Saturday 18 January 2020

Nimbies are in denial over the Eighth

Women don't dream of abortion, but we must end the nightmare for those who need one, writes Ciara O'Connor

Elisabeth Moss as Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
Elisabeth Moss as Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Ciara O'Connor

When talk of abortion and repeal comes up, I shrink. I don't have an easy time with abortion; I try not to think about it.

That's a luxury afforded by the fact that I live half the time in England, where if I got pregnant under terrible circumstances, I would have only one decision to make, and not about whether or not it was too dangerous, too expensive, too traumatic and lonely, too risky to do myself at home, whether my country would think I was a criminal.

Philosophically and ideologically, I believe absolutely in a woman's right to choose - but as I get older, I realise that sometimes I find the reality harder to stomach.

For example, I hate the statistics on abortions of non-fatal conditions - but I think that's more to do with fear, misinformation and a culture that doesn't value disabled people. Not abortion itself. But still. I don't like it.

That's difficult to admit. But I can't be the only one. Pretending it's black and white doesn't advance the discussions that need to be had in the run-up to next year's promised referendum.

When Lena Dunham, in the most Lena Dunham thing she's ever said, declared "I still haven't had an abortion, but I wish I had", she was roundly criticised by pro-choice activists and women who had terminated pregnancies.

You won't find me chanting "girls just wanna abortion", because I don't think abortion is fun, or trivial or straightforward. I think 'want' is the wrong word. Girls want Kinder Buenos or equal pay, or those new Birkenstocks with a soft footbed. No woman dreams about one day having her very own abortion.

We do not want abortions, but some of us will need them.

I do not want to ever have an abortion. However, the idea that I wouldn't have the option in a desperate situation is terrifying.

The idea that my life could be in danger but I would have to wait, and deteriorate, until the very last possible moment to legally justify the medical procedure - if I made it that far - is gruesome. It belongs in The Handmaid's Tale.

It's all well and good to have values by which you intend to live, but the world doesn't care about your ideals. Life doesn't happen in black and white, and health certainly doesn't.

None of us knows for certain how we would react when the worst happens. I know women who have had abortions despite a lifetime of truly believing they never would.

I know women who have continued unplanned and unwanted pregnancies despite swearing that they would have an abortion if they ever found themselves in that situation.

Ideals are one thing, reality is quite another. This should be a referendum about reality, not perfect worlds and spurious logical leaps.

Legalising abortion will not see thousands of young women eschewing condoms in favour of a quickie-aborsh in their lunch hour if they get 'caught out'. It's ludicrous. It just won't happen.

Abortion is taken seriously where it is legal. For those who do not have moral qualms, the fact remains that they are unpleasant things to put your body through: it is not used as a contraceptive.

Far-fetched 'what if' scenarios will get us nowhere. We need to look at the women who are actually having abortions and talk about them, instead of the straw woman who aborts late in the third trimester simply because she changes her mind.

The fast majority of abortions happen very early on in pregnancies, before the eyelashes and tiny fingernails in the pictures thrust at women going into clinics are formed.

If women could access them here, they would happen even earlier - before money needs to be found and travel plans made.

By repealing the Eighth we would not be allowing abortion - that ship has sailed. We allow it already, just not in our own back yard.

We would be allowing safe, compassionate, humane abortions. Irish women have been having abortions for years and will continue to do so, whatever the law. Abortions are happening now.

Repeal would mean teenagers not ordering abortion pills from god knows where off the internet. It would mean proper aftercare. It would mean equal and safe care for women who cannot afford to travel. It would mean they don't try to do it themselves.

It would mean lone women not having to catch the Ryanair flight from London back home, bleeding, tired and in pain. It would mean a frightened woman suffering complications back home not being treated like a criminal.

As Amanda Mellet, who was told she would have to 'travel' after scans showed her foetus was suffering from fatal Edwards syndrome, put it, repeal would mean terminations "in our own country, where we can be with our loved ones, with our own medical team, and where we have our own familiar bed to go home and cry in".

Mellet took her case to the UN Human Rights Committee which ruled that her human rights had been violated, that she be compensated by the Irish State and called on Ireland to "amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy".

The UN classifies lack of access to abortion as torture and hearing the stories that have come out of Ireland in the last 10 years, it's not hard to see why. Abortion may not be pretty, but those who seek to continue its blanket ban are on the wrong side of history.

There's nobody going to be cracking open the Champagne after deciding to abort so they can continue chemotherapy. There will be no parties when a mother already stretched to the limit decides to abort to save her family from further poverty. That doesn't mean they shouldn't have the choice. What's right doesn't always feel great.

But I promise that voting against repeal, telling the women of Ireland that you don't care about deepening social inequality, forcing your sisters and daughters and granddaughters to endure torturous pregnancies against their will, sending them, scared and alone, on planes to England - that will feel much, much worse.

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