Abortion: nine questions that baffle me

A civil war is about to break out in Ireland. Over the next five weeks, people will be swearing at their TV sets, sometimes swearing at each other, shouting insults, waving placards. We will show every sign of being adults who haven’t managed to grow up. I’m talking, of course, about abortion.

Or more strictly, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in the south of Ireland. If repealed, this will lead to the availability of abortion on demand up to twelve weeks of pregnancy. As for the future, there’s a general feeling that this time period will be extended, certainly if we compare the southern state with other countries. But the civil war will be about the provision on demand of abortion up to twelve weeks.

Thousands, maybe millions of words will be spent on this topic in coming weeks, but the civil war will come down to a simple and clear issue: is the being inside a woman a human being, or is it a cluster of cells, or is it something else again?

Unlike most people I talk to, I’m a bit confused on this topic. So here are some questions, the answers to which will perhaps clarify things. And please don’t tell me I’m asking the wrong questions, or that my questions are skewed, or loaded, or stupid. They’re my questions, the best questions I can come up with, so if you think they’re rubbish maybe head off and read the Sunday papers instead.

  1. Some people say that human life begins at conception, some say that doesn’t happen until a later date. I can understand the moment-of-conception idea but I’m unclear about the later-date idea. So my question is: if human life doesn’t begin with conception, at what point does it begin?
  2. It is reasonably clear that a considerable number of people believe that they are not taking human life when they have an abortion. Since that is so, why do people talk about having an abortion as something that requires much thought and heart-ache? We don’t have much thought and heart-ache if we have our tonsils or appendix removed.
  3. Why do some people get very angry when images of aborted foetuses are displayed? Normally speaking in coming to a decision, we try to imagine clearly what our actions involve and the consequences of those actions. Why is abortion an exception to this rule?
  4. If a foetus in the early stages is not a human being, what is it? I have heard the response that it is a “potential human being”, but this doesn’t answer the question. Potential points to what it might become. What is it now?
  5. In some ways, abortion is a personal action – the woman carrying the foetus/baby makes a personal decision to get rid of it. But in another sense, this is a societal question: the people of the south are thinking of changing the law that will govern everyone in society. And as John Donne put it in his sexist way “No man is an island.” As a society the south is clearly divided on this subject. A lot of people say that this is a human being, and we shouldn’t take actions that will destroy that human being. Others say it’s not a human being, and the woman is entitled to do what she wishes with this non-human being. So as a society we are uncertain – some say it’s human and we mustn’t take actions that destroy that life, others say it’s not human and we should be allowed to destroy it if we wish. If as a society you’re unsure, does voting to repeal the Eighth make sense to you? Or more important, to what is inside you if you’re a  pregnant woman?
  6. Is there a sillier slogan than “I Trust Women”? You might try “I Trust People With Red Hair” or “I Trust Tyrone People”. If the absurdity of such statements aren’t obvious, you probably shouldn’t be allowed out on your own.
  7. The question of abortion is one on which, as a society, Irish people disagree. Some passionately believe  it involves the taking of human life, others believe passionately that it involves no such thing. Is it fair to say that, as a society, the south is in a state of uncertainty regarding this matter? 
  8. Imagine a group of people who enjoy shooting. Every Thursday night, they gather at a shooting range and let fly at a series of targets, then count up their scores. They arrive one Thursday evening and around half the group declare passionately that they believe there are children crouched behind the targets, and hitting a target will inevitably mean hitting the crouched children. The other half say this is bunkum, there are no children there, anyone who wants to should just  go ahead and have their usual shooting match. As a group of people, should they just fire away and ignore the claims of the there-are-children proponents, or would it better,since they’re unsure,  if the group played safe and  went off for a few jars  instead?
  9. Final question:  why is it that some people get really angry and insulting when they come on people who don’t see things their way?
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