Why I am voting YES on May 25th:
I don’t know what I believe about when exactly human life “begins” – I’m not scientific enough to detach my emotional brain from it. Is it with the eggs present in a baby girls’ ovaries or with a single sperm? Why does it have to be just at the moment when fertilisation occurs if the significant elements are already in existence? Is contraception really abortion? If so, I’m doomed to hell along with most women since the 1970s. I’ve had to take the morning after pill, many times – is that the same thing as abortion then? Indeed, is not having sex a kind of termination of a potential human life?
Even though I am fiercely pro-choice, I have, like many YES voters, strong, inherently maternal emotional reactions to the concept of abortion. Could I do it? I have no idea because the only time I have been in situation where it was an option was when I knew I could cope with a baby despite being just 18 – I was mature and used to looking after small children. It didn’t really matter to me that the father was quite likely to turn out to be useless or that my family were quite conservative at the time (they aren’t now – my 61 year old mother is a feminist icon) or that it was still only 1999 and I knew I’d be the scandal of the town. I gave birth to a baby girl when I was 19 and unmarried: people passed me in the street and refused to talk to me. I’ve been called a “fallen woman” – I’m standing up very straight, in fact, my posture is often complimented, thank you. If I had had an abortion these so called Christian pillars of the community: what would they have said? Nothing, turned a blind eye. I was raped when I was 16 and luckily (can there be anything lucky about being raped?!), I didn’t need to access abortion services. If your daughter was raped, would you force her to carry that pregnancy to term? Would you put her through that? If you could, I suggest some soul searching on your part as her parent.
It doesn’t really matter about me because the bottom line is, it’s none of my business how another woman lives her life. All I can do is try to be a support to any person who might need my help; guidance or experience as a single mother, or as an empathetic human who tries to see life from a vantage point other than my privilege.
I’ve miscarried twice and as it was so early in the pregnancies, I don’t feel in my heart that it was a human life I lost. I would love to have another baby but we are having trouble conceiving – that doesn’t mean that I deny another woman the right to end a pregnancy any more than I begrudge a happy healthy pregnancy; just as nobody can tell me not to take fertility drugs to increase my chances of becoming pregnant. PS I’m not even married, look away extreme right-wingers!
Ireland is complex society trying desperately to free itself from centuries of Catholic theocracy under which women’s babies were literally pulled from their arms and sold to rich Americans by nuns, or worse, left to die and thrown into septic tanks serving as unmarked mass graves. Women and children were systemically abused by the Church and it was illegal to be gay until 1995. Children were designated “illegitimate’ on their birth certificates until 1987. Plenty of Christians have had no problem sending their daughters to England for a termination during the many decades of shame, praying that nobody would find out. The controversial change in our Constitution that Irish women seek is not, as is often propagated by the NO vote, to be allowed to abort their baby at whim (I doubt many do that anyway) but to have the choice to end a FFA pregnancy early; to put their own health and the care of their existing children ahead of a potential life; for rape and abuse victims to be allowed to move on from their attack and attackers; to allow cancer patients to live by not being forced to carry a pregnancy to full term; to choose what happens inside their bodies and for the rest of their lives, as men do. Women just want you to be pro- women’s lives.
Ireland is often touted as one of the safest countries to give birth – what about Savita? What about the women who every day face an excruciatingly difficult decision about their bodies; mental health and lives; their family’s lives?
Women EVERYWHERE will have abortions – many of whom you know – so why not face up to it and provide for them safely in their own country? Remember that fathers who do not pay maintenance for their children are not chased by the government – they face no repercussions for abandoning a pregnancy or a living child. How is that fair? And remember the 13th Amendment which proves our hypocrisy – it’s legal acceptable to send women abroad for an abortion.
Added in to all this is our post colonial hangover which often involves blaming Britain for our societal issues, and exporting our problems to them: abortions; young people; the unemployed; often the sick, and you have a whole other layer of complex national identity to unravel from its empirical past under first, the British and subsequently, the misogynistic church forced upon us as vulnerable children.
“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone” – Yeats lamented. Thank god it is: visions of old haggard Mother Ireland willing a blood sacrifice from her sons in order to transform her into a beautiful young queen. We can do without that thanks: all the pressure on the woman to be bloody perfect. Yeats: the man who took all the credit for Lady Gregory’s work. Women in this country have too long being elevated onto a symbolic pedestal of unrealistic virginal purity becoming the post-colonial fodder of the new ruling male, Catholic élite. This time we are building our own pedestal and by Pearse, will you hear us shout our truth from it.
This referendum will be passed and it’s been a long time coming for Mná na Éireann. We legislated for divorce and legalised same sex marriage and we will do this too. Ireland is becoming one of the most progressive countries in the world and by the time my 18 year old daughter’s generation comes to be the decision making generation, it will be a liberal; healthy country in which to live your life without an enforced morality built on religious and legislative shame but instead on truth; tolerance and love but with true Christian values of compassion; care and empathy.
Please, for all the women of now and Ireland’s future : VOTE YES!