a better way to be anti-abortion

Schoolchildren protest outside Leinster House in 1992 supporting the right of X, a 14 year-old rape victim, to travel for an abortion. Photograph: Eric Luke, via The Irish Times

The evidence is clear and plentiful: making abortion illegal does not reduce abortion rates. In countries where abortion is severely restricted or completely illegal, the procedure is usually unsafe, traumatic and sometimes fatal for the women who seek it, but they seek it all the same, despite risks to their health and threats of prosecution and imprisonment.

Of course, if you live in Ireland, you don’t need a peer-reviewed study to tell you this. Our country is a live illustration of the trend. Every year, at least 3,500 Irish women (that’s an average of nine women per day) spend time, energy and money travelling to the UK to obtain a safe, legal abortion. Those who are unable to travel continue to turn to illegal “abortion pills” or even more drastic measures to end unwanted pregnancy – we’re not sure about their numbers, but it’s safe to assume they are not negligible.

For those of you who call yourselves “pro-life”, your one and only campaign point seems to be preserving our Constitution’s Eighth Amendment at all costs. I’m sorry to inform you that your time and effort is sadly misplaced. Ireland is not and has never been “abortion-free”. Our blanket ban on abortion does little, if anything, to deter most women from ending unwanted pregnancy. And thanks to proximity of the United Kingdom and the 13th Amendment, most women in Ireland can access safe legal abortion if they really need to. (If they have the money, of course. And hold a passport that allows them to move freely between the UK and Ireland. And if they are healthy enough to travel. And not restricted by disabilities. And not younger than sixteen. And not trapped in abusive situation at home.)

All the evidence suggests that repealing our Eighth Amendment and replacing it with clear and humane legislation on reproductive rights will have a negligible impact on abortion rates among Irish women. Honestly, if you are truly invested in reducing abortion rates, preserving the Eighth is a bit of a damp squib.

But thankfully, there are lots of straightforward health and educational policies that are proven to reduce abortion rates! If you truly care about the welfare of Irish women (despite the frequently misogynistic tactics of your campaigns), there are plenty of ways to support them that don’t involve shaming or criminalizing them. If you are truly “pro-life”, there are many worthwhile causes that could use your voice behind them.

For example, if you are anti-abortion, you should be vocally and visibly pro-contraception. Not only should you be pro-contraception, you should be aggressively in support of cheap and accessible contraception for everyone in Ireland. You should want teenagers to have detailed information on the different types of contraception available to them and you should want them to be able to access it without parental permission. You should be outraged at the price of hormonal contraceptives and the hoops women have to jump through to secure them. You should be championing the idea that contraception is not the sole responsibility of the sexual partner in possession of a uterus.

If you are anti-abortion, you should also be loudly in support of sex education. You should be advocating for factual and comprehensive sex education as a mandatory subject in every school in the country, starting pre-puberty and continuing right up through second level. You should be campaigning for a curriculum that includes everything on this list and then some. You should be strongly in favour of frank and open discussions about sex in the classroom and lessons focused on good communication and enthusiastic consent between sexual partners. You should be strongly opposed to sex “education” that is heavily or solely focused on abstinence. You should be working hard to lift the fog of red-faced shame that still clouds our views of sex in Ireland.

And while we’re at it, you should be campaigning tirelessly to get the Catholic Church out of our state-run schools and hospitals, given that institution’s abysmal track record on women, pregnancy and children.

Rally For Life. Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland, via The Journal
Rally For Life. Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland, via The Journal

If you are anti-abortion, you should support extended social protection for women and children, and particularly for single mothers. You should be challenging and deconstructing popular narratives that paint single mothers as irresponsible sluts and/or mercenary welfare leeches. You should support free pre- and post-natal care, heavily state-subsidized childcare at nursery and kindergarten level, the expansion of family planning facilities nationwide and innovative schemes to ease the difficulties and financial strain faced by new parents.

If you are anti-abortion, you should support stronger laws to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace. You should be furious at reports of employers who refuse to hire “women of a certain age” and question female candidates about their relationship status and plans for a family. You should be naming and shaming employers who use pay cuts and harassment to edge new mothers out of their jobs when they return after maternity leave. You should be talking about the motherhood pay gap and asking how we can fix it. You should also be advocating for generous and mandatory paid parental leave for both men and women.

If you are anti-abortion, you should be pro-families. That means all configurations of families, not just one father and one mother and their biological offspring. You should be pro families with two dads, or no dads, or three mothers, or a whole village of assorted parents and guardians. You should support the right of gay and trans and queer people to raise their children with full protection from the state and without fear of discrimination. You should support these things because you want to maximize every child’s chance of finding a caring and stable family life, no matter the circumstances of their birth. You should want every child born in this country to grow up in a home with people who are ready and excited for the enormous responsibility of being parents.

If you are anti-abortion and also opposed to any of the above, then I can only assume that you’re not actually interested in reducing abortion rates. You’re not interested in making it easier for women to prevent unwanted pregnancy, nor are you interested in making it easier for them to continue with one. You are not interested in the welfare of the children that result from unwanted pregnancy. You may have convinced yourself that you are concerned about fetuses, but in reality your concern only extends as far as using them as grisly rhetorical weapons. You’re not even really that interested in stopping women from accessing abortion – but you are interested in making the process as invasive, time-consuming and traumatic as possible.

If this is the case, your interest in preserving our Constitution’s Eighth Amendment has nothing to do with the welfare of women and children, and everything to do with punishing women who have sex for non-reproductive purposes. You may not have consciously formulated this thought, but some part of you almost certainly wants women to take “responsibility” and realize there are “consequences” for their actions. Particularly actions that involve having sex for fun. If the consequence can’t be a baby, it can at least be a lonely, disruptive, expensive “weekend trip to England”, right? If you are honest with yourself, you will find your opposition to abortion comes not from altruistic concern for human life, but from a deep-seated fear of women’s sexual liberation and anger at women who wish to exercise full and unfettered control over their own bodies and lives. This is true even if you are a woman.

And you know what? Even in societies with unlimited free contraception, impeccable sex education, strong social protection floors and pro-family policies, there will still be abortion. Rape will still exist, contraception will still fail, and poor judgement will still be exercised. Fatal fetal abnormalities will still tragically render wanted pregnancies unviable. Men will still promise to pull out when they have no intention of pulling out. Ovaries previously diagnosed as non-functional will still mysteriously spring back into action at inopportune moments. Abortion is an ancient and necessary part of the human reproductive cycle and women will continue to go to extraordinary lengths to access it, even in the face of restrictive laws and at significant risk to their own health.

Fortunately, there are plenty of tried and true policies that will minimize unwanted pregnancy and abortion in Ireland, in addition to making us a safer and happier society as a whole.

Preserving the Eighth Amendment isn’t one of them.

If you truly care about women and children, it’s time to put your money where your well-funded mouth is. It’s time to stand by your rhetoric, stop clinging to the Eighth Amendment and put your time and effort into causes that will actually help reduce abortion in Ireland.

It’s time to help us #repealthe8th.


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