Wednesday 12 December 2018

Mattie McGrath: 'New form of misogyny denies women facts about abortion'

Vital issues about the care of unborn babies are being distorted and demeaned in the current debate, writes Mattie McGrath

Denying women basic information is a new form of misogyny. Stock photo: PA
Denying women basic information is a new form of misogyny. Stock photo: PA

Mattie McGrath

In all my years in politics, I have never dealt with an issue that even comes close to the distortions and misinformation that occur in the abortion debate.

In recent weeks, I joined a group of fellow TDs in submitting amendments to the Government's abortion bill that's currently before the Dail.

All the amendments are reasonable and were very carefully considered in advance. The motivation behind them is to ensure some respect is shown to unborn babies that are about to have their lives ended through abortion or who have just been aborted.

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For bringing forward these amendments, we have been taunted and derided by pro-choice TDs and some journalists, not over what the amendments would achieve but over what our detractors want people to think they would do.

I've been in politics long enough not to take jeers or insults personally but I find it really disturbing that an issue of such importance - about life and death - should be demeaned and misrepresented in such a constant and relentless way.

In the first instance, it is extraordinary the way the bill is being railroaded through the Dail with no hard questions being asked and the time that is normally set aside in the Oireachtas for pre-legislative scrutiny has been waived.

It means that the Government can get away with pretty much anything regarding this bill since the main opposition party Fianna Fail relinquished its scrutinising role, in keeping with Micheal Martin's policy of siding with the Government to get what will arguably be the most extreme abortion law in Europe across the line. When the main opposition parties abdicate from their responsibilities, it makes it much easier to mock and misrepresent those who come forward with reasonable proposals to make the bill a little less extreme and more humane.

Our amendment to provide pain relief to unborn babies before a late-term abortion was dismissed out of hand by Minister Simon Harris despite the fact that there is a growing body of peer reviewed research showing that unborn babies can feel pain as early as 20 weeks and possibly even earlier. Some of the journalists who attacked this amendment argued that the new law will only allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and that our amendment was nothing more than grandstanding to create unnecessary fears.

It's clear from some of the attacks that certain journalists are not even remotely aware what the new law will allow. Abortion will not just be legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it will be allowed up to birth on extremely vague ''health'' grounds, similar to other countries where late-term abortions take place and babies routinely are born alive after botched abortions.

The reason pain relief provisions have been adopted in numerous states in the US is as a direct result of the experience there of babies being aborted at stages in pregnancy where they are very likely to feel pain. But according to the commentariat in Ireland, anyone who seeks to limit the barbarity of our new abortion law could only be "scaremongering" or have an ulterior motive.

And for the record, the proposal we made to have the offer of a DVD available during counselling has nothing whatsoever to do with showing an abortion being performed to someone contemplating a termination. Rather it is about having information to hand regarding the developmental stages of an unborn baby for those who may be interested in seeing it. The HSE provides information videos on lots of things and there is nothing wrong with having one available on the stages we all go through before birth.

The amendment about making sure that doctors treat the remains of babies after abortions with respect refers to surgical abortions. We made that clear at committee stage but some commentators are perpetuating the myth that we sought to criminalise women for not interring the remains of their baby after a medical abortion. It is a straightforward lie to suggest that's what we proposed. To those who took issue with us, I would say, check out the Congressional reports from the US documenting how body parts of aborted babies were routinely sold for research purposes without the consent of the mothers of the babies because there was no law against it. The gruesome and horrifying details contained in these reports was one of the reasons we submitted an amendment obliging doctors to ensure that babies aborted in their hospitals would be interred with respect and dignity.

There are hundreds of GPs throughout Ireland who are terrified about what they will be compelled to do when the new law comes in. Every day, I am contacted by doctors and healthcare workers who are devastated over what Minister Harris is forcing them to do. The freedom of conscience provisions in the bill are worthless where it concerns healthcare workers who want nothing to do with facilitating abortions. The bill compels them to make sure the abortion happens elsewhere if they don't want to perform it themselves. Simon Harris, Micheal Martin and others are abandoning these hard-working, conscientious doctors. It's not right that they only have a handful of independent TDs to plead their case.

Right from the very start of the process that led to the referendum in May, it has been a huge eye-opener for me the way the abortion debate in Ireland is managed and muzzled. Women Hurt, the group representing women who regret their abortions, was completely ignored by the Oireachtas committee examining the abortion issue prior to the referendum. In their submission to the Citizens' Assembly, they said: "Nobody told us what life after abortion would be like. The heartbreak and pain experienced by many women is being suppressed in this debate."

It's a reality that some women suffer negative consequences after abortion. Every woman contemplating abortion has the right to know about that.

When we submitted an amendment two weeks ago on informed consent and giving women contemplating abortion accurate information, we were accused by pro-choice colleagues of peddling "propaganda". So much for choice. So much for giving women information. Denying women basic information is a new form of misogyny. It is practised every day in Dail Eireann.

Mattie McGrath is an Independent TD for Tipperary

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