Ireland under the 8th: why we don’t just want to turn back the clock.

Now that the overwhelming majority of women will have the option to legally terminate a pregnancy in Ireland, the conversation can move away from the discussion of people being ‘forced’ to do things against their will, and towards the question of what it is that people ought to choose – away from the law and towards the ethical question.

Do you just want to turn back the clock to pre-repeal Ireland?
In short, no we don’t. 

We think the pre-repeal status quo was deeply flawed. We did all support retaining the 8th because we thought it was saving lives, and the dramatic rise in the abortion rate after repeal suggests we were right about that. However, long before repeal, even with some of the strongest anti-abortion laws in the world, we did not have a pro-life culture. That’s a phrase that’s often used in this debate, and it’s not always clear what it means. For us, it means something like this:

  • First and foremost, in a pro-life culture, people would not experience a law like the 8th as an imposition, but rather a reflection of what all or most people already believe. People would, simply, think of preborn children as children.
  • In a pro-life culture, women wouldn’t think of having an unexpected child as a career-ending disaster, because the economic system would be set up to properly acknowledge the fact that 50% of the population can get pregnant, and that having and raising children is a normal part of life, not some kind of strange and inconvenient interruption.
  • In a pro-life culture, doctors would not recommend to women that they travel to England for an abortion if their preborn child was diagnosed with a disability, such as Down’s Syndrome.
  • In a pro-life culture, pregnancy would not be viewed as putting your entire life on hold for nine months. Pregnant women would not be pressured into putting up with all sorts of unscientific restrictions, motivated primarily by convenience for healthcare providers and institutions and/or by fear of litigation. 
  • In a pro-life culture, pregnant women would be treated as normal, equal, valuable members of society, neither defined nor restricted by the fact that they are pregnant.
  • In a pro-life culture, people wouldn’t be shamed or scorned for having children at the ‘wrong time’. We might like to think that the bad old days of shame and guilt are behind us, but in fact modern Ireland shames women into abortion all the time: it’s just more likely to be couched as a ‘prudent’ or respectable appeal to avoid jeopardising a career or taking on unchosen obligations than a religious condemnation.
  • In a pro-life culture, most abortions (excepting of course any tragically necessary lifesaving ones) would be seen as unnecessary; the practice would be seen as a relic of a crueler age. We would be able to solve the problems that pregnant people face without resort to it. 

Without that culture, the law was always going to fall in the long run. It wasn’t a sustainable situation. (Even if the abortion rate was very low by international standards, and either staying low or falling – depending on how much of the fall in the numbers of Irish women travelling to the UK was attributable to giving birth and how much to abortion pills). We see this as our failure: we should have done more to build this culture in the years since the 8th was put in place.

For the same reason, we don’t think that bringing back the 8th or something like it is a feasible or tenable project right now. That’s why we’re ‘The Minimise Project’ rather than ‘Campaign to Bring Back the 8th’.

Nor is our focus going to be primarily on other legal questions – a lot of the existing pro-life groups, including political parties, already have that as a focus. We’re trying to something different. We want to, in a context where abortion is legal and likely to remain so for a long time, try to make the abortion rate as low as possible.

We want to do that in two ways: starting conversations, and fostering co-operation.

On the first one: there are a lot of people in Ireland who are pro-choice or somewhere in the middle on abortion, and are glad the 8th amendment was repealed, but would say things like “I’d never have an abortion myself” or have qualms about the practice. We want to start a conversation with those people: we want to dialogue with them about why they’re uncomfortable, and what ethical beliefs might underlie their intuitions. We want to enter into real, respectful dialogue with real stakes, and want to change hearts and minds on abortion. We want to share with people the holistic vision we have of human rights for all humans, and try to build up the pro-life culture that we’ve been talking about.

Now that the overwhelming majority of women will have the option to legally terminate a pregnancy in Ireland, the conversation can move away from the discussion of people being ‘forced’ to do things against their will, and towards the question of what it is that people ought to choose – away from the law and towards the ethical question.

If a person is ethically against abortion (in sense that all of us are against killing born children) then regardless of what the law is, then it’s very unlikely that they’ll seek an abortion. If everyone thought like this, then a law like the 8th would be almost redundant.

What about our second way of achieving our aim, fostering co-operation? Well, many – we’d venture to say most – of the people who supported repeal don’t think of abortion as desirable. They would agree with words of pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green” “No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.” We know that not everyone on the pro-repeal side sees it that way: some want to treat abortion like just another medical procedure, and remove the idea that there’s anything morally significant involved in ending a pregnancy. But most people do not and wouldn’t go that far. Most people think that it would be better if there were fewer abortions.

We want to work with those people, drawing attention to the best ideas for reducing the abortion rate through social, economic and cultural supports, and doing our part in campaigning for those ideas to become a reality.

We think both our aims complement each other: both are about reducing the abortion rate and saving as many lives as we can.

Can we try to change people’s minds on abortion, and co-operate with them to reduce abortions at the same time? We don’t see why not. We’re completely up-front about our beliefs, and it’s up to other people whether or not that’s going to be a barrier to dialoguing with us or working with us.

We don’t want to restore the pre-repeal status quo. We want to move this country to somewhere much better. We invite you to join us in a conversation about that.

Ben

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