Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, General, Issue 2 (March/April 2013), Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—Are euphemisms helpful in the writing of history? I don’t think so. I’m referring to ‘“No Worse and No Better”’: Irish Women and Backstreet Abortions’, by Clíona Rattigan, about illegal abortions in Ireland and Northern Ireland from the 1920s to the 1940s (HI 21.1, Jan./Feb. 2013). The article makes more than one reference to women controlling their ‘fertility’ by abortion. Surely the use of contraception, natural and artificial, is an attempt to control fertility, and unless abortion is a normal means of contraception it does not fall into that category. Near the end of the article there are several references to termination of pregnancy. Again, this is an unhelpful euphemism. All pregnancies terminate; most terminate in birth, many others terminate in miscarriage. By termination, in this context, Ms Rattigan actually means an induced abortion. In contrast to Ms Rattigan, the primary sources she uses, from a more ‘genteel’ era, are less inclined to use euphemisms. While I understand that the topic of abortion is sensitive to many, it was also the subject of a very strident editorial in the same edition. History Ireland should be helping to clarify issues of historical interest, not to obscure them.—Yours etc.,

Co. Limerick
Sir,—You use your position as editor of History Ireland to call for legislation for the abortion of babies conceived through rape or incest, among other cases. In your world-view, we can take it, then, that such innocent unborn babies in the womb, despite the horrific circumstances of their conception, have no right to life? They can be aborted out of existence, under the ‘limited abortion’ you propose. You describe the issue of abortion as a ‘moral one’, which it is, but also as ‘a matter of private conscience’. Really? When did taking a human life unnecessarily and arbitrarily, born or unborn, become ‘a matter of private conscience’? Who decided that? And whose unborn life is then safe? Have unborn babies conceived through the horrific crimes of rape or incest no right to life? When did taking another person’s life, born or unborn, become ‘a matter of private conscience’ only?
The actor Jack Nicholson and the late computer genius Steve Jobs have both said that their single mothers were offered abortions but declined and allowed their unborn to be born, and to go on to give much to the world. Abortion would have ended their lives and work decisively.
It is saddening to see a history journal being used to advocate the abortion of unborn children, regardless of the circumstances of their conception.—Yours etc.,
Dublin 6W



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