Wednesday 21 August 2019

Importing these pills is a million miles from the 'Condom Train'

Comment

Pro Choice activist Aoibheann McShane from Ashtown taking an abortion pill bought from Belfast after bringing back abortion pills denied to women in the Republic of Ireland at Connolly Station, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Pro Choice activist Aoibheann McShane from Ashtown taking an abortion pill bought from Belfast after bringing back abortion pills denied to women in the Republic of Ireland at Connolly Station, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

Anyone who compares the idea of importing abortion pills from Northern Ireland into the Republic with the famous "condom train" of 1971 is making what philosophers call a "category error".

Even before the ethics of this stunt are considered, there is an important fact to bear in mind: there is a major difference between a piece of vulcanised rubber and a gynaecological operation.

When, in 1971, we in the Irish Women's Liberation Movement, took a train to Belfast and returned with "birth control artefacts" (which, in practice, means condoms and spermicides), it was done as a gesture to illustrate the point that the 1935 Act banning the said "birth control artefacts" was by then regarded as an archaic law.

We were also aware that public opinion, for the most part, was sympathetic to the view that the 1935 Act was outdated. It was absurd that Irish Customs' Officers would be directed to confiscate a piece of vulcanised rubber at our borders.

And that's all a condom is: a piece of vulcanised rubber. In itself, it is an entirely neutral object (or "artefact"). It could be used for birth control, but, as a matter of fact, it could also be used to make bombs, if you were minded to behave as a terrorist. But the piece of vulcanised rubber itself is completely inactive and has no agency.

The idea of repeating this endeavour with abortifacient drugs is in quite a different realm. An abortifacient drug is a powerful medication which causes the destruction the embryo (if before eight weeks' pregnancy) or foetus (if after eight weeks' pregnancy).

Whatever anyone's views - and there may be many - on the humble condom, it poses no health hazard in itself: it is only a piece of rubber. Abortion drugs, by contrast, are used for a gynaecological operation. Even when administered by experienced gynaecologists, they are not without risk to the woman.

And that is before we even look at the ethical side of the question. We know from repeated referendums that the majority of the Irish population does not favour abortions on demand, and does not wish to see Irish hospitals and medical staff dedicate resources to the wilful termination of pregnancy.

This also illustrates why contraceptive "artefacts" are in a different category from abortion drugs.

When a couple use birth control - as with the condom, the Pill or any other form of contraception - they do so within the privacy of their relationship. That is a reason why the State does not have an interest in prying into citzens' bedrooms. Women, men and couples are entitled to decide for themselves what accords best with their health, their happiness and indeed their conscience.

However, the termination of pregnancy doesn't just involve a private person, or a private couple, in their own bedroom. It involves an entire health system - doctors, nurses and health workers. And for those who vote pro-life, it also involves taking the life of the unborn.

That is why abortion is much more of an issue for the public realm than contraception. Women who ingest abortion drugs at home may put their health at risk, may need hospitalisation, and will also be faced with a distressing ordeal.

I have witnessed the termination of pregnancy under all conditions - I watched abortions in three London locations at every stage of pregnancy - and it is hardly ever without distress. A woman may be temporarily relieved to be rid of a problem, but it is still something sad, upsetting and even painful. And it always involves other people.

The experience is a million miles away from purchasing a small packet of vulcanised rubber in a chemist's shop.

Irish Independent

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