Abortion is coming – like it or not

17th October 2001

PRO-LIFE people could save themselves years of agony if they accepted one thing: abortion is coming to Ireland and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I’m entirely sympathetic to their cause but they have no chance of winning this war. The odd battle perhaps, but not the war.

The truth is that you can’t stop free women having abortions. And it is now politically and socially impossible to criminalise them.

All it will take is for one of the 70,000 women (approximately) who have had abortions since the1983 referendum to walk into a garda station and ‘admit’ her offence.

Just imagine. An Irishwoman charged and brought before the courts for having an abortion. Think of the evidence, the lawyers, the media, the cross-examinations and the verdict.

The ban on abortion in this country wouldn’t last a month, or as long as it would take to organise a referendum to delete the 1983 Amendment from the constitution. And that would be that.

But we are having a referendum. The debate is already underway. The debate that spends 99% of its time discussing 1% of its cases.

The vast majority of abortions have nothing to do with rape, or incest, or a threat to the life of the mother. They have to do with shock, weariness, the interruption of personal goals, poverty, attitudes and timing. And a host of other reasons.

The last time I wrote about abortion I said that the underlying reason was that our society didn’t value mothers and children enough.

A mother of three children wrote me a three page letter telling me that I was wrong, that she had her abortion for purely personal reasons. She and her husband had done everything they could to avoid pregnancy but against the odds it happened. They felt that they couldn’t go through with another child, that they had given everything they could.

I can’t do justice to her case. Her letter was passionate and intense, and in its own way, unique.

Despite her clarity and depth, I can’t really have an insight into her situation and thinking. It seems churlish to second guess someone in charge of her own life.

Yet, for all that, I think she made the wrong decision. She exercised her right to choose. I feel that the choice she made is inferior to the alternative. It is just one, single choice. Had she chosen otherwise she could have a choice everyday.

But whatever the case, the proposed referendum would have had no impact on her decision. The proposed Crisis Pregnancy Agency is the only realistic way to proceed if the aim is to reduce the incidence of abortion in this country.

It seems to me that by the legal ban on abortion, the pro-life lobby turn away the very women they need to hear their arguments. Such women seek the help, naturally, of the pro-choice lobby.

With the greatest of respect, I wouldn’t trust the pro-choice groups to put both sides of the argument to women in a dilemma, despite the promise of non-directive counselling.

But that’s the situation under the current regime. And that will be the situation under the new regime. And that’s why the referendum is a complete waste of time.

As well as that…

A referendum with choice

IT is widely agreed that the outcome of the referendum will have little impact on abortion practice here.

So why not have a multi choice referendum? There is a growing body of support, both pro-choice and pro-life, for deleting reference to abortion in the constitution altogether.

So give the electorate three choices: 1. Keep the present situation and legislate. 2. Approve the Government’s amendment. 3. Delete abortion from the constitution. Using a transferable vote would give the most popular result.