A second blog post on this topic was as inevitable as the backlash that followed the first one.

Predictably, my last post provoked what was (at least for anything written on this blog) a very big response. This was because, as anyone reading this is likely aware, I shared the post on Facebook. My particular Facebook bubble has leaned in a very much pro-repeal direction since before the referendum was announced, with many people I know having expressed strong and quite-clearly heartfelt views to the effect that the 8th should be removed.

As I had been warned before posting (and suspected myself anyway), much of that response was very negative and, in several cases, bordered on personal abuse. Rest assured, I am a big boy and I will get over it but let me take this opportunity to thank those people who chimed in to stick up for me.

However, given the nature of the reaction, I did want to write a follow-up – both in a “right of reply” kind of way and to address some of the counter-arguments that were put to me that I had not anticipated and addressed in my original post. Before I proceed, let me just highlight that no single person put forward all the counter-arguments I will discuss and the people who did respond didn’t all have the same objections to or concerns about what I had written. I should also acknowledge that many of the responses were “short form” (specifically the responses I received on Facebook) so I don’t suggest that those responses necessarily reflect the full, nuanced and considered view of the respondents. Having made those disclaimers, I shall proceed…

 

Several respondents offered various rebukes to the effect that my post shows I lack compassion for women facing crisis pregnancies. To some extent I may have brought this upon myself. By attempting to write in a way that was measured and calm, I may have given some the impression that I was indifferent to the very real difficulties that many women face. In attempting to write something relatively brief and to the point, I failed to offer sufficient acknowledgement of the fact that many women and couples suffer a great deal as a direct consequence of the 8th amendment.

For the record, I am not indifferent to the pain of someone who, for example, goes abroad to terminate a pregnancy that can never come to full term.  I would go further and acknowledge that even healthy women, with complication-free pregnancies, may be suffering a genuine crisis if their pregnancy was unplanned.

Yet my point was straightforward; given what we can reasonably infer about the legislative framework that will follow, repealing the 8th will result in the unjustifiable deaths of unborn people. Requiring a woman to suffer emotional, mental and/or physical harm (as the 8th does) is bad. Killing people is worse.

It was put to me that if the legislation is too permissive it can be amended when and where necessary. I don’t believe that this is the case. Abortion law is the third rail of Irish politics and politicians avoid it when they can. Legislative change in this area has only ever come about in response to some tragic event and Dail debates about abortion have only ever lasted as long as it has taken that tragedy to fall out of the headlines.

Unborn people killed as the result of an early termination don’t have a voice. They don’t have loved ones to speak on their behalf. There will be no photos of them smiling in happier times with their full lives ahead of them. For these reasons, the killing of unborn people will never make the headlines and the politicians will ignore them. Any changes that might ever be made to abortion legislation will not favour the unborn. The opposite is far more likely.

Some respondents demanded to know why I thought the unborn in the very earliest stages of pregnancy should be considered people at all. This was a misunderstanding of my position. I was quite clear that viable unborn children must be considered to have a right to life but made no claims about the ethical status of the unborn at earlier stages of development. Anyone may have a view, based on their faith or their gut-feeling, about when we acquire the right to life but my arguments were based on secular and universal principles and were an attempt to identify a gestational threshold beyond which “personhood” could no-longer be considered a matter of opinion.

Several people seemed to be implying that it was necessary to repeal the 8th to protect a woman’s right to life. If this was their intended meaning, I had already anticipated this in my original post and pointed out that terminating a pregnancy to save the life of the mother is neither illegal nor unconstitutional (perhaps they felt this point was wrong or insufficient but if so, let them point out how).

What I had not anticipated was that I would be told that there are threats to a woman’s health that are so severe as to be more important than the life of the unborn person- that there may, in fact be a genuine ethical dilemma when choosing between one person’s health and another person’s life.

If that is the case, it would be useful to know what those health threats are. I cannot think of any. If they do exist then I suspect that they are so-few in number that they could be specifically and directly addressed within a far more restrictive legislative framework than the government is proposing.

When asking the question of when it might actually be ethical to kill an unborn person  to preserve the health of a pregnant woman, we must also ask the question of who has the right to make that decision. It was put to me by several people that the only person with the right to make that choice is the woman herself.

I was offered some reassurance that this choice would be made with the support of her doctors and that two doctors would need to sign-off on any termination. This is a half-truth. To be clear, the only role of these doctors will be to certify that the medical criteria required by law have been met. They have no role when it comes to helping the woman reach a “good” or ethical decision. In this respect, the woman – absent the support of family – is on her own.

What is being suggested, in effect, is that the person best placed to make an ethical decision about a crisis pregnancy is the person who is under severe emotional and/or physical distress because of the pregnancy. This is unfair – not least to the woman herself.

It is also the exact opposite of how we decide difficult issues in every other context. In any other crisis where the rights of two individuals must be balanced, we look to dispassionate experts to make the decisions. We do not leave those decisions to terrified and distressed lay people and expect to get good outcomes.

In any other crisis where the rights of two individuals must be balanced and where one of those individuals cannot speak for themselves, we appoint an expert to act in their best interests. Under the government’s proposed legislation there will be no-one to speak on behalf of the unborn person. Whatever happens will happen without any legal requirement that the rights of the unborn be considered.

In a similar theme, it was put to me that I have no right to vote to retain the 8th because I myself will never be the one facing a crisis pregnancy. To this I say that, by the same reasoning, no-one has the right to vote to repeal the 8th because no-one who might do so will ever find themselves being aborted.

None of us can claim to have the full range of experience on this issue. All I can do – all any of us can do – is consider this referendum as deeply as we can with as much reason and compassion as we can muster. And we must never allow ourselves to imagine that “our side” has the monopoly on either.

 

Many of the people who responded to my first post were people whom I have known, cared for and even loved for decades. I don’t doubt that their vote will be motivated by a genuine desire to do what is right. I hope and trust that they will hold the same view of me

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