Thursday 14 November 2019

We’re all sick of the abortion debate – but don’t blame the women fighting for their very lives

The #Strike4Repeal march in Dublin's city centre. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The #Strike4Repeal march in Dublin's city centre. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Dee Finnerty

Dee Finnerty

Sick of the abortion debate? So am I.

As the report from the Citizens’ Assembly last weekend brought the argument to a pinnacle, an eerie calm prevailed. In the past weeks, months and years, we have heard accounts of the traumas suffered by women, men and families due to a lack of legislation governing abortion in Ireland, and one conclusion has been drawn: the vast majority are sick of talking and hearing about it.

We’ve had women live-tweeting their journeys to obtain abortions in Britain. We have read the stories of well-known women who have defiantly come forward to allow us a glimpse of this secretive practice, otherwise only talked about in hushed tones among the closest of friends, if even then. We have heard the information, misinformation and disinformation and seen the marches, protests and strikes.

We know what women have endured; any further protrusions of their medical realities into our newspaper headlines, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages seems futile. We get it.

So it’s easy to see why, as a society, we’re making a cynical eye-roll at those who come forward to tell their stories, and at the organisations, groups and social media campaigns on each side of the debate.

I often hear commentators speculating that campaigners on social media are merely bowing to the ‘trend’ or that wearing a ‘Repeal’ jumper is more a fashion statement than a political one. For some who are pro-choice, there is an undercurrent of hostility forming against other pro-choicers who dare to force the issue. Their voices have been described as ‘shrill’ and ‘shouty’; their attempts at making an impact are often dismissed as juvenile.

Yet the blame for the resurgence of the abortion issue cannot be left at the door of the women who seek to break the silence. For when one is backed into a corner, one will fight – even if it is with words, and jumpers and profile pictures on Facebook. The stories of every one of these people speaking out on the issue of abortion is a valid portrait of our ignorance of human rights and is being presented publicly to encourage a demise of the arcane shame surrounding the topic of abortion.

Being bombarded with opinions can be frustrating, even those with which you agree, but those seeking to undermine the campaigners should look elsewhere. It may not be down your neck the campaigner is trying to ram the point.

There is no doubt many social media warriors will miss the mark, but the movements that have been developed, the T-shirts and jumpers being sold and the labels and stickers people use have led to greater acknowledgement of a suffering and an acceptance of the need to move forward.

These organisations, this sense of communal objection, are not intended to put people out in the cold. Instead their aim is to bandy a group of varying voices who can all agree on one thing: the legislation needs to change. The legislation is not adequate. It is not protecting mother and baby as it was apparently intended to do.

Before Emily Davison threw herself under the hooves of the king’s galloping horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, the women’s suffrage movement was not given the credence it deserved.

The voices of the movement were deemed ‘hysterical’ and, dare we use that word again, ‘shrill’ despite the fact the women involved had previously done all in their power to bring the matter to a calm and dignified resolution. They were left with no choice. Emily Davison did not leap under a horse for personal attention. She did so to force the issue and obtain the rights her fellow women deserved. She was one of millions of women backed into a corner, primed to fight her way out of it, just like today’s repeal campaigners. It may not seem like it, but they are fighting for their lives, for their right to adequate healthcare.

And as someone who fears becoming pregnant in this country, I agree with them.

More than one woman had to lose her life for basic equal rights to be granted to women. When you consider this, it’s not hard to imagine why women today are, without the same violence of force, fighting for one of their human rights with an Irish Government which can no longer hide.

Pro-choice campaigners must put their stories forward, even against their own better judgment to stay silent. They are forced to share the most personal details of their lives so that they can enforce a change. So that you and I may have the right to vote on the matter.

If you have no interest in this debate, if you’re sick and tired of it and sigh every time you hear about it and feel exhausted, if you look away every time you see a headline dominated by this momentous subject, I’m right there with you. And as a pro-choice advocate, I would love to offer you an apology for having to be confronted with the issue at every turn, but I can’t.

The Irish governments of the last 50 years will need to offer you that apology. The Irish governments that have left women to sink or swim to England can offer you an apology for this daily inconvenience.

I too am sick and tired and exhausted. Sick and tired of raising my voice and not being heard by those I’ve elected to listen.

Online Editors

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