You leave Twitter alone for a few hours and all hell breaks loose. There was gnashing of teeth and twiddling of thumbs, people “very curious” for the answers to their questions, and in the absence of an immediate answer, presumptions of the worst kind. It was “moral repugnance” as well as “moral cowardice”, if you don’t mind. It even led one user to tweet a link to a certain little lady who had a particular means of getting what she wanted exactly when she wanted it:-
The thing is, there’s nothing dramatic about giving an answer to the question posed. 140 characters just doesn’t leave space, and things like work and life sometimes get in the way too. But this issue is important in the context of the overall debate on abortion so let’s think about it.
The question from Twitterville today relates to the question of “force” – does the pro-life position advocate that a woman should be forced to give birth when she doesn’t want to?
It’s a strange word, “force”. Pro-choice advocates use it so often that I wonder if they even realise the significance of its double effect. After all, if we’re forcing women to continue with a pregnancy, what does abortion do? It forces women into a situation where abortion is presented as a choice – yet for many women, abortion is the last resort, literally the point when they have “no choice”. It forces an end to the life of an unborn baby – a human being whose existence is roundly ignored by prochoice campaigners who will even enforce the denial of the most basic biological facts in their attempt to justify abortion.
And abortion forces something else on us all. It forces us, as a society, to accept that we are prepared to countenance the deliberate and intentional ending of innocent human life. In Ireland, this is particularly troubling because we have had such a strong record of protecting life. Yes, we have had serious scandals that have denigrated the human dignity of Irish citizens and these must never happen again. But we have no death penalty, and a policy of neutrality for the living. Why should things be different for the unborn?
A Balancing Act
So much for the word. But let’s look at the context. Does the notion of “forcing” a woman to remain pregnant act as a reason to repeal abortion laws? Well, we are still dealing in law here, and the law “forces” people to do things all the time. You’re forced outside a pub if you want to smoke. You’re forced to wear a seatbelt if you want to drive a car. And those two things in particular aren’t just for your health and safety, but for the safety of other humans around you – humans in whom the State has an interest in protecting. Laws like that are a balancing act, it’s true. They require us to accept that sometimes we simply can’t do what we want because someone else will suffer. The greater the potential harm to another, the more delicate the balance. Undoubtedly, when it comes to abortion, we’re dealing with one of the most difficult situations because of the intense and very unique relationship between mother and unborn. But given the huge harm that will be done to the unborn through abortion – the loss of life itself – a ban on abortion is, I believe, justified.
But what about the woman? How does the State approach her needs in this most delicate of balancing acts? Well, maybe this is where we’re all falling down because the debate we should be having about abortion and what is does to/for women simply isn’t happening. Pro-choice campaigners are fond of saying that “no-one ever said abortion was a good thing”, but actually, that’s not enough. Calling it a “necessary evil” or “something we’re always going to have” is not how we deal with other things that might be harmful. We put them under the common microscope, we examine the before and after effects on women. In short, we stop acting like campaigners and start working together to actually figure out whether abortion is a good thing for women. And if we find out it’s not, then we work on a better way for women.
What about these women, and the countless others harmed or deeply regretful of their abortions? It’s very easy to abdicate responsibility for their wellbeing – the notion of “choice” helps with that after all. If it’s your choice to have an abortion, then it’s also your responsibility to deal with the fallout, good or bad.
A Conspiracy of Silence
But aren’t we, in some way, “forcing” women to face up to the most troubling dilemmas in the aftermath of abortion, simply because we refuse to have the debate that would at least give them some prior knowledge of the facts? Abortion takes on a very different hue to a woman attending a Marie Stopes clinic run by a Dr. Dartey. Before taking her own life, Emma Beck wrote a suicide note in which she specifically referred to the twins she had aborted, realising that she would have been a good mother and saying that she wanted to be with her babies. Shouldn’t women know about these stories? Why does the pro-choice lobby enforce such silence, particularly in Ireland where groups like WomenHurt receive little or no hearing from the media? What are prochoice activists afraid of – that more and more women might turn away from such an intrusive and abusive procedure if the truth was known?
At the end of the day, the notion of “force” is inappropriate in the abortion debate. When there are two human beings so firmly linked together, balance is required, together with a moderation of language so that we can do the best for both.
Do we force a woman to give birth?
Do we force a baby to stop living?
No, neither. We acknowledge and respect the relationship between the two and we act in the light of all existing evidence and experience so that both emerge from this unique coupling to live as happy individual human beings.