There was a lot of talk about abortion on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence this morning, much of it dealing with the case of a woman who came to Ireland claiming she had been raped and that she was suicidal. Fintan O’Toole was on with an anti-abortion woman called Cora (my apologies for missing her surname). Both wanted the law in the south changed, Fintan so that abortion law could be more like that of “other civilised countries”, Cora so that the baby as well as the woman in such cases should be considered. Cora delivered a few sharp blows to Fintan, pointing out how the Irish Times’s covered some cases and ignored other cases or aspects of cases, because they didn’t fit into its line on abortion. Later, in the newspaper review section of the programme, Liz Kennedy and Gerry Miller reported the widespread coverage in southern newspapers of the case of the pregnant woman who claimed to have been raped and wanted an abortion. Liz made the point that the whole matter was very complex, there was no black-and-white to the subject, it was full of grey areas.
I disagree. The issue of abortion, in Ireland or anywhere else, centres surely on just one issue: is the content of the woman’s womb a human being or is it not? If it’s a human being, then clearly it should have the same rights as any other human being, and I would extend that to a child that comes into existence through rape or incest. If on the other hand the content of the woman’s womb is not a human being, it must be a collection of tissue. In which case it can be removed and flushed down the sink with no more thought than you’d give your fingernail clippings or the contents of your handkerchief after a nose-blow.
I made this point in a blog some time ago and one commenter told me that I didn’t understand – the contents of the woman’s womb, when she goes for an abortion, is not a human being but a “potential human being”, There are all sorts of aspects in this notion that I don’t understand. Any couple attracted to each other – even any couple who aren’t attracted, providing they’re a man and woman of child-bearing years – in the presence of any such couple there’s a “potential human being”. And when does the potential human being stop being potential and become a real human being? When our law says they become a human being?
I’d stress that my view on abortion is not the parroting of the Catholic Church’s stand on abortion, nor the parroting of Sinn Féin’s stand on abortion. It’s my own. I don’t get the potential human being thing because I can’t understand the magic moment when a potential human being becomes a real human being, with all a human being’s rights. Likewise I think it cruel and barbaric, in the case of a woman who has been raped or is the victim of incest, for the solution to be the killing of the child. The embryo that comes into being as the result of rape or incest is surely as much a human being as the embryo that comes into existence as a result of the most loving relationship. No one doubts the agonies and horror of the woman carrying such a child, but there must be a better answer than to kill the child.
Final point: “abortion” is one of our trigger words, words which set people off in an emotional frenzy, hair standing up and eyes popping. If you think this may happen to you, pretend you haven’t read a word of the above and go for a walk in the sun. If you think you can discuss the issue rationally, I’ll be genuinely pleased to hear your views. At present I find most positions on the issue baffling.