An Open Letter to my Pro Choice Friends

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This one is tough. Or awkward. Or perhaps a piece that is has a fragile balance that I may or may not achieve. But nevertheless, what is friendship anyway if you can’t express your thoughts, and what is a conversation if you can’t exchange ideas…?

I address this to my repeal friends. I don’t have many actually, I’m not a million friends sort of person. That also means that the friends I do have, are actually friends. As in, I give a damn, we aren’t acquaintances, we go back a bit. This is for you.

The vote on the 8th Amendment is tomorrow. I get the sense that the repeal side see this as one more step in the continuing emancipation of women, a drive for choices, healthcare and equality, a rung on the feminist ladder. The pro life side see it as the most pivotal vote in our country in at least a century, though running my mind back over my blotchy grasp of Irish history I find I probably need to go back further. Past 1916. Back past the Penal Laws. I don’t know if ever there was a day in Irish history to equal tomorrow.

The salient points for tomorrow, for me, is that a) we are voting on the complete removal of protection for unborn life up to birth (any protection will be legislative, not constitutional), and b) we will vote on this as a Nation. No country has ever voted for abortion. In all other cases it has been imposed by government and courts. We are the first to have the immeasurable responsibility of voting on this, so it behoves every single individual to be very, very, very sure of where we want to put our mark and be willing to live with all consequences of that.

You may not consider the pregnancy to have the same value as the mother. I would suggest though, that pregnancy is not a worthless thing. It is not a thing to be disposed of like litter, a thing of no value. Even if you see the embryo or fetus as lesser or unformed or simply the potential of something else, surely it is not worthless? Then voting yes on Friday, as a pro choice person, isn’t for you… because to take all protection from this thing that is special and has potential, even if you don’t want to confer equality of human rights upon it from conception, is not balanced. It means that healthy women can choose abortion for healthy pregnancies on mere choice. That is what disposable means, if you don’t want it you chuck it. We will protect various birds eggs with legislation because we know that although not human they are worth something, but will not protect a human embryo.

To remove the 8th amendment removes the only line in the constitution that protects the unborn. There is no constitutional protection for that life until birth if the 8th amendment is removed. There may be arbitrary and changeable legislative limits, but they would be entirely a matter for the government to choose. This is why for example you can get an abortion up till birth in some states of America – because there it is also legislative, not constitutional. So the legislation suggested by this government can be changed at will thereafter. The only worth conferred on the embryo, the fetus, call it what you will, is decided by the government according it it’s whim, not according to any inherent value we place upon that young beginnings in our National statement of aims and rights. Now considering the number of TD’s in this government that remind me of Golum, that is not a responsibility I would be prepared to hand over to them and their successors. Are you comfortable handing over all protection of all babies in utero till birth to the government?

If you agree with abortion in the hard cases, you have been left without a box to tick… the boxes could have been Yes, No, and replace the 8th amendment with constitutional clarity to cover the hard cases. That debate could be had. It could still be had. But you have not been offered that box to tick. Instead the government want you to ‘trust them’.

Eighteen women have or will die due to the cervical check scandal, which the government have tried to spin by offering at least one victim fast-tracked treatment in return for her silence, that’s aside from the trolley crisis, the closing of rape crisis centres, the homelessness crisis. Parent’s travelling abroad for surgery for their children which Ireland cannot deal with due to extended waiting lists for urgent cases. Varadkar and Harris have done complete 180 degree turns on this issue – you may agree with them today, but the concern isn’t whether you agree, its that they CAN do 180 degree turns, on a significant and defining issue, according to how the wind blows.

Do you think they are grown up enough and responsible and balanced enough to legislate for the hard cases after you tick the Yes box and hand over all control on the issue? If you don’t trust the politicians, then a Yes vote on Friday isn’t for you.

If you don’t want abortion on demand, but you do want abortion for limited reasons, you have been hijacked. The hard cases that concern you most are the Trojan horse that the government is using to get your vote in order to allow abortion on demand. It’s a lousy thing to have to say, but your sympathy and concerns are being used to allow an abortion regime that would see most abortions carried out on healthy mothers of healthy babies (as per the UK and other countries with comparable legislation). Why do I say such a thing? Because if this budding life was worth something to the government, they would have offered some protection for it. Say for example, the protection they give to hedgerow birds and old buildings. But they are repealing all protection for the embryo or fetus. To not have any protection for something means it lacks value. Like constitutional insurance.

You care about women’s health. Proper order too. If the current suggested legislation reaches fruition through a yes vote, look for an increase in this country in maternal infection, damaged cervix, sepsis, perforated uterus, sterilisation, mental health issues, babies born alive after ‘failed’ abortions and in worst case scenarios maternal death. It happens in England, go check the stats. Now you may feel that abortion goes down ok with most post abortive women, but even if you reckon there are a minority of women who will suffer physical and mental harm from an elective chemical or surgical procedure – is that an answer to women’s health, in a country that already has a leading maternal care system and the stats to prove it? We may save a Savita and kill an Aisha Chithara.

Is it acceptable to you to swap one woman’s death who you feel would have been helped by an abortion, only to lose another woman due to the availability of abortion on demand? Is this really a solution, or can we do better? Is this even healthcare? Is it for women, or are women being used because no one is tackling the underlying reasons why some women want abortions. If you aren’t sure whether abortion on demand will save more women than it costs in terms of lives and health, then a Yes vote on Friday isn’t for you.

It may really go against the grain, as a person who feels choices need to be there for women in crisis or ill health, to even considering ticking the No box. You may have been waiting for a repeal of the 8th for a long time, been waiting for something to solve the issues you see… but I fear the government have served you badly. They think in your eagerness for a Yes you will ignore the utter failure they have shown in coming up with a balanced, practicable, clear solution. Make no mistake, women will die from the lack of the 8th Amendment due to the liberality of the legislation proposed. And as we have been told by cowboys in chief, that legislation is just the start. So you may not love the 8th, but you should be wary of its complete revocation and lack of constitutional replacement.

Some of the main reasons women give for choosing abortion in the UK are age (young or old), economic problems, studying, lack of family or partner support – why aren’t we addressing these issues first, before jumping to abortion? Our government has proven so useless in these areas that they think they can offer abortion to get them off the hook on dealing with these abortion drivers. We might ignore maternal homelessness if the woman can get an abortion. They think we’re idiots. If homelessness means a woman feels she needs an abortion, solve the homelessness. The same goes for the plethora of reasons women make that choice.

One last but significant issue for Yes voters to know… given the 8th amendment is the only line in the constitution to protect the unborn life, if we remove it there are more repercussions than opening up abortion. If a hospital causes death or disability due to malpractice during a women’s pregnancy or the baby’s birth, don’t expect to be able sue on concrete grounds – because the baby has no constitutional rights before birth. Think of those scenarios… the domestic abuse, the drink driver, the negligent health service care, all the scenarios that end in an unwanted loss or disability, cannot be tried on the grounds of constitutional value of life, because there will be no constitutional value to that life. Is this progress?

I’m not a repeal voter anyway, you know that. I see conception as the start of life, human and unique. But watching over the past few months the conversations on social media and elsewhere, I have an awful feeling that the hardcore Pro-abortion side have lassoed the empathy of people who aren’t happy with the status quo and are walking into this with women in mind, probably backed by personal stories. But if you don’t think healthy women should be free to dispose of healthy pregnancies, if you don’t feel a disabled baby should be aborted at 24 weeks, if you don’t feel any baby should be aborted at full term, if you think women need constitutional protection for their unborn in case of damage to a wanted pregnancy, if you don’t trust this legislation to our politicians (and the politicians to come), if you feel pregnancy has some value and is worthy of some protection even short of the current wording of the 8th amendment, then this referendum isn’t for you. But if you tick Yes, you will have to walk away and let all the above come to pass because you will have no further say, not now and not ever.

It’s hard to issue a red flag to your friends without sounding like a righteous ass. Hopefully you know me well enough to know that’s not where we’re at. But I really, genuinely do not want you to be used for an agenda only to look back in ten years after catching the occasional headline about maternal abortion related death, or babies born alive, or sanitation issues in clinics (and it will be clinics, the GPs don’t generally want to touch this, and clinics make money), or sexual abuse of minors going unreported by clinics (and they are all existing headlines in the US and the UK, and Ireland will not be miraculously exempt)… I don’t want you to look back and know you voted for it. Because a repeal vote now will be permanent repeal. And abortion under the current suggestions by government, likely to loosen further over time, will echo down the generations. After you and I are dead and gone, abortions will be still carried out if the Nation ticks Yes this Friday. And fifty years from now, if repeal is hurting women, neither you nor I will be able to do anything about it.

Ultimately I’m voting No for the lives of unborn generations, for the 1,500,000,000 lives aborted since 1980 worldwide. For women because women do have problems but I feel we should be solving the problems not handing them abortion pills or surgery. Because abortion is the ultimate misogyny – sex with no cons. Because abortion facilitates an economy where women can be pressured to not have babies in order to do the work the economic machine wants. Because abortion can damage women. Because life has value and hard cases shouldn’t mean a carte blanche removal of that value. Because Ireland isn’t full of saints and we will do just as other countries have done – abortion will increase according to availability; we are not morally superior. Because women do really deserve better, as do their babies.

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Léan Nic Chomhaill

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Léan is a wife and mother. "There is some good in this world and it's worth fighting for" -- J.R.R. Tolkien
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