Being right for the worst reason and finding common ground

One of my all-time favourite TED talks is “On being wrong”, by Kathryn Schulz. At one point in the talk, Schulz asks what it feels like to be wrong. The audience answers: “Embarrassing! Dreadful! Thumbs down :(”. Schulz says these are great answers, but then points out they are answers to a different question. That’s not how it feels to be wrong – it’s how it feels to realise you are wrong. Being wrong, on the other hand, feels an awful lot like being right – confident, clear, certain. Schulz uses the analogy of the coyote in the cartoon show Roadrunner, who often runs off a cliff, and just keeps running – until he looks down and realises he’s running through thin air. And then he falls.

Except sometimes being right feels just as much like falling. Sometimes you realise you’re right about something, but you wish to goodness you had been wrong. Sometimes being right is just as devastating as being wrong. And this is exactly how pro-life people felt when we learned of the dreadful news that a couple had been told their baby did not, in fact, have Trisomy 18, known as Edward’s Syndrome – but only after they had already had an abortion.

I immediately thought of my friend Anita, who shared her story in the run-up to the referendum last year. Unlike the women who had shared stories of their abortions, Anita was not called “brave” by pro-choice commentators. Instead, the broad thrust of pro-choice people who responded to her story was “But you had a choice. Why deny that choice to others?”. Well now we know exactly what that “choice”, which was being strongly pushed by her doctor, would have looked like, had Anita made it. A perfectly healthy baby dead, broken-hearted parents, devastated family.

Many pro-choice activists might like to ignore these stories altogether, while a few extremists might like to make it all about the vagaries of prenatal genetic testing. However, the overwhelming majority of people, with or without any particular view on abortion, should be able to agree on one thing: this abortion should not have happened. There is no reasonable person who could argue otherwise. When the abortion statistics for 2019 are compiled and reported, all reasonable people should be able to agree that the total number of abortions was at least one too many.

Many people voted Yes by the skin of their teeth. I think they probably have far more in common with people who voted No by the skin of their teeth than they do with those who voted Yes with a heart and a half. So I appeal to those reluctant Yes voters: come and talk to us. Let’s try and figure out together how we can get the abortion rate as low as possible. We may disagree on how low it should be eventually, but we can at least agree that it’s currently too high. If the group START, that represents doctors performing abortions are to be believed, doctors are performing 800-900 abortions per month – which means our abortion rate under the new regime is more than twice what it was estimated to be when the unborn had legal protection. Absolutely no one in the pro-life movement feels good about this. We would give our right arms to have been proven wrong, but so far, it looks like the opposite has been the case. The public discourse has changed completely – the only voices seeking change to our new abortion regime are those who want less restrictions and more abortion. Get rid of the twelve week limit, get rid of the three day waiting period, get rid of conscientious objectors, do everything possible to deny more parents what my friend Anita had – time, space, all the information available, and a live, healthy baby.

If you voted Yes but with reservations, now is the time to shout “Stop!”. We can and should work together to minimise the total number of abortions that take place, and preventing another family from ever going through this dreadful ordeal should be only one of many things we tackle. Let’s get to work.

Muireann

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