Tuesday 22 October 2019

'A No vote is our opportunity to do better for women and babies'

There has been little or no analysis of what the Government is actually proposing, writes Wendy Grace

Anti-abortion protesters march through Dublin to campaign for the Eighth Amendment of the constitution to be retained in this summer's referendum. Photo: Caroline Quinn/PA
Anti-abortion protesters march through Dublin to campaign for the Eighth Amendment of the constitution to be retained in this summer's referendum. Photo: Caroline Quinn/PA

Wendy Grace

The past week has exposed further an entrenched and widespread lack of trust in politicians as a class of people less interested in what is right and more interested in making their system of power work. Yet if we remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, we are being asked to trust politicians forevermore with abortion legislation.

There has been little or no analysis of what the Government's proposal actually is. I am not surprised by the lack of seriousness and truthfulness. The Government's strategy is to refuse to talk about some of the obvious truths of their extreme abortion proposal.

By and large, they rely on a supportive media to get away with it. I feel the National Union of Journalists has had an 'pro-choice' policy for years and it shows. But credit to veteran pro-choice campaigner Nell McCafferty, who had the honesty to say: "It's not that I'm unable - I am unwilling to face some of the facts about abortion."

Health Minister Simon Harris says he'll debate his abortion proposal with his opponents. No sign of him yet though. I think broadcast media collude. They take the government press releases, stunts and sound bites. Put easy questions to them one-on-one about what their opponents say. No follow-up or challenge. End of debate.

The current bill will allow for abortion for any reason of healthy babies of healthy mothers in the first three months, and that is just for starters.

The Government has aligned itself with Together for Yes whose spokespeople have been clear that abortion up until birth without restriction is their goal.

Critical for the success of the Repeal campaign is a focus on hard cases and avoidance of what abortion involves, whether it's chemicals, surgical instruments or an injection straight to the heart that ends the life of the baby. 'Hard cases' are just that. Difficult and tragic situations where people feel conflicted about abortion. The Government could have opted to amend the Constitution to deal with these cases which account for only 1-3pc of abortions in other countries. But that's not what they are proposing.

There's no talk yet about Heads 5 and 6 of the proposed bill (where termination is described as a medical procedure intended to end the life of a foetus). These heads will allow abortion up to birth for a baby who is disabled. They call it 'fatal foetal abnormality' but they refuse to commit to a list of such children. Countless children will get a death sentence for having a disability that - if they were let live - might turn out not to be quite so severe. Or perhaps not there at all.

Frightening women into thinking they are not safe in the Irish health system is a particularly dirty tactic.

Eminent consultant obstetrician Mary Holohan (who previously served on a Government expert group) has warned about creating "unnecessary fears for women" because, she says, doctors have all the scope they need under the current law to provide best care for women by international standards.

Doctors on both sides of this debate will have personal opinions. But the fact is that neither of our two national audits of obstetric practice raised any concern about the Eighth Amendment.

Here's another fact: The 2013 legislation put down on paper what has always existed in practice, that a woman will always receive necessary medical intervention if there is a risk to her life, even if that means terminating the pregnancy. The risk does not have to be immediate or inevitable.

To say "trust women" is also duplicitous. Why don't abortion clinics show women the image of their baby before they decide? Women need more than trust. They need truthfulness, respect, support and love. Someone to say "you can do this", instead of offering them a heartless quick fix "just get rid of it" which is, interestingly, so much cheaper and more convenient for the bureaucracy.

Abortion has led to so much loss of life, trauma and heartache all over the world. Saying abortion is the solution simply isn't good enough and women deserve so much better.

When Britain and other countries were introducing abortion, there was way less information on the awesome developmental stages in pregnancy. They swallowed the lies that it was "just a clump of cells" and that abortion would be "safe, legal and rare".

The Irish woman who died in the back of the taxi after a botched abortion in England would disagree that abortion is safe. So too would the 8m babies who died in Britain over the past 50 years since abortion was introduced.

In Western Europe, the average rate of abortion means that for every four babies that are born, one baby is aborted.

Abortion has led to disability discrimination, with 90pc of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome being aborted, abortion because a baby is a twin or simply just a girl.

We now know that at 22 days an unborn baby's heart is beating and at seven weeks he or she can move their arms and legs. We know that tens of thousands of women in countries all over the world speak about abortion regret and that there is peer-reviewed research to back this up.

Do you know anyone who has continued with an unplanned pregnancy who at the time didn't want to be a mother, but who today says they cannot imagine their life without that child? I do. Why can't we ensure no woman ever has to choose between her child and her career or her college course?

Ireland with the Eighth Amendment has meant 29 women a day choosing not to travel, as our vastly lower abortion rates show.

We are at a key moment in Irish history where we have the opportunity to be truly progressive, unlike countries in the past, we cannot plead ignorance, with this knowledge comes a responsibility.

I refuse to be part of a system that pits mother against baby. This is not equality. Abortion is the tragic sign that the real needs of women are not being met.

A No vote is our opportunity to unite together and say we can do a lot better for women, for babies, for Ireland.

Wendy Grace is a broadcaster and freelance journalist

Sunday Independent

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