ONTD Political

On abortion, both Britain and Ireland need to rediscover the spirit of 67

2:04 pm - 12/20/2012
We pander to the anti-abortion lobby, and are too willing to settle for a few scraps of reproductive rights

When, this week, you rea a headline saying, Ireland to legalise abortion; or see a statement from the Catholic church saying "Irish abortion reform is a 'licence to kill innocent babies'", you should treat it with great scepticism. For a start, nobody has suggested changing the law, nobody's legalising anything, and innocent babies have more to fear, as ever, from the Catholic church, than from any Irish abortion providers.

Nobody has suggested, even out of respect for the recently kille Savita Halappanavar, the slightest modification in the law, so that an abortion might be permitted in a case where the mother would probably die without it, and the foetus would probably die regardless. There are no new ideas, and no concessions to anybody – all that's been mooted is the codification of a supreme court ruling, so that the abortion provision they do have is no longer just precedent, it's actually enshrined in law.

Civil liberties and family planning organisations are rejoicing, quietly, nevertheless. To understand why this looks like progress, we need to consider how it looked before.

Ireland has the strictest abortion rules in Europe most of them framed in, and unchanged since, 1861. The maximum sentence for performing an abortion is a lifetime of penal servitude – they are still using law so antiquated that if they ever wanted to enforce it, they'd have to build a bespoke hard labour camp.

However, in 1992, something did change: in the case of th attorney general versus X, the Irish supreme court decreed that a woman could seek an abortion if her life was at risk, including the risk of suicide (Miss X, incidentally, was 14 when she was raped by a neighbour; no provision exists in Irish law for the termination of pregnancies that result from rape or incest). On the ground, this made very little difference: the possibility of suicide is almost never recorded as the reason for an abortion, and the handful of terminations that do take place in Ireland annually are justified by imminent physical threat to the mother's life (not, you'll notice, her health).

So anyway, that's parliament's big idea: to turn the X decree into a constitutional reality. Short of doing nothing at all, it's the limpest thing they could possibly do. And yet it's the first time in two decades that mainstream Irish politics has had the courage to get anywhere near this issue. To judge from their reactions, both sides, pro- and anti-choice, believe this to be the first step towards legal abortion.

While the defence of threat to the mother's life existed only in a theoretical ruling, doctors would have had no faith in it as a protection against prosecution. But if it's part of the constitution there's a chance it will become less a matter of having to prove suicidal intent and more a matter of the doctor's discretion. From there, it's not a hugely long journey to the situation we have in Britain, where you simply have to get two doctors to attest to the fact that the pregnancy is jeopardising your mental health.

It's unknowable whether Ireland would ever make that journey – from requiring the imminent threat of the woman's suicide to the more nebulous requirement of a threat to her mental health – and if they did, how long it would take. But it strikes me how perverse this is, that we have to hold up mental turmoil in order to be allowed reproductive self-determination. And I am struck again by how insulting even the British system is to women, let alone the Irish one.

The whole business is laced with irony – terminating a pregnancy is, in all likelihood, the rational response of a person making a decision for the long term, and yet in order to have it enacted, you must present yourself as dangerously unstable. Over time, all women who seek an abortion have come to be characterised as "vulnerable"; I've noticed over the past couple of years that just the act of becoming accidentally pregnant is enough to taint a woman as volatile or chaotic (rather than "fertile").

This profoundly damages our standing in debate – in asking two doctors to sign off on our imperilled sanity, we undermine our plausibility as reliable witnesses. It's not shame in the act of abortion itself that quiets us – it's shame at having had to lie about our psychic condition, and a sense thereafter that we are less than robust. I don't think it's an accident that no female MP has ever admitted to having had an abortion.

This leaves a vacuum where mainstream opinion should be (one-third of women have had an abortion; 76% of people are in favour of legal abortion); nature, abhorring the vacuum, fills it wit Nadine Dorries, for which I suppose she (that is, nature) would say we only had ourselves to blame.

The tendency with the abortion debate is to consider the anti-choice lobby as more sensitive, more governed by their consciences and anger than the pro-choice lobby. It's true in some respects – the Roman Catholic church certainly has a tendency toward hysterical overstatement. And yet we pander too much to anti-abortionists, taking whatever scraps of reproductive rights they'll throw us, stopping the fight as soon as our immediate pragmatic needs have been met. In some ways, this is as true in Britain as it is in Ireland. We all need to rediscover the spirit of 1967.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/20/on-abortion-we-need-spirit-of-67

madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
The British system is in need of serious reform, our two doctor rule is ridiculous. It's hard to get a focus on that when we've got tossers like Dorries and Hunt and their wish for a 12 week limit distracting us.

We also need reform so that women from Northern Ireland can access abortion services on the NHS, instead of having to pay.
ljtaylor 20th-Dec-2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
yeah, this. It doesn't help matters when the Daily Fail continues to perpetuate the whole "abortion on demand" myth (only if you go private, and even then, I am not sure) and pro lifers advocate the survival of premature babies at 23 weeks as a reason we should halve the limit.

Of the women I know who have had abortions, a) they found out they were pregnant at around 10-12 weeks and b) the doctors fannied around deciding whether or not they should give permission (one of these women was 15 at the time). A 12 week limit is just a cough away from a full-on ban.

I know I'm preaching to the converted with this comment but it kinda riles me.
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
If you go private, then you have to have a consultation, but after that there's no need for doctors to agree, etc. It's just between £400 and £2000. A steal.

It riles me a lot, and whilst I'm pretty certain that Cameron has enough brains to realise that listening to Miller, Hunt and Dorries will mean that the Tory party starts haemorrhaging votes, that's not something that any of the abortion rights groups are going to take for granted.
(no subject) - Anonymous
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 08:45 pm (UTC)
Most GPs don't cause too much fuss, no. But you can see the false image it gives in the arguments from anti-choicers in Ireland, those who argue that legislating on X will lead to abortion on demand like over here. We don't have it, it's just that the majority of GPs (according to the last survey on this) back the right to choose, and also back reform making it easier to get an NHS abortion, removing the stupid two doctor thing.
Not that the government listened to that, naturally.
ljtaylor 20th-Dec-2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
My uncle was a GP and back in the 70s he used to provide the second signature for women who wanted abortions without even thinking about it. Unfortunately he stopped after signing one girl through three times, which I kinda side-eye :/
ljtaylor 20th-Dec-2012 09:43 pm (UTC)
£2000! I had a look at the Marie Stopes website once (albeit a couple of years back) and they quoted £200. Ridiculous pricing aside, there are significantly less private clinics than there are NHS clinics, so even if you have the money for the termination itself you're kinda screwed if you live in a rural area or smaller town.

Edited at 2012-12-20 09:45 pm (UTC)
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 09:47 pm (UTC)
It depends on gestation, and which clinic you go to. MSI's current price for a surgical up to 14 weeks is £420, a medical costs £270. And then there's the consultation fee on top. Some clinics (like BPAS) have slightly cheaper prices for Irish women, but then you're adding travel and somewhere to stay in, so it works out at around the same.
jenny_jenkins 20th-Dec-2012 05:25 pm (UTC)
I became extremely angry when I read comments on news websites after the Halappanavar tragedy.

Most of them read "they should have done it to save her life." "There needs to be an exception for the life of the mother."

Uh. No.

They should have done it BECAUSE SHE ASKED FOR AN ABORTION. There should be no "exceptions" of any kind.

Simple. You ask for one, you get it. Why is this so difficult for simple-minded folk to understand?

Almost nothing on earth makes me angrier (except possibly the moral majority when a pregnant woman dares to eat or drink something they don't approve of. What's next? Mandating a diet in whole grains?) Women are not fucking farm animals. If a woman wants a fetus removed, that should be the end of the discussion. We're not a fucking automatons.
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 06:42 pm (UTC)
While you're right, there is no way that Ireland will go straight from where it is now to fully legal abortion. This has to be the first step. None of the people who've been campaigning are intending that it should be the last.
jenny_jenkins 20th-Dec-2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
I only have experience with the Canadian version of how it happened (I remember very clearly because I was old enough to understand what was going on) - which was sudden and actually probably against public opinion at the time. From being legal only by medical panel, to having no abortion law of any kind (which is the ideal situation, in my view).

Of course, the courts had to do that. Henry Morgentaler remains my great hero.

But you're right of course, because the stars had to seriously align. The legislature had to be so divided on the issue (the Senate in this case - because of a split between CONSERVATIVES (lol) over how restrictive the new bill should be) that they couldn't get a measure restricting abortion through the house.

madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
It's very different in Ireland. There's Catholic dogma to deal with, for one thing. It has taken 20 years to even get close to legislating on X, and it's only happened because Praveen, Savita's husband, went public with this.
jenny_jenkins 20th-Dec-2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
I'm Catholic myself - exceedingly collapsed though.

Lapsed doesn't quite get the full extent of the collapse across (I remember the precise day) - so I always say "collapsed Catholic" rather than "lapsed".

I have noticed though Catholics never quite stop being Catholic. And they rarely convert. It usually involves a simple cave-in.

I even occasionally go to Church. The people there are nice.
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
It's not even the Catholic faith of the country preventing change, though. There are a hell of a lot of Catholics backing reform, but sadly the majority of the government only seem to be listening to the Church.
jenny_jenkins 20th-Dec-2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
Aha - you've just pinpointed something rather important which I think I was trying to express in a clumsy way, now I think of it.

The flock vs the leadership.
betray802 21st-Dec-2012 12:00 am (UTC)
I call myself a Recovering Catholic. I can vaguely point to May 1987 as my breaking point. Ironically, it was due in large part to the death of my Methodist grandfather. And yeah, I'll never be fully 'clean and sober.' I still cross myself, I still ask St. Anthony where I put down my phone/car keys/glasses. St. Jude is so sick of hearing from me during baseball season.
caketime 21st-Dec-2012 12:00 am (UTC)
It's funny because I was raised Roman Catholic and while I've never had faith in God I can't stop being culturally Roman Catholic. There's just a few things I can't opt out of. I go to Church too when my mother makes me, primarily because it's comforting.

I don't mind the faith, I get annoyed with everyone running the Church.
(no subject) - Anonymous
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
It will be a long time, but I think that the process has started. It's just going to be slow.
a_phoenixdragon 20th-Dec-2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
This is terrible and frightening. In an age where we are suppose to be more advanced and learned in the human body, mind and spirit - we regularly brand pregnant women as 'hysterical' and 'fragile' and now we have to declare a woman non compus mentis before she is allowed to control her body? I'm sorry, that seems rather bassackwards in SO many ways. There are so many chilling implications behind that - and I hate to say, if you have to declare yourself a 'risk', that STICKS WITH YOU.

What the hell is wrong with the world? Two steps forward and five steps back...

And another thing (which covers a whole range of issues) why do people have to die or be seriously altered for life before something actually gets done?!

Edited at 2012-12-20 09:55 pm (UTC)
madwitch 20th-Dec-2012 10:08 pm (UTC)
Other women have died in Ireland after being refused an abortion when pregnancy posed a serious risk to their life. This would have been as generally well known as those cases if Savita's husband hadn't gone public with it.
a_phoenixdragon 20th-Dec-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
I think that's what upsets me most of all. The ratio of people finding out versus everyone being clueless. It's terrible that someone has to scream to the media for attention to be paid to deaths like this. The fact that you can take her death and times it by hundreds in the last few years alone just makes me sick.

*Wants to hug all the families and friends out there who have lost someone this way*
rylee900 21st-Dec-2012 01:03 am (UTC)
What's disgusting and scaring me is that the main debate seems to be on whether a woman is 'suicidal enough' to be allowed an abortion. Wtf. How about you don't let it get to that stage? Ugh :(
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