The essay below was written by my sister, Lara Cassidy. She came to me for editing help, we worked on it together and then I offered to publish it here, because I stand by it and I want as many people as possible to read it. I admire her clear-headed approach to this issue and I think it may be helpful to voters who are still undecided on how will they will cast their ballot on Friday.
Dear friends, family and acquaintances. Maybe you already know how you’re voting on Friday. Maybe you’re undecided or maybe you don’t intend to vote at all. Wherever you stand, I wanted to ask you one last time to consider what this vote means for us, both as individuals and as a nation.
First off, I want to acknowledge that this referendum is not just a medical or legal dilemma. Emotions are running high, no matter where you stand on abortion. And that’s ok. Birth, life, death: these are emotional issues, and it’s important to acknowledge that. The debate around this referendum has asked us to interrogate our core values. It has asked us what guides the decisions we make and what decisions we would allow others to make. It asks what we believe we owe each other and the society we live in. It has asked many of us to question what we believe to be our own inalienable rights and freedoms.
This is the question at the heart of the debate: does one human’s right to life trump another’s right to bodily autonomy?
I believe the majority of people on both sides of the debate would agree that both rights – the right to bodily autonomy and the right to life – are sacrosanct and central to human dignity. In the vast majority of cases, people are contentedly both pro-life (do no harm to your fellow humans either directly or indirectly) and pro-choice (my body is mine to do with as I wish).
Pregnancy is a unique physical relationship between two humans. Only fifty percent of the human population have the potential to experience it, and there is no easy analogy to explain it to those who can’t. Pregnancy is also one of the only spheres where these two basic human rights regularly come into direct conflict: when one human life cannot sustain itself without the body of another, which right takes precedence? And more importantly, should that precedence vary on a situational basis or be subject to a blanket rule?
A few weeks ago, I was at a family gathering and someone brought up the topic of abortion. A living room full of women, ranging from early twenties to late sixties, proceeded to drunkenly debate the issue into the wee hours of the morning. One of those women, who we’ll call “Jemima”, is a former NHS doctor. She informed us that, throughout her career, she had routinely refused to sign forms for women seeking abortion because she did not approve of their reasons for wanting one. She spoke with particular scorn about a woman she had refused on the grounds that she was wealthy and married, with two children already, and so could surely provide a loving and stable home for a potential third child? The idea that there were almost certainly considerations of which Jemima was not aware – or the novel concept that her patient simply did not want to be pregnant and her reasons are her own – didn’t enter the equation. Jemima insisted that, as a Catholic, she should not have to sign off on a procedure that goes against her beliefs.
I was appalled that it is (apparently) legal for medical professionals to engage in this sort of gatekeeping, especially in a country with relatively liberal abortion laws. And perhaps that’s naïve of me, but given what I know of the UK, I assume (I hope) that woman went on to find a GP who doesn’t refuse treatment on religious grounds and was able to get an abortion, having only been mildly inconvenienced by Jemima and her anti-choice views.
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 EighthAmendment 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.
In other news, here’s a small sample of the some of the Internet I have been enjoying this week!
Dissent Unheard Of – Ashe Dryden unpacks some of the techniques typically used to silence people who speak up to promote and protect diversity. Focused on the tech sector, but applicable pretty much anywhere.
Why we should give free money to everyone – Turns out the best way to spend money on the poor might be to give money to the poor. Unconvinced? Read this great article by Rutger Bregman of Decorrespondent about consistent success of basic income experiments.
My Breakup with Exercise – This personal account from Leah of Talkin’ Reckless is a really good reminder that everything in moderation – including exercise – is the best way to live a sustainable healthy and happy life.
We’re not here for your inspiration – A reminder from Stella Young that disabled people don’t exist to put your problems in perspective, nor to illustrate your cloying motivational posters. Most of them are just trying to get through the day, just like their able-bodied counterparts, and no matter what Scott Hamilton says, they don’t owe you a good attitude.
These Female “Privileges” Suck – It’s no secret that I’m a fan of a good takedown, and this one from Sophieologie is a particularly satisfying annihilation of Thought Catalog’s latest puerile listicle. Sidenote: does anyone else feel sad that the once-useful concept of privilege is now deployed solely for the purpose of mudslinging, by people who have no idea what it actually means?
Your Map is Racist – Q. When is a map racist? A. When Greenland is as big as Africa and the equator has mysteriously shifted downwards so we can see more of Europe.
On Colbert and White Racial Satire: We Don’t Need It – In the wake of the #CancelColbert tweetstorm, Mia McKenzie cuts through the bullshit (as usual) and asks: what exactly white racial satire is doing for people of colour, and is it really more helpful than harmful?
RELAXING: AN INTENSIVE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE – “You probably think of relaxation as an unattainable dream, if not just a myth altogether. Adhere to this guide with precision and get ready to experience the most rigorous relaxation of your life!”
“The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion” – A fascinating series of accounts from physicians and counselors who have provided abortions to anti-choice women; in some cases, women who turned up to picket the clinic the day after the procedure.
Link farm! Hello! Here are some the best things I have read on the Internet in recent weeks. But first, above, one of the best things about Beyoncé dropping a fourteen track visual concept album earlier this week (no biggie) is that this amazing TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is getting some much deserved extra spotlight, since Bey sampled a large section of her speech in the track “***Flawless”.
The Feminist Selfie(article) “Selfie” is the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2013, but is the rise of prolific self-portraiture – aided by webcams and smartphones – a feminist statement or tasteless narcissism? Can it be both? ChaosIntended makes an excellent case for the selfie as a feminist reclamation of the way women perceive and portray themselves.
What The Fluck(multimedia essay) This is a long and fascinating piece. It starts off talking about Tamara Mellon, creator of Jimmy Choo, but then expands to encompass some huge ideas… media, celebrity, public vs. private lives, corruption, politics and ultimately a call for new forms of journalism that can actually penetrate the giant financial power structures that run our world today.
My Abortion(article, content note for graphic descriptions of abortion) Brilliant journalism from Meaghan Winter at NY Magazine, reporting twenty-six abortion stories from twenty-six different women across the United States. There is no room for politics, but there is a full gamut of emotions – trauma, relief, nonchalance, fear, sadness, regret, gratitude – and some beautiful, heartbreaking moments that remind you that every single woman who has had an abortion is full and complete human being with a whole life of past choices and future prospects weighing on her decision.
I still don’t want to see Zack Snyder’s take on Wonder Woman(article) Charlie Jane Anders brilliantly articulates her (and my own) anxieties about Zack Snyder introducing Wonder Woman to the big screen and why he is not the director to catapult the world’s most iconic female superhero into the 21st century. Also, to save you reading the comments, they are full of “Wonder Woman will never work in movies because her origin is so messy and her costume is dated!” You know, as though screenwriters and directors have no creative license or agency to work around those things.
Loving your body and ending obesity (article) One of my favourite things about Emily Heist Moss is her ability and determination to find middle-ground on issues that have become so polarized that communication has all but broken down. In this article, she highlights that creating space for fat women to love themselves and promoting healthier lifestyles on a broad societal level are not opposing, or even mutually exclusive goals. And it’s not just that we can do both, it’s that we must do both if we ever want to see real change.
No Girls Allowed (visual essay) A comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing history of the rise of videogames that specifically charts the role of marketing in the evolution of the medium from family-friendly group entertainment to unrepentant boys’ club. Essential reading for anyone who still thinks companies “just make what sells!” Hint: they don’t, and marketing department don’t tailor their output to the whims of customers, but rather work hard and smart to create and control consumer demand.
Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics (article) I love language! I love the Internet! I love The Toast! I love that online spaces are generating a whole spectrum of playful new ways to express ourselves through subversive grammar, memes, GIFs and typographic peculiarities. This article, I mean I just can’t even askkewefs abtklwvrqheqhljqv wow so linguistics
Feminists are not responsible for educating men (article) I have linked to this before across my various social meedjahs, but since I’ve had this conversations several times, drunkenly, in meatspace, in recent weeks, it bears posting again here. Go forth, well-intentioned men of the world, and read. And then restrain yourself from cornering me at the Christmas party to bombard me with enlightened questions along the lines of “Why don’t women just get over it?”*
*This is an actual thing that an adult man said to me during a “rational” discussion about feminism.
So apparently a royal baby was born. I didn’t know Kate Middleton was pregnant until two weeks ago because I have very little interest in monarchy that does not involve Lannisters and Starks, so unless they call the baby Tyrion-Robb-Jon, I’m probably going to forget it exists within a week. Anyway, Kate Middleton apparently did her royal duty in a timely fashion and everyone seems pleased. Also, David Cameron chose this special day to propose a ban on online pornography to protect the innocence of children because children are innocent and porn corrodes their innocence and DEAR GOD WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.
Blocking Porn – A Survivor’s Perspective – (Content note: Discussion of child sex abuse) A really powerful piece on how Cameron’s professed concerns about childhood “innocence” do not address any of the underlying cultural narratives that are actually deeply harmful to children. I really should have included a point about media literacy in my sex ed post.
Dear Daily Mail – Love her or hate her, Amanda Fucking Palmer can subvert a patriarchal norm like nobody’s business. Here she is on BBC’s Newsnight discussing her reaction to the Daily Mail’s photo of her “escaped boob” in more detail.
Oh Texas – Pro-life congressman sponsors bill that would cut funding to a program that stops many children living in poverty from going hungry. Once again, life is only important when it’s contained inside a woman who has the audacity to think she should have a say about what happens to her uterus!
15 Steps to becoming a Gay Male Feminist– (Content note: Discussion of rape, abortion, sexual harassment) A fantastic article about one man’s discovery of feminism, with pit stops at drag, alternative menstrual products and body acceptance along the way.
Your Right To Butt Sex – Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is pushing to reinstate a Crimes Against Nature law, which would make oral and anal sex felony offenses. Yes, you read that correctly, and no, you did not fall into a time warp and it is in fact 2013. Fortunately, the bawdy ladies of The Vieware having none of it.
My country was dragged into the international spotlight last week. Because, not to put even remotely too fine a point on it, Ireland killed a woman. This news made me feel physically sick. This happened so appallingly close to home that for a while I couldn’t process it.
How close to home?
I was born in University Hospital Galway. Both my parents have worked there at various points in their lives. It is where my mother had her mastectomy. I worked in the foyer coffee shop for a summer when I was a teenager. This time last year, I sat with my dad in the intensive care unit, listening to a machine do his breathing for him and wondering if he would ever open his eyes again.
I spent significant stretches of my life in the same hospital that took Savita Halappavanar’s life.
I have been trying to write something about this for over a week. At first I was too angry, then I was too upset and ashamed of my country to form coherent sentences. The details of the case have been well-covered (here and here and here for anyone who missed it) so I’m not going to reiterate them again. I think it is extremely clear – to me, to Ireland and to the rest of the world – that there is no reason on this earth that Savita Halappavanar, a 31 year-old dentist from India, should not have survived her miscarriage and gone on to live a full and happy life with her husband.