The referendum to Repeal the Eighth will be held on 25 May. This will then make it possible to pass legislation where women can have abortion on demand up to twelve weeks. The papers and airwaves are full of it, yet many of those commenting seem happy to talk about anything but the central issue and what it involves.
For example, The Irish Times has an editorial on the subject this morning, and not once does it mention the words ‘foetus’, ‘baby’ or ‘human life’. There’s also an article in The Irish Times today by Fergus O’Farrell, which speaks at length on the dangers to women’s health and the inadequacy of the southern health service. He also is heavily critical of the stance taken by the various churches. But again, the question of what the foetus is, whether this is a bunch of cells or a baby, a human life, is dodged completely.
If Irish people are going to discuss and then vote on the question of abortion, common sense demands that you start with what’s inside the woman’s womb. To do so is not to suggest that women’s health and healthcare provision don’t matter – of course they do. These are rights which the state should be making every effort to support. But before moving on to that crucial area, any debate must look at what’s in the womb.
To me it seems patently obvious that what is in the womb – look at the picture above – is a human life. Yes it’s small, yes it can’t survive outside the womb, yes it may be a huge inconvenience or even a danger to the woman’s health; but it is primarily, in my view, a human life, and no one has yet come within an ass’s roar of convincing me that it is something else. To say it’s “a potential human being” is like saying I’m a potential chess player or ballroom dancer. I may well be, and a very fine one I’m sure I would make – but what am I now? That’s the question we must ask ourselves about the contents of the woman’s womb: what is it now?
If the answer is “A very small – and vulnerable – human life”, then it really must have protection; and its mother must have the kind of health care that makes having her baby a source of fulfillment and joy. If the answer is “A clump of cells but not a human life”, then it’s in no need of protection beyond the protection a woman would give to any other part of her body.
It bears constant repetition: any debate must start by defining what it is that is inside the woman. Note I say ‘start’. The state which sub-contracts its problems to the island next door is a state whose politicians should hang their heads in shame. But the answer isn’t “Everyone’s doing it” and the provision of abortion in Ireland. The question is, are we prepared to recognize the contents of the womb for what they are, and then address the many challenges that produces, including support for both baby and mother throughout the natural lives of both.
The prospect of a birth is supposed to be an occasion of joy. How can we bamboozle ourselves into thinking it’s an occasion for destruction?