Why pro-choice campaigners fear pro-life women

One of the saddest aspects of the abortion debate is how it pits women against women. And that causes extreme fear among those who want to see abortion introduced. At the moment, what we’re seeing is an international pro-choice movement that so fears the influence of pro-life women that it tries every means to exclude them from the debate entirely.

Witness the piece in the Irish Times earlier this week by pro-choice campaigner Emer O’Toole where she talks about the testimonies of women who have survived abortions and, having reflected on their experiences, are pro-life as a result. In O’Toole’s words, the term “abortion survivor” refers to:

“an anti-choice advocate who claims to have been born following an unsuccessful abortion. Smiling pictures of these people are trotted out alongside quotes about being “saved by the sheer power of Jesus”. The existence of such Bible-thumpers is supposed to act as proof that women shouldn’t have abortion rights.”

What followed was the testimony of a woman writing under the pseudonym “Maria”. Maria’s mother tried to abort her using abortion pills and when the abortion failed, Maria was born. She wrote the piece about why she is pro-choice.

O’Toole then took to Twitter to name-check two abortion survivors who now speak out against abortion – Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden. In the course of this thread, she compares the “beautiful empathy” of Maria with the inability of Jessen or Ohden to even acknowledge their birth mother. She’s clearly never listened to this testimony of Melissa Ohden who told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk about the emotional reunion she had with her birth mother.

Amnesty  Melissa Ohden

But that’s the problem, isn’t it – O’Toole isn’t interested in the stories of Jessen or Ohden. In her eyes, as in the eyes of so many pro-choice campaigners, they’re just two more obstacles in the road to repealing the 8th Amendment and removing the last remaining constitutional protection for unborn children in Ireland.

There’s nothing unique in the way O’Toole disregards the experiences of women who survived an abortion and are pro-life as a result, just as there’s nothing new in her attempts to paint them as religious fundamentalists. If she listened to their stories, she’d realise that their opposition is based on far more cerebral grounds – Jessen survived an abortion but was left with cerebral palsy as a result and Ohden’s medical records show that she survived a late-term abortion which involved an attempt to poison her by soaking her body in a saline solution in the womb. She was soaked in that solution for several days which makes her survival all the more incredible and left her with physical injuries as a result. Most people would feel that she should be allowed to have her own thoughts on her life without being attacked by O’Toole.

Indeed, most people would think it is a poor form of argument that must rely on mocking the beliefs of others – regardless of the topic under discussion. Maybe someone should tell O’Toole.

But this is all really part of the grand scheme of pro-choice campaigning. Those who want to see the 8th Amendment repealed fear stories like Melissa’s, or Gianna’s because they don’t draw a veil over the humanity of the unborn baby, or the physicality of what happens in an abortion. Instead of addressing these uncomfortable truths, pro-choice campaigners too often manage to skirt around the issue and discuss everything exceptthose aspects that might cause difficulty to their argument.

Even worse, Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen aren’t just abortion survivors. They’re women who have survived abortion. They are the living defence to the claim that abortion has anything to do with women’s rights. When an abortion has the sole purpose of ending the life of an unborn baby girl, it has nothing to do with rights of women. It is the complete opposite. Pro-choice campaigners know this and so they have no choice but to ignore the testimony of women who can highlight this fact.

Gianna Jessen

It’s the same thinking that means women who regret their abortions are completely ignored. Pro-choice campaigners don’t dare invite them to tell their stories, because they know that the public would be turned off abortion for good if they get to hear about how many women deeply grieve the loss of the child they lost. Why else would the National Women’s Council of Ireland have reacted so strongly against abortion recovery group Women Hurt when they launched their outreach programme in 2011?

But by side-lining these women, and their partners, pro-choice campaigners don’t just do them a disservice. They damage the debate that they’re so fond of demanding. In the Irish debate, they pay lip-service to women who regret their abortions but it’s more than obvious that you’re only really welcome to #ShoutYourAbortion if you’re shouting about how good it was and how empowered you felt afterwards. Mention the buzz words “regret”, “sadness”, “grief” or even “baby” and all bets are off.

Women who are pro-life present a major threat to the pro-choice movement, whether they have a personal experience or whether they just believe that encouraging women to end a human life is something no compassionate society should do. And pro-choice campaigners are right to fear them. After all, pro-life women are the ones who are breaking through the scaremongering and myths that have allowed a vocal minority in this country to misrepresent the excellent record of our medical profession while they shout for a referendum to repeal the 8th. And because pro-life women are just as concerned for women as they are for unborn children, they won’t ignore the horrific stories of how abortion has failed women or caused them to suffer serious injuries or lose their lives. Ultimately too, pro-life women will spearhead a movement that will unite all those who want to see every human being protected so that abortion is revealed for the horror and sadness it has caused throughout the world.

  • Malachy Gallagher

    Cora, you are such a good person. Bless you.

  • Diane Doonan

    There is no doubt that many pro lifers believe that of course many women agonize over thoughts about having an abortion so it irks me when pro choicers speak about them as though they all believe that all women who have abortions do so lightly. I think what bothers pro lifers more than anything is that there are some women who do take it lightly and do use abortion as a form of birth control, ie, 11 abortions, 5 abortions, etc.. C’mon, what do you call that? Society has a responsibility to do its best to ensure that trivializing sentient life, human and otherwise, not ever be viewed as acceptable.
    Also, both groups make themselves out to be angels. Both groups have participants who, however right or wrong, have good intentions and both groups have participants who are jerks and act on emotion only. Both groups do a lousy job of giving a respectful ear to the other and need to understand that this is a complex, rather than black and white issue. When either group name calls or mocks the other, it stops being about protecting anyone and becomes all about wanting to win.
    Finally, I find mocking brave souls like abortion survivors, Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jensen abhorrent. We should have absolute compassion for them and accept they do indeed have a right to voice their opinions. They were after all, very much implicated weren’t they.