Safe to say, the great majority of women of child-bearing age want this constitutional amendment passed, want a yes vote. It is not really to pass on the argument, or be populist, if we say: that ought to settle the matter.
This referendum is about these women, their say in their lives.
Some of them have been quietly devastating and (which helps) funny about how many men are treating this as a thought experiment, a debating motion, or a ballot on liberal bigotry. I have had two experiences in which I have asked for a more serious consideration of the referendum than I was hearing at that moment. And then came acknowledgements that the law at present is too rigorous, too restrictive.
To be fair, given the sharpness of the about-turns, they had probably already used their imaginations: and at some level also listened.
Listening is all-important: to women who wanted to dedicate themselves to their education; to women who knew this was absolutely the wrong man to have a child with; to mothers and non-mothers; to women who regret to an abortion, but want a yes vote; to old women who have “seen enough” in their lives; to young women who can’t vote in this election, but know in their bones that the law at present is an oppression in their lives. These are just examples.
To be honest, over the past three days I had my male period, if you can forgive the phrase. I wasn’t seriously considering changing my mind, but there was some strange chaos there related to the upcoming vote. For brief moments, I have wanted to duck this one.
The no campaign has dismissed and made light of arguments about “hard cases” (risk to the mother, children who will not survive outside the womb, rape), as if the current law is not about them too. I can see their ethical consistency, but there is nothing admirable in its practical pitilessness towards those it affects.
The “hard case” in my mind (what coloured it for a time) was that of the disabled. My own experience and reason tell me that our lives are enfolded in gOd’s, and souls are eternal. What can we say about those souls who need, choose, do come in to the world with a physical or mental disability? If it is true that fewer such people are being born, I regard that with sadness. But I think it is impossible to say there is no resolution to this at the hand of the infinite. These considerations might seem off the beaten track, but they have recently mattered to me.
From my limited experience of the matter, my impression is that we don’t do enough for those born mentally disabled that we have with us. Someone I know has been waiting 18 months for an appropriate job near where he lives.
It does not settle things, but it does help to remind myself that, internationally, almost all the people who have a vision of, and drive for, social amelioration that I can get behind will be wondering why (legal necessity apart) we are even having this discussion. And the anti-abortion people? Their only real considerations on social questions, which are moral questions, are: “What does the Pharaoh of Rome advise? What do the markets require?” David Quinn? John Waters? A thick Fianna Fáiler?
It was a fine irony that Love Both released an advert saying “Real men protect children”, with a photo of a model in combats hugging a child, on the same day that real soldiers — Israeli, this time — were performing their immemorial function of slaughtering kids without a second thought. They are not living in the real world. And, morally speaking, we have enough work to be getting on with in that real world. To a great extent, that work will be done by women who bring their consciences to everything they do, and who want to see this amendment passed.
What is all this about? On an individual level, it’s about the ability of individuals to have control in their own lives. And on a social level, it’s about the removal of laws that keep (and have kept) women in a (historically) subordinate position in society. It has been boiled down to legitimately simple, purposefully combative slogans: “Not a vessel”, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries”, “If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one”. But if you don’t like those ones, I have others: Back off. Get it? Back off out of it, bud (or budette, come to that). Mind your own business.
The current situation is an ostrich-in-the-sand one: Irish abortion happens in England, and lately in Irish homes. It was useful to be reminded recently that anti-abortion forces in Ireland did not campaign strongly in 1992, at the time of the Right to Travel and Information referendums. The right to travel was a welcome social release valve, keeping Ireland pure. There is nothing respectable in this, even if it ticks all the legal boxes. It is ludicrous.
Rejecting the amendment would be another ostrich move: the pressure for safe, legal abortion will not let up in Ireland, because living, breathing, kicking, screaming women see it as a necessary option. Ten years (which quite possibly it would be before another referendum) is not a long time in the life of a nation, but it is a long time in the lives of those women it would affect. Better to get it right first time.