who will dictate what happens next. Our political system, the judiciary, the church, and indeed the medical profession, are dominated by men, and it is men in positions of power who the country is now turning to to fix the situation.

The microphone is being shoved daily under the chins of Health Minister James Reilly, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny about what will happen next.

It is a male-dominated judiciary that will test any legislation the Dail passes. It is likely to be a male doctor who will face the decision as to what action to take when faced with a life-threatening early pregnancy issue.

And it will be a male-dominated Catholic hierarchy who will present a strong argument for not legislating for the X Case as the pressure builds from pro-life groups.

Of course it is women who are directly and physically affected by pregnancy. It is a woman's life – and not the life of the father – which is at risk if something goes wrong. But this does not mean that the issue of abortion is one for women alone.

Men are very central to pregnancy in the first place. They are there at the very beginning and have an equal stake in the making of a new life.

Yet there is still an assumption that abortion (and the Savita case) is almost exclusively a woman's problem. We fall into the trap of presuming that men are untouched by the experience, and that they are simply sperm donors who can walk away.

We should remember for every woman affected by pregnancy and abortion, there is also a man. Both are parents to the unborn child. And even though there has been extensive research conducted worldwide to understand the emotional and physical effects of abortion on women, studies on the impact on men are few.

Maybe there is an unfair expectation that men should be strong and courageous, and any show of emotion a suggestion that they are weak.

There is one man who has been utterly dignified and far from weak through all of this and who has told his tragic story from the heart. Savita's husband, Praveen Halappanavar. He has been a true hero.

It is in the hands of men now to see what action will be taken following Savita's death. The report of the expert group on abortion goes to Cabinet next week. Both Mr Kenny and Dr Reilly have said that more time is needed to consider the issue, while Labour is beginning to put the pressure on.

Let's remind the men of Ireland that they have had 20 years to consider legislating for the X Case. Enough. We now need a timeline in getting legal clarity on intervening to save the life of a pregnant woman. And it is time for men to speak up and out from the heart in this renewed debate. It is time for the men of Ireland to "rise up" too.

Irish Independent

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