Trying to be rational about abortion

29th November 2000

I WAS once a day-old foetus. There I was, just a mass of cells. I still am.

If my right arm fell off today and it was proven that a doctor had given my mother something dodgy when I was a 30 day-old foetus – thereby causing the limb departure – I could sue.

For damages to me. No court would deny that I, as an individual person, was not the subject of the deed.

Therefore is it not reasonable to suggest that all day-old foetuses and 30-day-old foetuses have the same rights.

Of course. This is why I believe that abortion is unethical in all situations including the hard cases such as rape.

But that’s not the question that has confronted, not just Ireland, but the entire world over the past 40 years.

The question is not whether abortion is ethical or not, but whether it should be legal or not.

I swear I must have spent thousands of hours pondering this. I reach a conclusion and then another argument or point of view moves me one way or the other. I’ve decided the issue and then changed my mind a few minutes later.

So I can’t be an advocate one way or the other. But I have a few observations to make.

We are unlikely to see the ‘abortion is murder’ posters again. We’re long past that. The view of women, the complexity of the choices and roles that women have to play in society and the esteem in which women are held has changed utterly since those slogans last ran.

It is for this reason I believe that the legal route to abortion prevention is almost played out. We will have abortion on demand in Ireland; of that I haven’t the slightest doubt.

The Pro-Life Movement is right about that one – you can’t have limited abortion.

All it will take now is for one of the 6,000 women who have abortions each year to walk into a Garda station and ‘admit’ it.

That will be the day when the pro-life legislation will unwind. I doubt there is any more than a handful of people left in Ireland who would want that woman prosecuted.

If it was put up to the electorate in that way, the constitutional ban would quickly disappear.

Of course, we already have freely available abortion in Ireland, courtesy of the British, so we can afford to concentrate on the legal minutiae.

If we truly had a ban on abortion, so many women would be killed and injured trying to induce abortions that society would be moved to do something about it anyway.

Before it was made legal in Britain, abortion was a history of knitting needles, baths of scalding water, quacks with rusty blades and women throwing themselves down stairs. I’m sure we don’t want to go back to that.

By a process of elimination I’m led to believe that the only way to stop abortion is to persuade women not to have them.

I’m glad to see that this is the direction the abortion debate has taken.

Both pro and anti can agree that abortion is not a good thing and anything that can be done to assist women in crisis pregnancies, and in avoiding crisis pregnancies, is welcome.

Ultimately though, abortion practice will be informed by the attitudes of society at large.

How wanted are children? How well educated are our young people? What are our attitudes to sex and relationships? And how much do we really value the right to be born? If Ireland is really pro-life it hasn’t stopped rising abortion rates.

I don’t like the idea of non-directive counselling. I’d prefer if we had a policy of saying that life is always the best option.

I feel certain that abortion is not good for women. I feel that abortion is part of the rotten deal that girls and women have in human society.

Why would a free woman choose abortion? If she were truly free in a decent society, why would the birth of a baby cause her such hardship and pain?

That’s not a question for her – that’s a question for the rest of us.

As well as that…

Technology to the rescue?

Advances in the science of human reproduction have raised their fair share of ethical dilemmas for people to ponder.

From genetic testing to IVF the new sciences have become a battlefield, in the process giving technology a bad name.

One of the dilemmas that has confronted abortion law is the ability of specialist units in maternity hospitals to constantly lower the viability age of the unborn.

In Britain the limit for abortion is 24 weeks while the hospitals have apparently reduced the viability age to 20 weeks.

It seems to me completely unethical that a baby could be aborted when it could be saved by a similar operation.

So I got to wondering if early birth might not be a solution to the problem in some cases.

The hospitals will undoubtedly reduce the viability age further while some boffins are talking about actually bringing a baby to term outside the womb from conception to birth.

So if a woman could have an early birth at three or four months, wouldn’t most of the problems associated with a crisis pregnancy be avoided?

It would have its own ethical problems. But maybe it could form the next Irish solution to an Irish problem.