We now have less than one week to go until we vote on the referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution. The amendment currently outlaws abortion in Ireland, except under circumstances where the life of the mother is under imminent danger.
Anytime I have debated the issue of abortion I try to keep a few guidelines for myself:
- I do not know if the person to whom I am speaking has ever had an abortion, or suffered a miscarriage. Therefore, I need to be mindful of the hurt that others carry
- My views on religion are not always shared by others – and I do not have the right to force those views on others
This has been a difficult campaign, with some campaigners spreading vitriol and venom: personalising attacks on those who hold a different viewpoint to themselves. This is as sad to watch as it is understandable. This is a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ issue. There is no maybe.
However, there is one hard truth to be faced: In 2016 a total of 3,265 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in the UK. That’s 9 women and girls a day travelling to the UK for an abortion.
Abortion happens in Ireland, whether we like it or not. We just export it at a great cost to the women who travel. The cost is not just financial, it is in terms of health. The risks inherent in getting a medical procedure with no follow-through or back-up available afterwards mean that some of these women suffer mental and physical trauma as they journey home afterwards.
One argument against abortion is that we should be able to do better as a country and look after women and children. It’s a lovely idea – but not a reality that we are likely to see happen anytime soon. Just look at this country’s history in protecting the vulnerable, we seem to be far better at protecting institutions. If we truly care about the life of the unborn, then we need to do more to change the world that our children are being born into.
I think that Sr. Joan Chittister put it very well. We need a broader conversation about what pro-life really is. But until that Utopian moment arrives we need to deal with the reality of the struggle that so many women go through each year in Ireland.
Over the past few weeks I have heard a number of stories and read a number of accounts by women who have had abortions in traumatic circumstances. Women who carried children who could not survive birth; women who felt they could not care for a child due to poverty or an abusive relationship; women who were not women but children themselves when this all happened.
Many on the No side have not shown respect towards women in crisis. I personally find a number of the posters distasteful, insensitive and occasionally emotionally abusive. That some do this in the name of their faith displays a faith lacking in compassion.
Whether abortion is legalised or not, I’m going to leave the last words to a friend of mine:
“The place of the Christian outside the abortion clinic is not shouting at those going in but holding and loving those coming out” Scott Evans – Closer Still