Be There On The 22nd!

That was then….

This is now….

Still time to register for the Pro Life Campaign National Seminar on 22nd September. Come along to listen to top speakers, including our guest speaker Matt Mooney, father of Eliot Hartman Mooney and creator of the YouTube video 99 Balloons;

Matt has already spoken at some third-level colleges since he arrived in Ireland.  His talk on Saturday promises to be a very special event.

Be there on the 22nd to find out what you can do to help maintain the status quo in Ireland:-

  • Ireland, where women receive whatever medical treatment they need while pregnant, even if that treatment sometimes results in the indirect and unintended death of their unborn child;
  • Ireland, where Irish doctors recognise that when treating a pregnant woman, they must have due concern for both patients – mother and child;
  • Ireland, where our record in the area of maternal health is so good, it can hardly be improved upon (World Health Organisation Report, 2010).

Now is the time to make your opposition to abortion known.  See you on the 22nd!


Help…or Hindrance?

I was going to use this post to write about Colette Browne’s article in Wednesday’s Irish Examiner.  But then I realised – it doesn’t really address the issue of abortion at all.

Instead, we get a roll-call of all the things that irk Ms. Browne.  Politicians who dare to voice an opposing opinion, anyone who questions our obligation to introduce legislation for abortion, Cardinal Sean Brady and the Church in general.  Even the Tea Party gets a mention.

But while Ms. Browne shows herself to be adept in the use of alliteration, I found myself wondering what, if anything, this piece actually contributes to the debate?  After all, what’s wrong with a politician taking the view that it’s only right that our society recognises the humanity of the unborn child, and by extension, seeks to put in place laws that will protect that child?  Don’t the values of care and respect for the most vulnerable, voiceless members of society form part of every politician’s mandate, regardless of their Party preference?

The problem with articles of this nature is that they cloud the real issues at stake here – and in doing so, they perform a massive disservice to women in particular.

Take for example the assertion that the fact that Irish women cannot access abortion means that they are being denied medical treatment.  The implication is that they are somehow more at risk in Ireland as a result.  A simple check of the latest statistics proves that this is not true.  When it comes to maternal mortality, Ireland consistently ranks at the top of the table when the figures for maternal mortality are compiled by the World Health Organisation.  The last figures were compiled in 2010, with the same result.  So why try to worry women?

Of course, Ms. Browne is not the only journalist who uses the misnomer “life-saving abortion”.  Dr. Jacky Jones wrote in the Irish Times this week about how “Ireland is the 15th safest place to give birth among 22 European countries.”

It’s a pity she didn’t clarify exactly what graph she took her statistic from.  It relates to perinatal (foetal) deaths, not maternal deaths. When it comes to maternal health, we consistently rank at the top of the international table – accordingly to the World Health Organisation, no less. So we have a far higher success rate when it comes to saving the life of the mother than the unborn child.

Dr. Jones then compounds her error by stating as a matter of fact that “the rights of a living person and a foetus are, by definition, unequal.”

She will of course be aware that any attempt to base rights on an assertion of “personhood” is a very risky business.  In the past, a denial of the privilege of “personhood” to one group of human beings has led to human rights abuses of the worst kind.  But even leaving that to one side, I have to wonder about her decision to compare a “living person” with a “foetus”.

Is Dr. Jones suggesting that the foetus is, in some way, not “living”?  If so, then is it dead? Making a blank statement like this contributes nothing to the debate.  It consigns the unborn child to the role of person-in-waiting, utterly dependent on whatever rights society deigns to bestow, and ignoring the true humanity which is evident from advanced technology such as this video.

Irish men and women deserve – and need – a proper debate on abortion.  There is no room for name-calling or vitriol.  They contribute nothing but acrimony to what is already an emotive issue.

We know that Ireland, without abortion, ranks at the top of the table in terms of maternal care. We know that the unborn child is a human being, part of the human race to which we all belong.

These are the facts and all the careful camouflage in the world won’t hide them.




Hidden Humanity

Humanity is a strange thing.  An unsettling thing.  We see it everyday when we look at our reflection, yet we ignore it when it suits us.

The abortion debate in this country is an unusual time.  It’s a time for us to consider what type of society we want to live in.  Perhaps more than any other issue, abortion cuts straight to the chase.

Professor William Binchy does exactly that in his latest article from Thursday’s Irish Times.  Read it here

Respect for the humanity of others forms the basis for our society.  We dispense with that respect at our peril.


In Good Conscience…Live And Let Live

I don’t normally discuss abortion in the context of religion – not because it doesn’t have a worthy place in the debate, but because I believe that abortion concerns the entire of humanity, not just those members who may belong to a specific creed.  We all have a right – and duty –  to be concerned with the effects on abortion on our world and that concern doesn’t have to stem from any specific religious belief.

That said, it is difficult to ignore those who campaign on a platform that specifically tries to found a pro-choice argument within a religious context.  By bringing religion into the debate, they leave themselves open to some very serious questions concerning faith as well as humanity.

There is one main group which has been building its own momentum recently in the hope of gaining support on this ground and it might be time to put some of its claims under the microscope.

So step forward, US-based group, Catholics For Choice.

Catholics For Choice is an unusual group in that the campaigning brief on its website sets out its intention – to ensure that all men and women have “access to safe and legal abortion services”

Leaving aside for one minute the disarming misnomer that is “safe and legal abortion” – abortion is always risky for the woman and always fatal for her unborn child – the deeper problem here  is the misleading claim that it is feasible to be a Catholic while campaigning for abortion.

At this point, I should say that I am by no means a Catholic apologist – the Catholic Church gets some things wrong, as does every other large organisation prone to human fallibility.  But Christianity lies at the heart of the Catholic Church – and with it comes the universally comforting figure of Jesus Christ who was no slouch when it came to protecting the weak from those who could do them harm.  It is this type of Christian humanity which is so alarmingly ignored or subverted by Catholics For Choice.

The Refusal To Engage

But before we get on to an analysis of their claims, I would point out that I have tried to engage with Catholics For Choice on Twitter – most notably when they retweeted a post calling for legislation on Ireland’s X Case.  At that time, I pointed out to them that any legislation for the X Case would have to introduce abortion up to birth due to the fact that no time limits were introduced.  I received no response.

More recently, I logged onto their Facebook page and saw that they were asking people to follow them on Twitter  As I already follow them, I left a comment on their page in the hope that they would begin some sort of fruitful discussion so that I could at least understand where they were coming from.  I explained my position, and asked how they could reconcile their beliefs with the strong pro-life ethos that pervades the Judeo-Christian belief, and Catholic teaching.  Specifically, I mentioned the words of Jeremiah 1:5   – “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

I asked then, and still wonder now, how it can be that this God who formed each individual in the womb – indeed, knew each one beforehand – could somehow give authority for that life to be extinguished while still in the womb?  I received no response – none, that is except for the removal of every comment box on their facebook page.  Catholics For Choice, it would seem, are happy to support Choice, so long as they don’t have to defend it to anyone.

Hence this post.

Let’s move on to what the Group’s website and publications tell us – seeing as they refuse to discuss their position.

The Problem With “Personhood”

They publish an informative little leaflet entitled “Truth About Catholics And Abortion”, available here.  I should say, it’s not informative about the actual truth about Catholics and abortion, but it does give an interesting insight into the way the group formulates its thinking.  For example, much is made of the history of the Church’s teaching on this issue, the fact that “personhood” was not attributed to the foetus in the first trimester by Saints such as Augustine and Aquinas.  On this point they are correct, although they fail to mention that both of those saints lived a few centuries before developments such as 4D imaging, or modern embryology.  They couldn’t watch this video.  Thanks to our current level of scientific knowledge, we know that the unborn child is a human life from the moment of conception.  He or she possesses 100% of their human DNA at that stage.  Nothing further is added but time.  There is no doubt but that a new human life is present.  Abortion ends that life.

Hasn’t it occured to them too, that any group clinging to the out-dated notion that the       unborn child is not a “person” is on a sticky wicket in the light of human rights abuses of the past?  Women, African-Americans and various other groups have been denied the privilege of “personhood” throughout history – often with devastating results.

The only suitable criterion in this case is human life because it does not involve any degree of philosophical debate regarding notional ideas such as “personhood” or “ensoulment” or any other subjective consideration.  Biology is very clear on when human life begins – sperm meets egg, fertilisation takes place and an entirely new, never-to-be-repeated human life comes into being.

Few things in each human life will be certain – but we can be confident that each life begins at that specific moment.  Catholics For Choice skip over this fact with bizarre indifference to this very basic fact of life.

The Question Of Papal Infallibility

Throughout the various explanations in this pamphlet, there is clear evidence of the group’s eagerness to convince the reader that it is possible to follow the precepts of the Catholic Church while still advocating the right to choose abortion.

For example, a surprising amount of importance is attributed to the fact that the late Pope John Paul II chose not to apply the doctrine of infallibility to his papal missal Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel Of Life)  in 1995, following discussions with then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now-Pope Benedict XVI.  This is seen to be have immense significance, despite the fact that papal infallibility has only been applied three times in the history of the Church.  Yet Catholics For Choice proclaim this as almost a given sign that abortion is a take-it-or-leave-it aspect of the Catholic belief.

We are told that the Second Vatican Council published a Doctrine on Religious Freedom, calling on Catholics to respect other faith positions – which is all very well, until we come across the pointed comment telling us that the Catholic Church is more conservative than those “other faiths” when it comes to abortion.  We’re not told what those hip and trendy “other faiths” are, but it doesn’t really matter.  Remember, we’re still reading from the “Truth About Catholics And Abortion”.  Although I’m starting to think it should be entitled “The Truth About The New Church I Want You To Join” – because it doesn’t seem to have any interest in the Catholic Church or what it actually teaches.

But in case we’re feeling left out, we’re told that “many Catholics” don’t support the Church’s official position on abortion.  Well, that’s alright then…alright, until you remember that we’re not talking about a group where serious issues of life and death are decided by a show of hands.  To even insert such a statement into a pamphlet that purports to express what this group is about says much, and none of it is very good.

By this reasoning, the Church would never adhere to a position on anything because there will always, ALWAYS be members of that Church who don’t agree with one or more of its precepts.  I also find it quite bizarre that a group calling themselves Catholics would so randomly overlook any mention of the Holy Spirit, who guides and inspires the Church in issues of faith and morals.

To it’s credit, the leaflet espouses  a desire to help many people who are living in poor social conditions, and perhaps this is the saddest aspect of the group’s existence.  It talks about the need to protect women and children but appears blind to the fact that the fundamental right is the right to life.  Without first safeguarding that right, there will not be a need to even think about anything else.

A Line In The Sand

In one of its first articles posted this year, the group made what is for even the most hard-line pro-choice group an extravagant step – it tried to defend Partial Birth Abortion.  Under the heading “Shying Away From Explaining Abortion”, the author shines a spotlight on the “awkwardness” felt by some lawyers during litigation hearings involving partial birth abortions, as they strove to find the words to describe what actually happened during this most grotesque of abortion procedures.

The article is couched in the terminology of medical treatment – a partial birth abortion is described as “necessary medical treatment”.  As usual in these types of debates, the distinction is never made between the case of a doctor who delivers a baby from a desperately ill woman with the intention of keeping both of his patients alive throughout – and the case of a doctor who performs a partial birth abortion on a baby, thus carrying out such steps as to ensure that the baby does not survive.  In this sense, the irony of calling for an “honest conversation” seems to be lost on the writer.

I choose not to discuss the physical realities of partial birth abortion, but if you are not familiar with this gruesome technique (and if you can stomach it) I would urge you to read the article, which sets out the position of Catholic For Choice without any of the complications of true Catholicism which advocates allowing life to continue un-assaulted on its human journey from conception to natural death.

A Group Adrift

I wrote this post because this group is in error.

I respect the beliefs of any group composed of people who have the courage of their convictions, who set out a belief – however much I may personally disagree with that belief – and who are prepared to debate and discuss that belief with others so as to try and reach some accord.  We are all contributing to this debate in the hope of improving our world for the good of its inhabitants.

But Catholics For Choice are not interested in debate; on the contrary, they shut it down wherever it rears its scary head.  I believe this to be because they have no answers to the genuine questions that prolife Catholics, Secularists and pro-life advocates of other faiths would pose to them.  This is not a mature attitude, neither is it fair or just to the many Catholics of good faith who may happen across their site, believing their strictly-censored fora to be an accurate reflection of Catholic teaching on this subject.

At a deeper level too, there is a more fundamental crisis at the heart of this group.  Its founders and members have not understood that the Catholic Church does not authorise or condone any Choice which results in the the ending of human life.  It does not because it cannot.  The Catholic Church believes that only God, the Creator of each Human Life, has the power and wisdom to take each Life back to Himself, at a time of His own choosing.

If Catholics For Choice cannot accept this basic tenet of faith, then “in good conscience”, they need to look again at either their mission statement, or their name.

But has God even featured in their considerations?  I wasn’t sure, so I ran a search on their website’s signature magazine, “Conscience”.

This time, I got a response -

All things considered, that sounded about right.


Guest Post From Pro-Choice Perspective

The purpose of this blog is to foster debate surrounding the issue of abortion.  I believe that we need to truly engage with those who disagree with us if we are to have a chance of reaching some understanding of the complexities involved.  With that in mind, I agreed to exchange blog posts with @EyeEdinburgh, who blogs from the prochoice perspective at EyeEdinburgh.  She has agreed to publish my piece from the prolife perspective.

Comments to her post are very welcome, once they adhere to the usual guidelines – be respectful, courteous and please refrain from any personal remarks.  In the words of the old British Telecom ad, “It’s Good To Talk.”  No-one should be attacked for their opinions.  @EyeEdinburgh is simply sharing hers and here it is:-


Kindness of Strangers


by @EyeEdinburgh

Every year, over four thousand women leave Ireland for a healthcare service which they are not allowed to obtain either side of the border.

Most of them travel to London. Some go to Belgium or the Netherlands. They must travel – the sick, the poor, the rape victims, the weary mother of four and the desperate teenager of fourteen. At home, they’ll get no help: doctors in Ireland will routinely turn away a woman who needs an abortion, advising her at best where she can get help to travel to London.

BPAS and Marie Stopes help as they can: but they cannot take the place of the Irish health service or the NHS. The Abortion Support Network helps. The Irish Family Planning Association and Choice Ireland help. But none of them can change the cruel government policy of making a pregnant woman who needs an abortion take a long journey to a strange place and depend on the kindness of strangers to get through.

A Cruel Policy

What makes this cruel policy acceptable, in a country where only 1 in 11 adults believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances? (Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Study 2010, pg26)

Partly that it is invisible. Although at least a quarter of a million Irishwomen have had to make this journey since 1967, the cultural assumption they obeyed for most of that time was not to talk about it. Until 1992, it wasn’t even certain for them that it was legal to go. To say out loud “I had an abortion, and I was glad of it!” could have risked prosecution.

Cora Sherlock asked me to read the stories on the Women Hurt website, which are accounts apparently by women who made this journey, told in a way that is acceptable to prolife ideology: all very similar in tone and feeling, as if personal stories had had to be squeezed painfully into the correct form – unlike stories from the Experience Project or A Heartbreaking Choicewhich are not.

Abortion Stories

A Heartbreaking Choice is an American site, created to provide support to

women who have undergone a pregnancy termination due to a poor prenatal diagnosis, problems with their own health, or for the health of another fetus (selective reduction). If you have had a pregnancy termination for medical reasons, we are here for you. You’ll find articles on how to deal with the grief, stories from women just like you, who have have made this Heartbreaking Choice to end a much wanted pregnancy.

None of the stories there have had to be squeezed into an acceptable form: they are personal, heartrending sharing of painful loss. Many of the women had to travel to get their abortion, just as women in Ireland must travel: they often mention the loving support of their families and their friends, of the doctors and nurses who provided them with care: which invariably in the stories of WomenHurt the women either lacked or could not accept.

Reading through the stories at Women Hurt, another thing I noticed was that they never (or very seldom) mentioned any supportive, caring staff at the health clinic where they had their abortions. It is an ideological principle of prolifers that people who perform abortions are evil profiteers, literally “pro-abortion”, out for what they can get. It is part of the prolife message that women having abortions aren’t cared for and aren’t emotionally supported.

The Irish government’s policy of forcing even rape victims to travel to England to have an abortion, even told through the formula of Women Hurt, seems to have hurt one girl who was raped at the age of 13 and whose parents took her to Liverpool, brought her back to Ireland, and evidently expected her never to talk about rape or abortion again. It’s perhaps no wonder that she remembers the clinic where her abortion was performed as a cruel place now she is an adult. Compare this to the story of a 13-year-old girl in the US who fought prolife courts to ensure she could have an abortion. Or consider the Child X, whom the Irish government tried to keep in Ireland by force in order to prevent her from having an abortion – while refusing to allow DNA from the aborted fetus to be used as evidence against the man who raped her.

The formulaic way in which the WomenHurt stories are presented does make them look fake, but presuming that the stories in are from real women – after all, prolifers have abortions too – then it seems many of the women who identify so strongly as pro-life now, may have genuinely forgotten or rejected care then because they felt they did not deserve to be cared for when having an abortion. (One woman describes leaving the clinic alone against the direct medical advice of a nurse: she says she was actually angry with the nurse for getting “flappy” about it).

In the stories on Women Hurt, the form provided asks if they were given information about abortion, and all of them say no, or that they weren’t given enough information. This does not correspond to the experience of women who are telling their experience of abortion outside the prolife format. In many states in the US, laws have been passed requiring doctors to recite a list of SPUC-like information to a patient and then to make her wait days before the abortion is carried out.

The intent in showcasing this claim on a prolife site may be to argue that clinics in Britain (or in Ireland if the ban is lifted) shall be required to impose the same restrictions on their patients, thus ensuring that Irish abortion patients are put to ever more expensive difficulties.

Far from women who enter a health clinic looking for and able to receive help and support, the stories of Women Hurtpresent a picture of women who believe having an abortion meant they deserved to be rejected, to be treated as lesser beings without feelings – and that is the story they tell of how they were treated. Though it’s understandable that a 13-year-old girl who had been raped should remember her abortion as a nightmare, as something that was done to her, others – adult women who clearly chose abortion – describe their experience in strangely passive terms, insisting that they got no information, they were not emotionally supported before, during or after.

Looking at the stories on the Experience Project, or A Heartbreaking Choice, or even the explicitly pro-choice stories of I’m Not Sorry, there is much less of a formulaic feel than on Women Hurt. This is another form of silencing. Not being allowed to tell your story out loud still leaves your story to be written down, shared with a therapist, perhaps – eventually – spoken out loud. But only being allowed to tell your story in a set frame, as a given narrative, destroys the woman’s own voice.

Listen to the pregnant woman. Value her. She values the life growing inside her. Listen to the pregnant woman, and you cannot help but defend her right to abortion.

History: Magdalene and Infanticide

The dominant cultural tradition in Ireland for centuries until late in the 20th century (Magdalene Laundries1766 to 1996) was to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, especially outside marriage, with stigmatisation, concealment of pregnancy, and infanticide. Of course there is no country, no culture, which before the advent of safe abortion and reliable contraception did not practice infanticide of one form or another. But reading the WomenHurt stories and Concealed Pregnancy: A case-study approach from an Irish setting it is clear even through the strictures applied by prolife form: many of the women were concealing their pregnancy (out of justified fear of what might happen to them, though none of them mention the Laundries explicitly), and suffering from the concealment, the silencing, as much as anything else.

In the Concealed Pregnancy review linked to above, and indeed all over the world, a girl or a woman who successfully conceals her pregnancy till she gives birth or after may end by killing the baby.

Guilbride (2004) discusses court cases dealing with infanticide in Ireland from the 1920s, when the State was founded, through to the 1950s. Evidence is presented that the incidence of infanticide was far greater than the number of cases brought before the courts. The author details how during this period almost every woman who appeared before the courts on a charge of infanticide was classified as poor or destitute and was unmarried. In many cases while the charge brought was of infanticide, the sentence handed down was of concealment of the birth.

When legal abortion became available in England from 1967, if a woman could afford to get there, and borrow the money to pay for the abortion or find a charity that would help her, this new Irish tradition segued smoothly with the old. While a humane person might feel it better to abort a pregnancy early than kill a baby, for the pregnant woman at the centre of this decision, there is no doubt from their own stories, even in the restricted form allowed on Women Hurt – that the isolating silence – the feelings of shame and guilt – are still profound and hurtful.

Cruelty of Strangers

Prolifers use a language that suggests care and enforces hurt when they talk about abortion. They speak of “the unborn child” being killed – using the language of infanticide to describe abortion. They do not care how hurtful a woman who has had an abortion may find this language: indeed, the creation of the Women Hurt website as a campaigning tool is evidence that to prolifers, hurting women is a normal part of their activism: if a woman’s pain is useful to their campaign it is so used, if it is not useful, it is ignored or dismissed as trivial.

Some prolifers tell outright lies about supposed “risks” of abortion proved false or try to play down the hazards of making abortion illegal. I have heard Irish prolifers argue that their country has an abortion rate of virtually-zero without affecting maternal mortality – which wilfully ignores the thousands of women on that invisible journey each year. And then there are the claims of racism made about the origins of family planning and abortion access – which ignore the actual, visible racism of prolife activism against women today. (Martin Luther King: fervent admirer of the work of Margaret Sanger to promote family planning to all Americans. Margaret Sanger: very much against abortion. True facts.)

Clare Murphy, spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, told the Huffington Post UK:

“There’s nothing wrong with in your face advertising as long as it tells the truth and these don’t speak to women’s experience. They are trying to make out that abortion is much more traumatic than it is, although actually it is often is traumatic for Irish women as they have to travel overseas, often alone, to get services they should be legally entitled to at home. If this group really cared for women, they wouldn’t be putting up these posters.”

For prolifers a raped child is considered, not in terms of what would be best for the child, but in terms of whether the child’s body is sufficiently physically developed to endure pregnancy and childbirth without dying of it. (50,000 girls and young women die of pregnancy/childbirth every year.)

The words “innocent life” are flung around, making clear that to a prolifer, no girl old enough to become pregnant from rape can be “innocent”, the life of no woman matters as much as her capacity to give birth. The idea that each pregnant woman has a right to decide for herself what is the best decision for her is something that does not seem to enter a prolifer’s moral values.

There is considerable evidence that the Irish healthcare system will not provide abortions to the women who need them for health reasons because the stigma against referring for abortion is so great.

If the woman can travel to London, a doctor will simply advise her to do so. There is a systematic culture of denial among Irish prolifers that there is ever any need for a woman to have an abortion to preserve her health or save her life.

The kindness you spread, keep returning to you

What finally makes this policy acceptable in Europe in the 21st century, after an ECHR judgment ruled that Ireland was in breach of basic human rights standards, is the existence of healthcare services that will care for Irish women within easy travelling distance: the charities that will provide support and help.

The kindness of strangers defuses the brutality of the government policy: only the poorest and most desperate women in Ireland need seek out illegal abortion in Ireland, and they will do so very covertly.

Women are absolutely seeking and obtaining illegal abortions. They are buying the Early Medical Abortion pill (RU486, which works up to 9 weeks into a pregnancy) from websites (some more reputable than others). I have heard anecdotes about the same kinds of “DIY abortions” that used to take place in the bad old days – taking poison, drinking to excess, falling down flights of stairs. While I have not heard specifically about illegal abortion providers – back alley or otherwise – I don’t doubt that they exist.Also, for many women, given the secrecy many of them have to shroud their abortion in, raising money is a huge issue. I’ve been told that some women are forced to go to corrupt money lenders to get the necessary funds to travel to England or elsewhere.

This enables prolifers in ireland, as in the US, to pretend to themselves they want to prevent abortions, rather than have to openly acknowledge that their activism is only directed at making abortion more costly and more dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Abortion Support Network provides the kindness that the Irish government denies:

“We have women call us because they just don’t know the law, they don’t know their options” explains Katie, one of ASN’s phone volunteers. ASN are contactable by phone, e-mail or text. However they clarify that they are ‘not doctors or counsellors’. The majority of cases they deal with are concerning women who have made their decision, saved up what money they can but are racing against time and struggling. Inevitably, the recession has been a further blow. “I’ve heard the word ‘redundant’ a thousand times over the last six months”, Katie continues, “everybody is saying “I was laid off”; “my husband was laid off”; “we don’t have any money coming into the family”; “I don’t have any savings”, “I can’t afford my mortgage any more.””Mara describes women ‘in desperate situations’, explaining “when you make abortion against the law, all you do is make it even harder for poor women, or more often women with children, or disenfranchised women, or very young girls”. She adds: “We don’t feel like we always have to talk about the raped 15 year old, although we’ve had several”.

ASN carefully consider every case on an individual basis, but Mara highlights a commonality: “They [the women] are more or less frantic 92% per cent of the time, because they don’t have the money. I can’t tell you the amount of families who say ‘if we don’t pay our rent this month, we can pay for the flights, can you help with the procedure? We once heard from this girl who was £20 short. Can you imagine £20 making the difference between you and the rest of your life?”

Oh, but why not have your baby adopted?!?

When it’s pointed out that Irish prolife laws simply make women travel for abortions, Irish prolifers often respond with rapid-fire assurance that after all the woman could always have her baby adopted, because of how hurtful and unpleasant and dangerous the abortion will be – as if giving birth and losing your baby to strangers would be a painless and pleasant experience.

(In Ireland pre-1972, adoption from unmarried mothers in religious-run homes was a regular business, without proper records kept or any consideration for the mother’s feelings for her child or the child’s feelings for their mother. And in the US at least, these practices still continue: prolife agencies urge a low-income woman to have the baby in order to have the baby adopted.)

Prolifers trivialise a woman’s feelings and needs about an unwanted pregnancy – even one engendered by rape – with the phrase “social abortion”, and talk as if the months of gestation and labour are a trivial incident which only selfishness or laziness would make a woman unwilling or unable to endure.

Have I vexed you?

Assuming that Cora Sherlock publishes this unedited, given the audience for her blog, it’s likely that a fair number of you reading it are prolifers, and by this time are more than a little vexed with me. (If it makes you feel any better, Cora said she’d be writing a prolife blog which I’ll publish on my blog.)

I saw no point in dancing around the issue. It is possible, with considerable policing and state control (forensic vagina inspectionsdenial of foreign travelpolice investigation of miscarriages, and prosecution and jail for women found to have broken the law) to enforce governmental control of women’s bodies such that a woman who is pregnant and doesn’t want to be has the choice of giving birth or risking death. President Nicolae Ceauşescu managed it in Romania from 1966 to 1989, with what results, all of Europe knows.

Prolifers have asked me – Cora Sherlock among them – if I don’t consider a fetus to be human, and if I do, why shouldn’t a fetus have the right to live?

There is an answer, but it’s not one I’ve noticed prolifers find particularly acceptable. Prolifers talk as if, if only a fetus were granted the same legal rights and independent existance that a baby has, this would make abortion morally unacceptable and lead to it being legally banned. This misses the point.

The first answer: women are human

Abortion is made legal and accessible not because people generally lack concern for fetuses, but because people have concern for girls and for women.

A fertilised egg will become a baby if, and only if, a woman is willing and able to gestate the fetus to term. This is a physically arduous and potentially damaging labour: no country in the world has ever achieved a zero maternal mortality/morbidity rate.

We do not in civilised countries demand that a person give up their blood or any of their other organs to another person, no matter how little it will harm the donor to provide, no matter how much the recipient’s life depends on this. There seems no valid ethical reason to make pregnancy, use of a woman’s uterus and all of her bodily resources, a special exception to the rule that a person has the right to choose.

That is one answer about the ethics of abortion: that in human rights terms is is just plain wrong to argue that a woman’s human rights are taken away from her because to you her body exists to be used to gestate a fetus.

The second answer: women are human

Another answer against making abortion illegal, which is rather more pragmatic: Women are not breeding animals or machines. A woman who is pregnant and wants to have an abortion will, short of extreme human rights violations, find a way to terminate.

All a prolifer can do is to try to make the process more difficult, more dangerous, more expensive than it needs to be: to ensure that the poorer a woman is, the less likely she will have access to a safe abortion.

Many prolifers do step up to the mark and do those things. Denial of legal abortion services is attempted forced pregnancy, and if you have the power of President Ceauşescu and no scruples about using it, it may work. But force is not the answer.

Preventing abortions

Prevention of abortion is possible, of course: comprehensive sex education, easy access to contraception and strong social encouragement to use it. Acceptance and social support of single mothers and unmarried parents. All of these things are good effective methods shown to prevent abortion, but the main groups campaigning against these means of preventing abortion… have a strong overlap with or identify with the prolife movement.

And there is no prolife charity, anywhere, that advocates for preventing abortions by comprehensive sex education, free contraception, social encouragement to use contraception, universal state support for mothers with children.

Stephanie Lord, in The Journal: If they cared about women, they would invest their energies and resources in to campaigning for women to have the means to provide for their families should they wish to carry their pregnancy to term. But for all their talk of helping women, the anti-choice lobby don’t have too much to say when it comes to how women are affected by budget cuts. Anti-choice activists are absent from any of the conversations that happen regarding the protection of actual children. The only people who have come out publicly against including children’s rights in to the Constitution are the anti-choice lobbyists.

But for them that’s irrelevant, because the point of these billboards is not about what happens to children, it’s about controlling women.

Indeed, often prolifers will be found campaigning for abstinence-only sex education, for the right of pharmacists to deny women contraception, against welfare provisions for low-income mothers and children. Since ignorance, lack of access to contraception, and poverty, are all factors tending to cause more abortions, it’s really hard to believe that these people actually want to prevent abortions: only to punish women for having abortions by making them illegal and expensive.

Compare and contrast this with the abortion prevention services provided by BPASMarie StopesNHS Choices. Having an abortion should mean access to care after as well as before: one of the cruel aspects of the Irish ban on abortions is that women may be unable or unwilling to get aftercare in Ireland: she may not even tell her GP she was pregnant and had an abortion.

Do prolifers care about women?

Prolifers have asked me – Cora Sherlock among them – why we are so cynical about the vaunted goodwill and concern of their movement.

Well, I don’t speak for everyone who believes in human rights and free will: but for myself, I would say that when someone asks me to believe they have good intentions, I don’t just look at what they say, but what they do.

What I see prolifers doing is campaigning to make abortion expensive and dangerous, activism that hurts women, emotionally and physically. I see prolifers either neutral or actively against policies and campaigns that are shown to prevent abortion. I see prolifers actively setting out to hurt women without worrying about the price.

Ann Marie Hourihane wrote in the Irish Times, 18th June “There are 220 Luas ads up as well now,” said Life’s Niamh Ui Bhriain. There will be 200 advertisements on Dublin buses for four weeks, from June 25th. There will be screens at Heuston Station in Dublin, showing a moving unborn baby. There will be advertisements on buses in Limerick and Cork. “Sounds like they’re spending big cash, spending proper money,” says an advertising person wistfully. His media buyer wouldn’t give an estimate of how much the campaign cost. About €250,000 was one guess and “well north of €100,000” was another. In any event, he says, there would be the list price, and then there would be the negotiated price.

Ui Bhriain cheerfully admits: “We need to raise a hundred and fifty grand.” She also says: “We’re getting really good value.” They’re printing a minimum of half a million leaflets. When pressed on the difference between the list price and the negotiated price she gave as an example the list price for an advertisement placed in the national media two years ago, which was, she said, effectively halved. None of the money for this campaign came from abroad, she says. “That’s all we ever get asked.”

Dear whoever put those anti-abortion posters up ALL OVER Dublin: Abortion is illegal here. What more do you bloody well want?

So when I look at what the prolife movement does, I see a dangerous political campaign against healthcare for women. When I hear prolifers saying that they’re full of good intentions and concern for women, I see that as evidence of either ignorance, or delusion, or hypocrisy.

Bad-faith denial about real-life consequences

I write against ignorance. I do believe that many young prolifers are genuinely innocent of any illwill – have honestly never thought about the consequences of campaigning to make abortion illegal, inaccessible, and expensive, except in simplistic terms of “abortion bad! babies good!”

From a letter a woman wrote to John Shore about her abortion 25 years ago: I was once a judgmental Christian who, on one occasion, even got up before a congregation and gave my testimony about how thankful I was that I had not ever had an abortion, and never would.

This was just after a very very dear friend of mine had decided to have an abortion. I felt smug and somehow better than her—like somehow I would have made a better, more godly choice than she did.

John Shore wrote back: Your friend: It’s true enough that you weren’t the friend you might have been. But because that failure is emotionally tied up with the choice you later made during your pregnancy, that transgression has taken on for you a great deal more weight than it deserves. You were young when you went before your church to say how you would never have an abortion. That’s such a young thing to do: it’sso immature, so obviously an effort to be praised, to belong, to assert a winning identity. And it’s so informed by one of the primary defining qualities of youth: moral certainty. Young people can only see right and wrong in clear, black-and-white terms; they haven’t yet developed an appreciation for the infinite means by which moral blacks-and-whites become infinite shades of grey. The real failure with your experience lies with the adults who encouraged and allowed you to make such an insipid speech. Anactually mature person would have told you to sit down, and be quiet. Who wants to hear a young person bragging about their moral superiority? The only reason they let you make that speech is because it served their own agenda: they essentially used you as propaganda, and no two ways about it. That’s a shame on them—but no shame to you. You’re not guilty of anything there except being young. And that (thank God!) is no crime.

But given the anger with which prolifers meet the case against their movement, I do think that at some point, a determined prolifer goes from genuine innocence/ignorance into a bad-faith denial: whether you are focussed on a delusion that if only you keep saying “Abortion bad!” this will help, or simply don’t care that it won’t, is between you and your conscience.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist describes this process:

Bad Jackie cannot tolerate embarrassment, which means it is very important to her that she is never wrong — almost as important to her as pointing out when others are. Bad Jackie has got it in her head that this is where her value comes from. If she is right and others are wrong, then they are bad and she is good. So if she were to accept being wrong — even due to having been innocently deceived — then she would be bad. And she knows that deep down she has a good heart and so that can’t be true and she must be right after all. She must be.Her identity is at stake, you see. Her self-concept and with it her self-worth. This doesn’t excuse what she does next, but it can help to understand, and to understand is always a step closer toward forgiving.

“It happened!” she insists, swatting away Dan’s phone and suggesting he’s gullible to take “some blog’s word” over her own.

I find that prolifers get angry and accuse me of not listening to them (untrue) or “misinterpreting them” (also untrue). It’s true that I am a confrontational person, and I am someone who cannot understand the “Bad Jackie” of Fred’s story: I like to be right, but I prefer to be correct – and if necessary, corrected.

It is true that prolifer campaigns cause vulnerable women unnecessary pain and expense without preventing abortions.  Other people may have even stronger reasons not to believe in pro-life protestations of concern.

I have noticed also that prolifers, far from expressing concern for women, demonise women who want abortions, doctors who perform abortions, clinics that provide abortions, accusing them of being selfish women, killer doctors, and profiteering institutions.

In fact profiteering amoral abortionists flourish in a prolife regime; the more difficult prolifers have succeeded in making access to abortion, the more profitable an abortionists’ services are, and as in prolife countries an abortionist operates outside the law, there is no legal oversight of the ethics and safety of abortion.

If you want to convince me that you care about women and want to prevent abortions, convince me by campaigning for legal abortion and the establishment of reproductive health clinics like BPAS or Marie Stopes or Planned Parenthood in Ireland: convince me by campaigning for the right of women to choose abortion, whether or not you yourself agree with each woman’s choices.

Thank you for bearing with me so long. (It’s Cora’s fault. She left me to work on this for weeks while I waited on her to write her pro-life guest blog for my place.) I have one more thing to say, and one more woman to quote from.

We are the light

Join those of us who believe in choice and human rights, women’s health and dignity, in campaigning for the provision ofcomprehensive sex education to all children, the assurance that everyone who wants to have heterosexual intercourse will have access to contraceptionstate support and services as of right for women who want to keep their baby.

Consider that the countries with the lowest abortion rates in the world got there by just this means, not by making abortion illegal or inaccessible.

Ask yourself: Why should so many women in Ireland have to depend on the kindness of strangers?

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of her own teenage abortion in “The Princess”, collected in Dancing at the Edge of the World “What was it like, in the Dark Ages when abortion was a crime, for the girl whose dad couldn’t borrow cash, as my dad could? What was it like for the girl who couldn’t even tell her dad, because he would go crazy with shame and rage? Who couldn’t tell her mother? Who had to go alone to that filthy room and put herself body and soul into the hands of a professional criminal?–because that is what every doctor who did an abortion was, whether he was an extortionist or an idealist. You know what it was like for her. You know and I know; that is why we are here. We are not going back to the Dark Ages. We are not going to let anybody in this country have that kind of power over any girl or woman. There are great powers, outside the government and in it, trying to legislate the return of darkness. We are not great powers. But we are the light. Nobody can put us out. May all of you shine very bright and steady, today and always.”

I blog at EdinburghEye.



Women Hurt – Offering Hope and Healing in the Aftermath of Abortion.

What is the effect of an abortion?

Basic biology tells us that the human life in the womb is ended.   There is certainly a case to be made for the effect on wider society when lives are seen to be easily disposable at their earliest, most vulnerable stage.  But what about the other person immediately affected by the procedure – the woman involved?  How does she fare in the aftermath of abortion?

Pro-choice advocates insist that once the abortion has taken place, there is very little more that the woman will need.  The abortion has ended her unplanned pregnancy, so from that point of view, she should be able move on.

But life is rarely that simple, and abortion is no exception.  There is mounting pressure to suggest that women suffer extreme trauma following abortion.  A Study by Professor Priscilla Coleman in 2011 found that there is an  increased risk of mental health problems in the aftermath of abortion.  Despite the fact that the British Journal of Psychiatry saw fit to publish these results, Professor Coleman has continually been forced to defend them, most notably from pro-choice activists.

Why is it that those who are in favour of abortion are so unwilling to accept even the slightest possibility that it may have an adverse effect on a woman?  They persist with the mantra that there is no evidence to suggest that abortion has a negative effect on women – even in the face of personal testimonies from women in abortion recovery groups like Silent No More and Rachel’s Vineyard.  Despite hearing of these experiences, there is no room in the narrow, pro-choice viewpoint for the many post-abortive women who feel dread and guilt instead of relief.

The problem with this attitude is that it forces women into an impossible situation.  Far from the compassionate pro-life position that assures them that they can and should feel free to discuss how they really view their abortion, the pro-choice stance that no harm has been done  ironically inflicts harm and stifles women. The message is sent out that it is not acceptable to admit to negatives feelings following abortion.  Fearing a lack of support if they come forward, many women stay silent and those in deep psychological pain don’t get the professional help they need.

One group aiming to redress this imbalance in Ireland is WomenHurt. Launched in 2011, the group is composed of committed and courageous women who have decided to come forward and give their experience of abortion.  It is a side not usually seen as it speaks of regret and distress, a need for recovery and an acceptance that in these cases at least, abortion was not the solution many would have us believe.

The group’s current campaign consists of a nationwide billboard campaign, with the aim of reaching women in a compassionate way so as to reassure them that help is available.  In the words of founder member Bernadette Goulding:-

“My hope is that by sharing my story, it will help someone who is suffering in silence, to know that there is hope and healing.  Our group has the support of countless women who have been through the experience of abortion and feel that the views of women who regret the decision have not been properly aired.”

“Suffering in silence” – this is surely the direct opposite of the women’s rights movement over the past 100 years?  Why then are these women effectively ignored by the pro-choice movement, their experience disregarded, the relevant studies ridiculed?  One blog post I read this week even went so far as to encourage its readers to vandalise the billboards!  Hardly the response you would hope for when post-abortive women finally gain the courage and strength to tell their stories.

It’s worth noting too that such behaviour would not be tolerated if it was levelled against post-abortive women who were campaigning in favour of abortion.  Those women are listened to with compassion, their voices are heard, they are encouraged to give others the benefit of their experience.  The National Women’s Council of Ireland has fully supported those women, even going so far as to encourage their campaign for legislation.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the question of women who may be experiencing feelings of regret or sadness following their abortion, the NWCI isn’t quite so understanding. In fact, when WomenHurt was first launched in 2011, the Director of the NWCI, Susan McKay, seemed to doubt whether there was a need for any regret at all, despite the fact that the women themselves had spoken about their true feelings.  So did Ms. McKay think they weren’t telling the truth?  Or was it the case that the NWCI is only prepared to represent post-abortive women who are positive or neutral about the experience?  Or only those who won’t try and seek support from other women who might be feeling the same negative emotions??

Of course, many abortion advocates adopt a peculiar double-speak when it comes to this aspect of the debate.  On the one hand, they insist that every woman is an individual who may have entirely unique reasons for needing an abortion, and for those reasons, she must have a right to abort.  Once the abortion has taken place however, the woman’s individuality seems to evaporate.  She’s not allowed to have her own feelings about the traumatic event that has taken place.  Instead, she’s lumped in with every other woman who has ever had an abortion and deemed to be “relieved” that it’s all over.

This is not a responsible route to take – and it lacks the compassion that all post-abortive women deserve.

If pro-choice proponents were genuinely concerned about women and their needs, wouldn’t they accept that for some women at least, the experience of abortion engenders feelings of devastation and helplessness?  Wouldn’t they be eager to try and alleviate those feelings in any way possible?  Ignoring or disregarding that pain doesn’t make it go away – it simply adds another layer of trauma for the woman in question because the pro-choice movement suggests that any negative feelings are not valid.  This is not acceptable, and it must be addressed.

In the words of Lynn Coles of WomenHurt:-

“We wish to reach out to women in similar situations to let them know that they are not alone.”

Isn’t this what everyone in the abortion debate should want for the women concerned – regardless of whether they were in favour of the abortion or not?

The WomenHurt nationwide billboard campaign will run for three weeks.  We can only hope that during that time, women in Ireland who may be suffering as a result of abortion will find the strength to reach out and contact this group.  In doing so, they will be taking the first step on the road to abortion recovery.  It would be nice to think that all of Irish society will get behind this initiative and support the vital work involved.








Abortion, Intention And Seeking The Truth

Intention is such an important word.

I sometimes think that before any discussion on a situation where abortion is being proffered as the solution, we should ask one simple question:

“What is the intention here?”

It might bring us to that much-misunderstood and muddled fact – what is meant by an abortion.  Because an “abortion” only ever has one intention.

By definition, “abortion” is the direct, intentional targetting of the unborn life in the womb with the sole purpose of bringing about an end to that life.

If there are any other aims in mind, then we are not dealing with abortion at all, but some other type of procedure which must be categorised correctly if this  debate is to progress

Let’s break up that definition a bit further.

The ending of the life in the womb must be the “sole purpose” of the procedure.  If the unborn life is ended as a side-effect of say, medical treatment being given to her mother, then this is not an abortion.  Nobody wanted to end that life – quite the contrary.  The ideal outcome would be that the mother receives the medical treatment she needs, and her baby survives unscathed.   Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and when the baby dies as a side-effect of that treatment, it is a tragedy for all concerned:-

  • The mother and her partner have lost the baby they were hoping to protect.
  • The doctor has lost one of the two patients whose welfare he was concerned with.
  • The baby has lost her life.

To listen to some of those who advocated the introduction of abortion this week, you might not know it, but in Ireland pregnant women receive excellent medical care.  There is never a case where they are refused treatment for some ailment because they are pregnant.

We have the lowest maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the world.  That’s not a statistic created by any pro-life group.  It was reported by an independent body, the World Health Organisation, in its most recent Report on global maternal mortality in 2010.  Our MMR is much lower than countries like Holland or the UK, where abortion is freely available.

So it is fair to say that Ireland is the safest country in the world in which to be pregnant and give birth.

What is very often overlooked in these debates is the question of intention.

In Ireland, doctors treating a pregnant woman suffering from some illness will usually have a choice of treatments.  When considering which treatment to use, they are obliged to take into account the effect of that treatment on the life of the unborn child that the woman is carrying.  Which treatment will cure the mother’s ailment and have the least effect on the unborn child?  Ideally, a treatment will be available which will achieve the former and have little or no negative effect on the unborn child but of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Sometimes the treatment is so severe that the unborn child cannot survive and her life is ended.  But this is not an “abortion”.  Thinking back to the definition, there is nothing intentional about the death of the unborn baby in this case.  On the contrary, I think if you suggested to the mother that she intended such an outcome, you’d receive such a violent reaction that you wouldn’t suggest it again!

The point is, babies in these cases are badly wanted.  Their welfare is considered at all stages of the treatment.  It’s the reason why doctors are urged in many cases by the mother herself to hold off from starting any treatment for as long as possible, just to give the baby a few more days or weeks to grow and develop and in this way have the best possible chance of survival.

This type of situation happens every day in Irish hospitals.  Our health system may have its problems, but this is not one of them.

And it’s the reason why any pregnant woman can be assured that she will be given the very best care in Ireland, that her health will be monitored right up to and until after she gives birth – regardless of the health problems that her baby may ultimately have.

This distinction between necessary medical treatment to the mother resulting in the unintentional death of her unborn child, and an abortion, is well recognised internationally.  It’s not something that receives too much focus from those who would like to see abortion introduced into this country, and it certainly didn’t trouble the framers of the Private Member’s Bill debated last week.

I like to think that everyone involved in the abortion debate has the best of intentions – that they are genuine in their concern for the men and women in this country who find themselves in difficult circumstances and while they may advocate abortion as a solution – something I could never do – they do so in good faith.

However, it is difficult to understand why so many facts are roundly ignored by the supporters of abortion:-

  • Why try to discredit our MMR when it has been reported by the WHO which is an independent body, and not directly interested in our laws on abortion?
  • Why refuse to acknowledge how much better our quality of maternal care is when compared to countries which have embraced an abortion culture?
  • Why not take the time to explain in full the Principle of Double Effect so that every member of society is aware of its use, and can consider same when deciding on their opinion of abortion?

The failure to clarify these issues means that the debate struggles on, missing vital pieces of information like an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The most destructive element is the insinuation that women are in some way neglected in this country, that they are denied treatment so that their unborn child can live.

This is misleading and untrue.

From a feminist perspective, it is deeply disingenuous to engender false fears in the heart of any woman who may become pregnant in this country.  She should be reassured at every possible opportunity that Ireland is a world-leader in the field of maternal health.

By all means, let us have the honest and open discussion on abortion that our society deserves.  But any such discussion must first begin with a statement of the facts as they exist in the country at present, and an acknowledgement of the excellent care given to women at all stages of their pregnancy.





International Women’s Day: Reasons to Celebrate

Happy International Womens’ Day 2012!


On days like today, we could all write a list of the many things we need to achieve in society.  It’s an opportunity to reflect on the needs of those women who are dealing with poverty, violence, depression and difficulty on a daily basis.  To say that they need the continued help and support of our society is an understatement.

From a pro-life, pro-woman perspective too, much more remains to be done.  I think today however is a great opportunity to celebrate the many important developments which have made a positive difference to women.  I just want to mention five of them:-


 1.   The growing resistance to Gendercide.

Since the Economist magazine ran their cover story in March 2010, the unease about this practice has been steadily increasing.  Questions are being asked.  Why should cultural beliefs be accepted if they mean an increase in the number of baby girls aborted?  How do we encourage the countries in question to start seeing men and women as equal members of the human race, both entitled to enter society and make their own, unique contribution?  How can governments deal with the problem?  And what pressure can be placed on governments who refuse to address it?

Little by little, a groundswell of support is rising, helped by the growing awareness that while we might have different creeds and nationalities, women should be protected throughout the world regardless of their age, status or stage of development.


2.   Ireland’s excellent maternal mortality rate record.

I think this one is worth celebrating everyday, but today it’s especially important.  To listen to some commentators, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland must surely languish at the bottom of international ratings in this area.  Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.

According to the most recent Report carried out by the World Health Organisation in 2010, Ireland has the lowest MMR in the world.    Irish doctors give such good care to women while they’re pregnant that their record can barely be improved upon.  It’s worth noting too that the MMR of countries like the UK and Holland is much higher than in Ireland.  These are of course countries where abortion is freely available, so it’s availability is certainly no guarantee that a pregnant woman won’t die.

Just recently we saw the results of the Daily Telegraph’s undercover operation in the UK, showing doctors who were willing to end life because the baby on the way was the “wrong” gender.  They showed a real detachment from  the value of what was at stake.  In Ireland, this simply can’t happen.  Irish doctors don’t just treat the pregnant woman they can see; they treat the hidden patient whose right to life is protected by law.  Bound to consider both patients, they have achieved a record in the area of MMR that is second to none.  We’re a world leader in this area and today is a good day to say Thank You to our doctors for the excellent care they give on a daily basis.


3.   The women who share. 

How does it feel to have an abortion?  Go through the experience – physical and emotional?

One aspect of the debates which is always of concern is the question of whether or not abortion has a negative effect on the woman concerned.  I don’t want to go into the various studies here because it’s not in the nature of this “celebration” post, (and I’ll certainly deal with it in later posts).  What I will say is that if abortion has a negative experience on even one woman, then it’s one woman too many.

Inflict guilt on a woman?  Make her feel depressed, worried, anxious, suicidal, bereft, useless?  These are all feelings reported by post-abortive women at one time or another.  And I have to wonder – why do we as women allow something so destructive to have any place in our society?  The argument is often put that pro-life campaigners invoke these feelings; that the stigma arises due to opposition to abortion.  But that’s just not true.

Abortion is one of the most insidious, destructive forces there is.  It doesn’t need any help from either side of the debate because the most destructive effect of all – guilt – comes from the woman herself.  It only dissipates through compassion from other people, people prepared to make the time and space to help post-abortive women realise that they’re every bit as much a victim of the abortion culture.  It takes people who are willing to listen, accept and validate the feelings of the woman.  Most importantly of all, it takes people who are determined to make her feel that she is not alone and that there is a future for every woman after abortion.  In short, it takes people like the courageous and generous women who set up the WomenHurt group last year.  Regardless of how desperate a woman may be feeling, she can be assured that they will treat her with compassion and respect.

Everyone with an interest in women’s welfare owes them a massive debt and it is only right that they should be highlighted today.


4.   The women who care

For any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, the future is a scary place.  It’s hard to have your plans disrupted, realise that something life-altering has happened.  Things seem even worse if poverty or a difficult/broken relationship are added to the mix.

The LIFE Pregnancy Care service has been offering help and support to women who find themselves in this situation for the past 30 years.  It is that rare gem in our society – a group which has worked mostly out of the limelight for all that time, providing a priceless service to women and their families at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

All counselling services are free and the LIFE motto is “Life cares for you both”.  Nonetheless, post-abortive counselling is also freely availed of by many women who choose to go ahead and have an abortion.

The Irish Independent ran a feature on LIFE earlier this week (read it here).  In such a changing society, LIFE has truly been a rock of security for many women. It’s only fitting that they should share in the celebrations leading up to today, having helped an unknown number of women throughout the years.


5.   The ongoing debate!

I make no secret of the fact that I’m opposed to abortion.  I don’t think it’s an experience that is ever in the best interests of the woman involved.  I truly believe that women deserve better than the fraudulent “choice” offered by abortion – one that seems to end up all too often in misery and sadness.  For this reason alone, I will always believe that we shouldn’t consider introducing it to our country.  Instead, we should be putting our energies into the things that will genuinely benefit women – dealing with poverty, childcare, maternity leave.  How many abortions take place, not because the woman in question doesn’t want to keep her child, but because she feels unable to do so because of some external pressure?  Isn’t this the real scandal, the real battle?

As feminists, why do we waste so much time on a procedure that doesn’t benefit women but may cause them harm?

Why do we support an industry which acquiesces in the targeting of baby girls on a global basis?

Why don’t we recognise the arguments in support of abortion for what they are – red herrings, trying to deflect us from our duty to ensure that every woman who considers an abortion is fully briefed on the potentially devastating effects that might follow?

Why don’t we just insist that our societies find some other way around the issue of unplanned pregnancies, something that will serve women better in the long run?

In spite of everything though, I’m hopeful about the ongoing debate.  There might be many voices with differing views, but the fact that we’re actually debating this issue can only be a good thing.  Debate leads to information which leads to knowledge.  Women don’t want any of the facts hidden from them.  Good or bad, they have a right to know exactly what abortion might mean for them.  An uninformed choice is no choice at all.

And thankfully too, the old myths surrounding abortion and feminism have long since evaporated.  Thanks to the work of groups like Feminists For Life, it’s becoming more obvious that pro-life is pro-woman.  The earliest feminists recognised abortion for what it was – just another means of placing an unacceptable burden on a woman’s shoulders; something that unjustly ended the life of her unborn child, and a procedure which should never be supported by anyone working towards the equality of women.

On this International Women’s Day, let’s hope that we can continue their great legacy and end the threat of abortion to women everywhere.


Gendercide In The UK – Who Knew?

How do you feel about the Daily Telegraph’s undercover investigation?

In the first video, a female doctor arranges an abortion for a patient who says that she’s pregnant with a baby girl who isn’t wanted due to the fact that the patient already has a girl.  It’s okay, the doctor assures her,  “I don’t ask questions. If you want a termination, you want a termination.”

In the second video, a male doctor expresses surprise that the sex of the baby could be used as a reason.  On hearing the reason for the abortion, he says quite openly, “That’s not fair”, and even goes further, likening the situation to “female infanticide”.  Despite his clear misgivings however, he too signs the paperwork to arrange the abortion – but he writes that the mother is “too young for pregnancy.”

To me, his initial reaction sounds about right – aborting a baby girl simply because she’s a girl isn’t fair, and it’s not something that we hear too much about, not in the First World anyway.

Thanks to an enlightening article by the Economist, published in March 2010, (read it here), we know that Gendercide is sadly alive and well in our world.  Baby girls are particularly at risk due to the fact that they carry far less importance in Asian countries.

China’s infamous one-child policy has added to the problem where families, only allowed to have one child, usually opt for a boy. (Of course, apart from any ethical issues, this practice leads to a host of social ills, not least the difficulties of an unbalanced society where millions of Chinese men will simply be unable to have a family of their own).

Even though a respected publication like the Economist considered Gendercide to be an problem important enough to use as it’s cover story, it’s still seen as a Third World issue and certainly nothing that might trouble the UK abortion industry.

The Feminist Perspective

It doesn’t seem to concern the feminist groups who campaign for abortion in Ireland either.  After a week which saw the launch of Action On X, a group intent on introducing legislation based on the X Case; a public meeting in the Gresham Hotel to discuss the issue; and the introduction of a Private Members Bill by Clare Daly TD, there was little or no reaction when the Daily Telegraph started producing the fruits of its investigation a day or so later.

I’m a feminist who believes that unborn human life deserves protection regardless of his/her sex.  Don’t the Irish feminists who are actively trying to introduce abortion legislation feel the need to condemn this blatant act of sexism against the most vulnerable females among us?  It seems to me that if you’re going to work towards introducing abortion in a country, then you should, at the very least, be prepared to comment on the stories that show the darker side of the debate.

But therein lies the problem, of course. What can a feminist say about the topic of gendercide? Only that it’s wrong. That it discriminates against the unborn on the grounds of gender. That it allows society to pick and choose the number of baby girls who should be allowed enter that society. Forget offices or gender quotas. This is the ultimate glass ceiling, but it’s also the one that the feminists-for-choice won’t dare consider. If they did, then they’d have to condemn an abortion on the grounds of gender and that would allow a leak to emerge in their supposedly watertight case in favour of an all-consuming right to choose.

After all, if abortion is unfair on grounds of gender, then it’s probably unfair on other grounds too – what about disability?   In the UK abortions are legal up to birth in the case of foetal abnormality. Which might sound serious, until you consider that a “foetal abnormality” can be something as minor as a cleft palate.

Leaving It To the Doctors

For myself, I had a different reaction watching these videos. In both cases – perhaps because I was watching them, seeing their reactions – I thought about the doctors involved. Neither seems particularly impressed about the fact that they’re being asked to end a life on the grounds of gender. Yes, I know the female doctor says “no questions asked” but the thing is, she does ask questions. It’s as if that’s her mantra, the part that protects her from getting too involved in what she’s doing. But sometimes actions speak louder than words. Her questions come in the raising of an eyebrow when the “patient” says “It’s the wrong gender”; in the pause, the look that follows her question “you’ve considered your options?” There’s something resigned about the way she turns back to the desk and shuffles her papers.  The male doctor, of course, is even more outspoken in his opposition.  But still not prepared to say no to the abortion.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that these videos emerged in the week marking the anniversary of Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s death. His name was synonymous with abortion for most of his life. He claimed to have been responsible for 75,000 abortions through those he performed himself and those performed by doctors trained by him. His story is perhaps compelling because he became a strong campaigner for the pro-life cause in the 1970s after watching an abortion take place on the newly-developed ultrasound of the time.

I mention him because I don’t think abortion just affects the women and babies involved. It’s effects spread wider like ripples on a pond.

When I saw these videos, I wondered how these doctors felt when they saw themselves, agreeing to something that – like it or not – forms part of the gendercide regime. Falsifying documents. Describing it as “female infanticide” but going ahead anyway. Certainly, if they were looking for support from those feminists who insist on a woman’s right to choose, they’d be waiting some time. Which, by the way, I’m quite happy about. By distancing themselves from this aspect of the debate, the pro-choice campaigners have exposed the shocking hypocrisy of their argument. Abortion is alright, on any grounds, on any circumstances. Just as long as there’s a medical profession who’ll pick up the pieces and feel obliged to go along with the “choice” on offer. The unborn baby girl doesn’t even register on their radar.

Gendercide  - or “Family Balancing”?

They shouldn’t wait for guidance from the industry either.  In the wake of these videos,Dr Paula Franklin, the Medical Director of Marie Stopes International gave an interview where she appeared to condemn gendercide that takes place in cultures where baby boys are more highly valued, but then went on to happily describe a situation that she called “Family Balancing”, where families who have had a few boys decide that they don’t want any more.  She was quick to say that abortion on grounds of gender is illegal.  The law is clear, she said, and doctors who arrange abortions on grounds of gender are breaking the law.

But her own words weren’t very clear.  Is Gendercide wrong, but Family Balancing acceptable?  What’s the difference?  Dr. Franklin seemed to think that it depends on the culture, which is a bit strange when you consider that feminists have been working for years to achieve a situation where females acquire rights regardless of their culture.

My main sympathy in this piece, surprisingly, is with the doctors. Doctors have a vocation to help and heal. When a woman presents with an unplanned pregnancy, their natural instinct is to guide her, support her, and comfort her while they guide her to the further professional help that she needs.

So why do I feel for the doctors? Because the abortion industry in the UK has left them unable to do their job. Instead of saving life, they’re expected to end it. Expected to ignore the questions that their training and their humanity demands of them. Expected to lie and think nothing of it.  Expected to treat abortion as just another service, instead of the ethical quagmire that it represents.  Expected to shore up the knowledge of what they’re really doing until – who knows? One day they crack or perhaps, like the late Dr. Nathanson, they take a closer look at that scan which today comes in 4-D and shows unborn babies yawning, smiling and moving around.

Abortion has been legal in the UK since 1967.  Many doctors practising today don’t know any other culture apart from one that allows them to end unborn human life at the stroke of a pen.  If they listened to Dr. Franklin, they’d think that their only crime was acting in a way that isn’t “appropriate”.  No wonder they don’t know how to react when gendercide presents itself in their office, thousand of miles from the Third World but deserving exactly the same answer – a resounding “No” to the injustice, sexism and extreme unfairness involved.

As usual, abortion demands too much of our doctors.  Just like women, babies, and the whole of society, they deserve better.

Petition Against Gendercide

You can sign the Pro Life Campaign’s online petition against Gendercide here.


Why Humanity?

Anyone who’s ever visited my Twitter page @CoraSherlock won’t be surprised to hear that I have a healthy interest in the fundamental issues affecting Irish society and the way in which we as citizens try to improve it.  This blog is a natural progression of some of the 140-character-truncated conversations that I’ve had with fellow-minded Tweeters.

Why humanity?

I’ve always felt that on the so-called “divisive” issues – abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell-research – humanity is a good starting point. We all have inherent worth by virtue of that humanity and while it’s true that we can have very different opinions on these things, we’ll always share the commonality of the human experience.  In a world with so many differing views, I like to try and remember that I probably have something in common with everyone.

Comments are very welcome, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what’s been said.

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