Talk of buffer zones can’t distance us from the reality of repeal

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When we hear that Minister Simon Harris doesn’t think cost should be a barrier to having an abortion in Ireland, it almost sounds positive.  You could be forgiven for thinking that he’s trying to alleviate financial pressure – until of course you remember that he’s talking about forcing taxpayers to pay for ending the lives of unborn babies.

In the rough and tumble of the referendum campaign there wasn’t much time given to the discussion about who would actually pay for the abortions under any new law.  Pro-life campaigners who tried to highlight it were generally ignored.  It’s likely that most people who voted didn’t really give the matter a lot of thought for one simple reason – time and time again, abortion was depicted by pro-repealers as just another service, something that women should be entitled to like any other operation on the health service.

There’s just one problem with that, and it’s something that pervades the entire debate in Ireland.  Abortion isn’t like anything else. Far from it.  It’s entirely different to anything else.

An abortion is the only procedure that is deemed successful if a healthy human dies and a failure if that human dies.  It’s the only time doctors are given carte blanche to intentionally end the life of a living human being who hasn’t given his or her consent and would otherwise continue to live a normal life.  So given that its sole purpose is to end a human being’s life, it’s entirely appropriate, no, necessary, that more attention is given to who funds the procedures.

Some have claimed that “you don’t get to choose where your taxes go”, and that’s true.  But this is not about a la carte taxation.  This is about something more fundamental, something that goes to the heart of democracy.  Are you happy that your earnings go towards ending lives?  Don’t the people who voted No, at the very least, deserve more from their Minister for Health than an announcement in the Dáil that the legislation is going to include a proviso for tax funded abortions?  I pay taxes to save lives and make them better, not end them through the violence and tragedy that abortion involves.

The other piece of news from Simon Harris is his plan for buffer zones outside clinics where abortions take place.  Quite apart from the obvious attack on freedom of speech, it’s hard to see why these are so necessary.  They’ve been described as “safe access zones”.  Safe for who, exactly?  These are premises where babies’ lives are being ended.  If you look around the world, or even just to the UK, you’ll find plenty of examples where women came off the worst in abortion clinics.  So it’s a bit of a misnomer.

If this Government was really worried about harassment, then perhaps they would have looked more closely at what abortion can do to a country when it’s introduced.  Back in October 2017, the UK’s Care Quality Commission issued a damning report on Marie Stopes, finding that their staff worked in what was described as a “cattle market culture” where they phoned women who had decided against abortion to offer them another appointment.  Imagine that – phoning a woman who’s made it through the initial panic stage of an unplanned pregnancy to check and see if she’s really, truly, definitely sure she wants to keep her baby. I mean, who does that? Marie Stopes, that’s who and sure, they have no current plans to move into the Republic but they’ve already told us they were watching the referendum result.

Back in October when the CQC released its report, we were in the middle of the Oireachtas Committee Hearings but as usual Minister Harris adopted a “hear no evil, see no evil” approach to the story.  But shouldn’t it have formed part of the national discussion we were having at the time?  Now that abortion is on the legislative agenda, maybe we could hear more from Simon Harris about how he intends to safeguard women from the risks abortion poses to their safety and welfare.  It’s not something that anyone on the repeal side wanted to discuss during the campaign but the risks are there and the public deserves to hear about them.

If Simon Harris looked around the world, he wouldn’t just see the risks of abortion.  He’d realise that buffer zones save lives – there are many people alive thanks to a conversation they had with someone just before they went ahead with the abortion.  But there hasn’t been any interest in that side of things, much like there has been no interest in hearing from women in this country who said they considered an abortion but changed their minds and had their baby instead.

It seems like only yesterday we were a country doing all we could do preserve human life.  Now we have a Minister for Health who intends to legislate to stop people from receiving what may well be a last-minute and life-saving offer of support before ending their child’s life.  All paid for by the hapless tax-payer who probably hoped their money would go towards something more positive than ending a baby’s life.

That’s the real rub of course, the uncomfortable truth that pro-repealers can’t get away from.  It’s the reason why we’re hearing about exclusion zones at all.  After all, it’s much easier to talk about buffer zones and the cruelty of prolifers than address the reality of what goes on behind the clinic doors.  That’s why the biggest buffer zone that Simon Harris is interested in is the one that he’s created to protect him from addressing the realities of his disturbing law.