Sunday 22 September 2019

I am pro-life but will not vote No

One of the many 'undecided', Jody Corcoran will use a tactical non-vote effectively to allow the Yes side to win

Pro-life demonstrators from Stand up for Life campaign in Merrion Square, Dublin Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Pro-life demonstrators from Stand up for Life campaign in Merrion Square, Dublin Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

As a twice-stated 'undecided', I suppose it is worth saying at this stage that I will be effectively voting Yes in the abortion referendum. It would be more accurate to say I will not be voting No. In the end, it came down to three factors.

The first is that I have come to the conclusion that the unborn do not have an absolute right to life in all circumstances; secondly, my daughter, aged 19, who will be voting for the first time, and is campaigning for Yes with Dublin City University friends, has canvassed me like a seasoned professional; and thirdly, I am acutely aware of an underlying sense of "shame" among women of a certain age who have secretly had abortions over the decades and have never really spoken about it, a feeling which I believe a Yes victory must and will lift.

At the outset I should state that I am by instinct or nature pro-life in that, for example, I believe human life begins at conception and that the embryo is not a "clump of cells" or merely "tissue" of the mother's body.

Last week I referred to a seminal, if not infallible, paper by the moral philosopher and metaphysician, Judith Jarvis - A Defence of Abortion - which confirms what I believe to be the majority view here that abortion is not morally impermissible in cases of rape. I think most people also support the option of abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Further reading of this and related material also makes the case that abortion is not morally impermissible when a woman's life is at risk, to which I would add, the same applies in cases where there is a serious threat to her long-term health.

This referendum introduces a further dimension, which is to allow for abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, that is, to extend abortion services beyond the distress scenarios outlined above. It is this proposal which is giving 'undecided' voters most concern.

The Citizens' Assembly and subsequent Oireachtas committee has heard evidence on the phenomenon of abortion pills. Proliferation in the use of abortion pills, I believe, is related as much to cost and convenience as it is to discretion or other reasons. In any event, an estimated three women a day take such pills in the privacy of their own bedrooms, without the benefit of medical supervision, bringing to 10 to 15 the number of Irish women who chose to have abortions at home or abroad each day.

The phenomenon of abortion pills has weighed heavily on my decision. As with much else, the internet is proving to be the great disrupter on the abortion question, as it is mostly through this medium that such pills are procured.

The argument which the Yes side of my mind has won is that abortion pills also pose a threat to the life, and certainly to the health of women when taken without the benefit of medical supervision. I accept that this is an after-the-event threat, as it were and that, therefore, my argument does not logically follow, but there you are…

Abortion is already permissible in this country where there is a "real and substantial" threat to the life of a woman. So, as I have always believed, if abortion is not morally impermissible in cases where the life (and health) of a woman is at risk, I feel it would be relatively hypocritical to vote No, considering the risk to life and health posed by the unsupervised use of abortion pills. And in this debate I do not wish to be a hypocrite.

Further to this, my daughter has made a strong case in relation to her position, which is more liberal than mine. However, when we weighed my unease at abortion up to 12 weeks against her unease at the potential requirement for an abortion on the grounds of a threat to her life or health in, say, the next 10 to 20 years, I feel I should let pass the opportunity now to vote No, in our mutual agreement that her generation's unease is the greater, notwithstanding my continuing unease at unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks, and discontent that we have been forced into an "all of nothing" decision in the first place.

Further to this again is awareness that there is a large, silent minority of women who have had abortions abroad in the past few years and decades. I have been struck by a conversation I had recently with one such woman who told of the sense of "shame" she and others have been made to feel in that time since, in a society where great shame is still attached to abortion. This is a very particular feeling, I would imagine, not like any other, even for the man in that situation.

This woman is also by instinct or nature, I would say, pro-life, as I would say I also am (or was). We all are pro-life, of course, until we are up against it. But it was the way in which she told her story, the feelings she has been forced to live with since, and which the current debate has stirred, which has helped to convince me that the right decision for me is to effectively vote Yes by not voting No (a tactical non-vote) to resolve this debate as best we can. That said, if you intend to vote No then who am I to tell you that you are wrong? Good luck with your decision whatever it may be.


The Irish Times opinion poll last week, which was similar to our own the week before, shows the gap between Yes and No to be slightly narrowing, as the repeal debate enters the crucial stage. I was somewhat surprised it had not narrowed further. The data was taken last Monday, of course, and most people will not be making up their minds until this weekend or early this week. There also still exists the potential for a backlash against the 'new wave' of feminism, as I have repeatedly warned. But still, the No side would need to be showing more momentum. Under pressure to call these things in advance, although I would rather not, I see no reason yet to change a view shared with a colleague of the week before last: on a relatively low turnout Yes 53.4pc, No 46.6pc.

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