Doing the Ethical Splits

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both


They are the first lines to Frost’s well known poem. It’s not a particularly opaque poem, but it’s carved and simple and true. And you, dear reader, are standing right now where the roads diverge, and you cannot travel both. And like the poem, you will never stand here again.

In 1969 America was eying up abortion. Now the annual abortion figures in America hover upwards of a million. America was standing at the two roads then, a traveller ahead of us. They made a choice and took a road, and as Frost said, way has led to way, and America has never found its path back to that spot.

But in 1969 Americans were eying up abortion with a rather sceptical eye, so how did they end up choosing to legalise abortion just a few years later? Well, we don’t have to guess, a man once on the inside of America’s abortion drive has told us.

Bernard Nathanson was the leading physician pushing abortion, co founder of National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) Pro Choice America. He devoted his considerable skills and qualifications to the legalisation of abortion, carrying out over 5000 of them personally and overseeing 70,000 more by his staff, including on his own offspring. Writing, speaking, lobbying, he admitted to stretching the truth with false polls and inventing figures for illegal abortion related maternal deaths. After trotting happily, indeed leading the charge down that grassy and radical path, he came face to face with the reality of abortion as ultrasound made its debut in the 70s. But the path was taken, there was no turning back. There never is.

He was a medical man, a man of science, and ultrasound showed him the reality of abortion – that it stops a beating heart. He could no longer participate in abortions and would go on to actively fight the industry he had been so instrumental in growing. He wrote material and directed films to expose abortion (‘The Silent Scream’ and ‘Eclipse of Reason’ – still available on YouTube). However he also exposed the strategy NARAL used to create a climate where abortion would become legal. It wasn’t an organic or natural development; it was shaped and manipulated.

NARAL’s strategy was to manoeuvre the media first – that would win over enough voters in order to elect either pro choice representatives, or the easily swayed. Once they had enough politicians, they would end up electing sympathetic judges. Then the right case would come along; a hard case, a young girl from a poor, uneducated background, and the ‘justice system’ would do the needful.

NARALs most effective strategy to win over voters became known as the ‘Catholic Straddle’ – today you could call it the moral straddle – where a Catholic voter’s ethics could be separated from his politics. So a voter could abhor abortion personally, but still vote for pro abortion politicians and argue that abortion was purely a medical concern, not a moral one.

Now, shelve any religious feeling you do or do not have for minute. This isn’t a blog about religion. But it is a blog about how politics is aware of religion and aware that ethics (religious or not) put a limit on the aspirations of the politician.

To separate ethics from politics is a short road to hell. If ethics are entirely personal and not something we need to actually stand up for, there will be no ethics. If truth is something subjective and personal, then there will be no one who fights for it. What sort of a world does that lead to? It leads to a world where the wilful, purposeful death of millions of babies is touted as a right. Just think about that. It’s the lowest society can go. Why we’re even considering a vote on something so fundamentally at odds with a world where people actually care about each other is staggering.

We have trotted along in America’s wake and are standing looking down at their almost fifty year old footprints still visable in the mud at Robert Frost’s diverging paths. We can go one way or the other, but here’s the thing. We have a half century of watching where America and others ended up. America didn’t have the advances in foetal medicine we have, didn’t even have ultrasounds, let alone 3-D scans and in utero surgery and today’s level of knowledge about unique foetal DNA and development. America had some excuse, it could hide its face in the shame of ignorance.

We have no excuse. Let no one say, after the fact, that we had an excuse. We have the opportunity to actually take the other road. To say no there is a better, more progressive, more medically advanced road to take. A road that cares for Irish women and babies both. That provides support and care without sacrificing human rights. The Irish people have always had such a love and reverence for family, for home, for our land… what would abortion do to us? Our children will grow up knowing that if they had been mistimed or misformed they would have ended up in the bottom of a metal bucket. They will grow up knowing that they are alive because it suited, not because they have a right to life and a value all their own.

Lastly, if every single voter on the day of the referendum votes to repeal the 8th Amendment it still won’t make it right. Why? Because this is a moral issue, it is an issue of fundamental truths, based on realities, on logic, on facts and science. As such, it reaches across parties, across histories, across socio economic brackets, across religions, colour, age, gender. Because morals are above politics. Politics is the science of government, but it needs to move within an ethical arena. Outside of that arena, politics becomes tyranny, it becomes untrue, a dystopian nonsense. Morals define right and wrong, the ethical straddle is a fallacy to ease the minds of those who don’t want to fight for truth. Be under no illusion; abortion is a moral wrong. One that concerns everyone, including you. And it will never be right.

Léan Nic Chomhaill

About the Author:

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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