Sunday 20 October 2019

Pro-lifers devalue the life they treasure

We cherish life so much that the wishes of a pregnant woman count for nothing.

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The 'pro-life' groups – they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us. And that's because they cherish life. We know they cherish life because they tell us so. All the time. And the fact that they cherish life makes them morally superior to the rest of us. So, naturally, their views matter more to politicians than the views of those of us who – in the eyes of some – don't cherish life quite as much.

Last week, two leading 'pro-life' individuals stood out amid the roaring and the shouting of the abortion debate: Peter Mathews, Fine Gael TD, and Dr Berry Kiely, medical adviser to one of the 'pro-life' groups.

These two people, Mathews and Kiely, lack the slyness and the polish of some within the 'pro-life' culture. They are honest – they can't help but say what they mean. And last week they said frankly what it means to cherish life. In a moment, we will come to that.

Savita Halappanavar, of course, didn't cherish life. Not by the standards of some of the 'pro-life' groups. Of course, no one from these groups has the guts to openly say that.

But the insults such groups sling at the rest of us – to show how little we cherish life – fall too on Savita Halappanavar. Terrible tragedy, of course – but she asked for a termination. And that, in their eyes, made her part of what these groups refer to as "the culture of death".

That's the accusation thrown at we who say that this most agonising and intimate of choices belongs predominantly to the woman at the centre of it.

Instead, in this country, that choice has been appropriated by (mostly male) politicians and (all male) bishops and by 'pro-life' groups – all of whom want us to know how much they cherish life.

Savita was miscarrying. The child she so much wanted was doomed. She requested a termination, and in any civilised country she would have got one. She and her husband would

have lived their loving, productive lives within their Irish and Indian communities, perhaps raising the children that might have been subsequently born to them.

Instead, day after day, she had to wait in a hospital bed until one of two things happened – the pregnancy spontaneously aborted, or there was a definitive threat to her life.

We cherish life so much that the woman's wishes count for nothing – even when her health is threatened. She must wait until the shadow of death creeps through the ward and is unmistakably cast upon her. Only then may the medics spring into action. Meanwhile, they keep listening, some perhaps even hoping the foetal heartbeat will stop before the onset of a definitively lethal infection.

That's how much this state cherishes life.

Peter Mathews TD, a thoughtful man who has made a useful contribution to the debate on the economy, was asked on Vincent Browne's TV3 programme about his view on these matters. Should not the woman involved make the decision, if that woman's "health would be seriously impaired for the rest of her life?"

Mathews threw in a couple of the usual dodges – it would never happen, etc – but as an honest man he was impelled to state his core belief: "Look, Vincent . . . men went into the mines and ways to provide for their family and their health was impaired. They died young. Life is tough."

Mathews was asked if he really found it acceptable that a woman's pregnancy must continue if it would "seriously imperil her health for the rest of her life?" To which he replied: "But sure we're all going to end up dead anyway."

Thus is life cherished.

The following day, Mathews apologised for his "very clumsy sentence". But, there's nothing at all clumsy about that transparent sentence. "We're all going to end up dead anyway." It speaks eloquently of an attitude to women, to medical science, to life itself.

On RTE's Prime Time, Sarah McGuinness told of another child awaited with love. And how she was told at six months that the baby would have no brain and could not survive outside the womb. But the law demanded that she carry it to term. Why, she asked, "would people in this country make me grow a baby bigger just to watch it suffer and die?" A consultant told her she could choose to "travel".

The heartache of all this was still written on the woman's face. She got in Liverpool the medical treatment she could have got in Ireland – with far less trauma, without the stigma imposed by outsourcing to another state.

Dr Berry Kiely, 'pro-life' medical adviser, said that this was about "whether or not we want to care for and cherish and respect all human lives, including the unborn".

McGuinness is a loving mother, still affected three years later by the loss of her baby and the trauma of travel she endured at that time of grief. The notion that she cherishes life less than anyone else is grotesque. But Dr Kiely knew the baby might have lived a minute or two. She knew of a woman who saw such a pregnancy to term and the baby lived two days.

And all of us, of course, respect that woman's decision and sympathise with her loss. It is a question of choice. Shouldn't that lie with the woman, Miriam O'Callaghan asked?

Ah, Dr Kiely said, there are "the people in a situation like this who would argue for post-birth abortion – that if the baby is born alive and does live for a while but the mother finds this very difficult to deal with. Should that mother have the right to have her baby killed even though it's still living?"

O'Callaghan said: "But no one is saying that."

Dr Kiely said: "But that's an important issue."

No, it's not. It's just not. It's not an issue at all.

I found myself leaning back, away from the TV, repulsed. Sarah McGuinness made a choice – should she wait and watch her child struggle for a few seconds of breath, then die? Would this be cherishing life?

Distress and disrespect are piled on the grief of women such as Sarah McGuinness – in order to vindicate laws that are formally 'pro-life', but lacking in the humanity without which life is meaningless. That there should be any question raised that McGuinness doesn't "cherish and respect all human lives" is offensive.

In recent weeks, Enda Kenny has had to cobble together legislation that meets the legal needs of the Constitutional mess – but as nearly as possible accords with the 'pro-life' feelings of his TDs and senators. In this political manoeuvre, what matters most is damage limitation.

Women like Sarah McGuinness, who "travelled" for terminations of babies that could not live outside the womb, pleaded with politicians that this cruelty stop. Likewise those concerned about rape and incest pregnancies. Mr Kenny decided the law will ignore their pleas.

After all, the politicians already put abortion on demand into our Constitution (Section 40, 3:3), securely protected as long as the demand is made in the UK. Because, we Irish – well, we cherish life.

Irish Independent

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