It feels like I’ve been thinking about abortion all my life. As a Religious Studies teacher, it is a debate I’ve read about, taught and marked essays on for over a decade. Living in Ireland ahead of Friday’s referendum, the debate has become real. Becoming a parent changed my views on abortion, but it has not changed my belief that the 8th amendment should be repealed.
For my readers in the UK, the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution largely prohibits access to abortion for Irish women. I’ve always been pro-choice and proud of the UK’s liberal abortion laws. After moving to Ireland last year, it’s been equal parts fascinating and heart-breaking to watch my adopted homeland fiercely debate something people in the UK take as given.
A little over three years ago, my wife and I found out we were having twins and I’ve sporadically documented our adventures on this blog. I will never forget the feeling of overwhelming excitement at the idea that we had not one, but two little babies on the way. Had it not meant leaving Laura in a sweltering waiting room surrounded by expectant mothers, I would have gone for a run to get rid of the energy I could feel building up inside of me. In the days that followed, excitement gave way to fear. Our perfectly normal pregnancy had suddenly jumped in to the high risk category. As an eternal pessimist, I was certain something would go wrong. Fortunately, it didn’t.
The day after our first scan, I taught a lesson to a group of 16 year-olds about where life begins. It would be the first in a series of lessons about abortion. Part of me wanted to take the scan photos from my wallet and hand them round the class. Teaching this lesson, a realisation hit me. As a long-time pro-choicer, I had often argued that a foetus is not a life and that this this justifies abortion. Seeing my miniature twins and their tiny noses, I could not believe that any more.
The idea that life begins at conception is a classic pro-life call to arms. Whilst I feel unqualified to say where life really begins, I cannot deny that, at the time of their twelve week scan, my twins seemed very alive to me. How, therefore, can I still favour liberal abortion laws?
Firstly, there are the obvious cases: rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality. Women who go through with pregnancies under these circumstances are arguably brave, arguably saints. But no can be expected to go through a pregnancy under such conditions; it is simply too much pain, both mental and physical, for the law of a civilised country to subject someone to. The other obvious case is a risk to the life of the mother. If for some reason Laura’s pregnancy had put her life in danger, I would have wanted her to have an abortion. It would have been a tragic decision, I wanted nothing more during those nine months than to be a dad. I wonder if there are men out there who will vote ‘no’ on Friday and can, hand on heart, say they would want something different.
‘But you just said a foetus is alive!’ the pro-lifers will no doubt cry. They are. But so is the mother. Whether it is deciding which drugs the health service should fund, how to allocate foreign aid or if police should shoot terrorists, society regularly makes decisions where some lives are prioritised above others. It seems obvious to me that the full, existing life should take priority to the potential, unformed one.
The Irish anti-repeal campaign, bizarrely titled Love Both, has cleverly tried to keep the debate off these kinds of cases. They are perhaps too difficult for the lifers to gain ground on, especially in the aftermath of the death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital. Rather they have focused on “non-fatal foetal abnormalities” and so-called “social abortions”.
In several posters, Love Both have played the anti-Britain card and pleaded with the Irish not to bring dirty abortion laws across the water from godless Albion. In one, they present abortion as a discriminatory practice that leads to the termination of 90% of Down Syndrome “babies”. Though this figure is misleading, it remains the case that many foetuses with this condition are aborted. I admit that this makes me uncomfortable. Due to the twins refusing to play ball, we were unable to have a full foetal check as part of our ultrasound. We opted not to explore any other options to test for abnormalities. Laura and I agreed that we would continue with the pregnancy regardless so did not see the point. As two teachers with good salaries, experience with students with special needs, a lovely house and good support network, it seemed obvious to us that not bothering with a Downs Syndrome test was the right thing to do. To many others, I’m sure it seems like recklessness.
I detest the phrase “social abortions”. It seems to imply that an abortion is a happy event for morally loose women who cannot be bothered to raise children as they are too busy getting a bikini wax. This is exactly what the pro-life side would like you to believe. In reality, I doubt many people enter an abortion clinic on a whim and leave as happy as Larry. There is an endless list of reasonable reasons why someone may feel an abortion is necessary: lack of money, support and the desire to parent are just some that spring to mind. Despite this, I would hope my wife or daughter would never be in position to need an abortion on these grounds
The problem with the repealing the 8th, many people say, is that it will not just allow abortions in the ‘obvious cases’ I discussed earlier. It will lead to abortions in situations that make me uncomfortable. Those in-utero babies, which I’ve admitted are alive, will die. How can I support a change in the law that allows that?
My belief that a foetus is alive is one I know others do not share. Further, it is not something I feel I can confidently justify or prove. I know that racism is wrong and feel I can give conclusive arguments which will prove that statement to the satisfaction of any reasonable person. I do not feel I can do the same with my views about where life begins. Further, I know that forcing my views on others would both prevent them making choices and cause them severe pain and distress. Can I reasonably do that on a vague, romanticised view of pregnancy based not on carrying a baby myself but on looking at my twins through an ultrasound? I do not believe I can, and for that reason the 8th needs to go.
As a British citizen residing in Ireland, I will not be able to vote in this Friday’s referendum. I’m sure many will find it annoying to have a foreigner lecturing them on their own constitution. But as someone with a wife, son, and most importantly daughter who hold Irish passports I feel I have a rather large dog in this fight. I hope and pray that my twins are never in a position where they or someone they love needs to have an abortion. I would imagine most parents feel the same. Unfortunately, we cannot protect our children from the complicated, often tragic, world of grown-ups. All we can do is support them to make the choices that are best for them. The state should do the same.
I realised during “our” pregnancy how little a man does other than hold hands and fetch glasses of water. I’m sure you have enjoyed reading the insights of a wombless person on abortion. If, however, you fancy hearing from people who have really been affected by abortion Together For Yes gives much better arguments for repealing the 8th than I ever could.