Image: Pharmacy in Ireland during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. The door has been replaced by a hatch through which goods can be passed, Auguste Blanqui / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the best in us. People are making enormous sacrifices for the good of other people, not just vulnerable family members, but strangers they will never meet. Social distancing means that we can save the lives of others by not meeting them. It has been so heartening to see everyone pull together, working together for the common good.
Of course, abortion access advocates are also putting their efforts into… well, I’m not sure exactly. Certainly nothing to do with stopping the spread of Covid-19. Their efforts have been dedicated to a further erosion of what little protection remains for unborn life in Ireland, North and South.
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) was first out of the traps on 17 March. While the rest of us were still struggling to figure out what to do with our kids with the schools closed, they were focusing on making sure that fewer kids will be born – I suppose that might be mildly helpful if another pandemic were to hit us in a few years’ time. Specifically, they claim that abortion should be classed as “essential travel” so that women who are more than 12 weeks pregnant could travel to Britain for abortion in the event of a travel ban (which did not exist when ARC wrote their press release and, to date, does not exist). Presumably they were asleep for the entirety of the Brexit negotiations, which were so complicated because of the need to maintain the common travel area between Britain and Ireland. The list of reasons they cited for why women past 12 weeks gestation would require abortion includes “a diagnosis of a Foetal Abnormality where [sic] Ireland will not legally treat”. The “foetal abnormalities” that are not legal grounds for abortion in Ireland include any “abnormality” where the baby has a greater than 50% chance of living longer than a month. In other words, a disability. Nothing life-threatening, just a baby who happens to have a disability. ARC can’t stand the idea of such a baby being guaranteed the right to live, so much so that they think it’s better to violate potential travel restrictions put in place to save lives from a serious virus (in both Ireland and the UK) than have a woman give birth to a child she didn’t want because they have a disability.
Protecting the lives of babies with disabilities doesn’t matter at all to ARC if those babies’ parents don’t want them. Ensuring that abortions on the basis of non-fatal disability can go on in the midst of a pandemic is more important to them than travel restrictions designed to protect the lives of people who might die from COVID-19. The provision of abortion on the basis of disability matters more to them. In fact, the only thing that matters is the giant threat to abortion access that supposedly lurks behind every corner and must be destroyed immediately, using the tiny amount of time the Oireachtas has left to deal with this national health crisis.
Not to be outdone, various pro-choice politicians started loudly voicing their random paranoid fears of threats to “abortion access”. Several amendments were tabled by Sinn Féin, Solidarity-People Before Profit and the Social Democrats to the omnibus bill that went through the Dáil on Thursday the 26th of March, including amendments to remove the 3-day waiting period for abortions performed before 12 weeks, to have abortion consultations carried out by telemedicine, where a doctor holds a consultation over the phone or Skype rather than in person, and, bizarrely, amendments to allow nurses and midwives to perform abortions. I have not been able to find any submission from medical or nursing bodies advocating for any of these amendments (presumably because they are too busy trying to battle the actual virus that is causing this disaster in the first place). These amendments were deemed “not relevant to the provisions of the Bill” and ruled out of order. (1)
In 2013, several politicians and commentators were quick to point out that Fine Gael TDs were happy to support their Government in passing austerity measures, but when it came to abortion, they voted against their party and were expelled. These TDs were making a statement – that abortion was the most important issue for them. It was the one issue on which they would make a stand no matter what. In a way, the politicians proposing these bizarre and unnecessary amendments in 2020 are doing the same thing. Abortion is the most important thing to them. No matter what, abortion must be advanced. Every single circumstance must be exploited to push for more abortion. Every opportunity must be exploited to sweep away what little protection for unborn babies remains in Irish law.
These politicians are not talking about telemedicine for actual, lifesaving healthcare. They are not drawing attention to how cancer or dialysis or physiotherapy patients can safely access treatment during a pandemic. This is absolutely inexcusable when you consider that a person who cannot access chemotherapy or dialysis may die, while the baby of a person who cannot access abortion may live. These politicians’ priorities are completely, utterly skewed. And they are happy to take up valuable Dáil time to table and debate these unnecessary amendments.
I believe most pro-choice people are decent people who genuinely want the best for women. I believe they don’t like abortion, but see it as a necessary evil. I disagree with them, but I can trust and respect their motivation, and I want to build bridges with them and dialogue with them. There are lots of reasons I want to build those bridges, but one reason is that we need moderate pro-choice people to call out this creepy and dangerous obsession with abortion that exists within their movement. We need them to tell their political leaders to stop inventing problems where they simply do not exist and to get their priorities straight. At the moment the situation is even more grave, because we need them to shout down the extremists in their movement so that everyone can unite against a pressing common enemy: Covid-19.
If you are a pro-choice person who thinks the most important thing to remember during this pandemic is something, anything, other than the constant expansion of abortion provision, please contact your TDs and tell them so. Tell them to focus on forming a new Government and controlling the pandemic, and to stop with the abortion monomania.
(1) Since, Simon Harris has said that his officials and the HSE are “working together with some urgency to revise the model of care for termination of pregnancy services” so that “only …for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic… remote consultation with a medical practitioner will be permissible.” It remains to be seen what will happen on that front.