One of the questions we get asked most frequently at Minimise is “how do I start a conversation about abortion?” It’s not exactly standard dinner-table talk. It’s a critical problem for the pro-life movement because no matter how well-prepared you are to have the kind of open, genuine conversation that can change minds on this issue, that’s no good if you can’t get into them.
There are a lot of sides to this problem – in fact it’s really a bunch of different problems wrapped up together – but one thing that’s been making it worse lately is what I think of as the No-Interest Problem. Most people in Ireland are just tired of talking about abortion. And I don’t just mean the people who have personal reasons to be wary of the subject – people who have had abortions or know people who have. I mean basically everyone. Pro-life people have suffered defeat after defeat and are worn out. We just suffered two more, with the failure of the disability abortion ban in the north and the fetal pain relief legislation in the south. It’s hard to get motivated to have potentially difficult conversations about a hugely controversial issue when the last major bit of positive progress on it was in 1985.
Moderately pro-choice people and the vast ‘mushy middle’ are also tired of abortion. The repeal referendum was only a couple of years ago, and it was preceded by a long, long, long campaign in which abortion and abortion-related issues were regularly in the news, going back to at least the death of Savita Halappanavar. One of the most powerful desires at play in the abortion debate is the desire to not have to think about abortion. Now that the Eighth has been repealed, a lot of people would prefer to just settle back into ignoring it.
The only people who aren’t tired of talking about abortion are dedicated pro-choice advocates. The Abortion Rights Campaign, for instance, are pressing on with trying to remove the three-day-waiting period for an abortion that exists under the current legislation when it comes up for review this year. (For what it’s worth, this is one of the pro-choice goals I find hardest to understand. ARC talk about the waiting period creating ‘explicit and implicit barriers’ to abortion’. But if a woman would change her mind about an abortion over the course of a three-day waiting period, isn’t that a good sign that the abortion wasn’t the choice she really wanted to make? If the goal is choice rather than abortion, why are waiting periods so bad?)
But even this work doesn’t really involve conversations with ordinary people. It’s really a matter of persuading politicians (as will be most changes to abortion legislation now that the Eighth is gone). So we’re left with very few people who have any kind of inclination at all to talk about abortion in person. And given the status quo in this country, that is very bad for unborn children.
The No-Interest problem isn’t just an Irish problem. In America, too, both Republicans and Democrats are getting less interested in and motivated by abortion as time goes on. I’m less sure about the reason for this in an American context. But I think the American abortion debate could help us solve the No-Interest problem in Ireland.
It looks increasingly likely, though it’s by no means a sure thing, that the U.S Supreme Court could be about to overrule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that made abortion a constitutional right across the US. Overruling Roe would not make abortion illegal: it would instead turn the question over to individual state governments, some of which would ban abortion, some of whom will restrict it, and some of whom will keep it widely available. But it would make it possible to end abortion in the US through the democratic process, and the abortion bans that would come into effect immediately after Roe is overturned would save a lot of lives.
Another thing overturning Roe would do would resurrect abortion as a conversation topic all over the world. The end of Roe would be the end of a very long period in the western world in which the abortion debate only really went one way, with more and more countries making abortion more and more available as the decades passed. Overturning Roe would shatter the aura of historical inevitability that the pro-choice movement sometimes seems to have acquired. It would take a lot of people out of a space of apathy and lack of interest. And in doing so, it would open up a lot of opportunities to have conversations about the issue again.
Now in Ireland a lot of those opportunities will take the form of someone saying “did you here about the US overturning Roe? It’s awful.” They won’t make the ensuing conversations easy to have. But they will make them easier, because they’ll be a chance to start talking about abortion organically. We need to be ready to seize those opportunities when they arise, with compassion and sensitivity but also with courage. We can’t be precious about it. There are good reasons to be sensitive when talking about this issue; we never know who’s been personally affected by it, and we don’t want to come across as belligerent. But there is alsoalways going to be a temptation to avoid the issue simply because we privilege our own social comfort over the lives of pre-born children. `If we care about justice and human rights it’s a temptation that has to be resisted. We have a positive, life-affirming message to bring to people, one that’s in fundamental continuity with the great movements for human equality of history. The end of Roe v. Wade is an exciting opportunity to spread that message and help save lives. Let’s be ready for it.
(Re-sharing this great blog by Gavin, which is partly about talking about news stories from places in the US in an Irish context!)