Pro-life or pro-choice?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Editorial, General, Issue 1(Jan/Feb 2013), Volume 21

‘Bumper stickers are an ineffectual means of communicating my nuanced views on a variety of issues that cannot be reduced to a single pithy slogan.’

So ran a tongue-in-cheek ‘bumper sticker slogan’ that I came across on the net recently. I suspect it reflects the bemusement of many in the face of the ‘debate’ on abortion that has arisen in the wake of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy. Each of the slogans above claims a moral superiority over the other that effectively short-circuits rational discussion. As a guiding principal ‘pro-choice’ seems more rational but, under the prevailing system of neo-liberal capitalism, when it comes to health or education provision, for example, in practice it means little or no choice for the less well resourced. Nevertheless, since it reflects the current status quo, both legally and constitutionally, it is the pro-life or anti-abortion position that demands our critical attention.

Isn’t it time to accept that the insertion, however well-meaning, of a blanket ban on abortion into our constitution in 1983 (already illegal in any case) has been entirely counter-productive? Pending the results of various investigations, we do not yet know whether Savita Halappanavar’s life would have been saved by a termination but it is claimed that she requested one and was refused, so prima facie there is the possibility that a life was lost as a consequence of a ‘pro-life’ constitutional amendment! In any case, in 1992, in the wake of the ‘X case’, the blanket constitutional ban was effectively lifted when the right of women to travel abroad for, and receive information on, abortion was upheld by the electorate.

Meanwhile, Irish women have continued to avail of the option of abortion (fluctuating between 5% and 10% of live births since 1983). As Cliona Rattigan outlines in this issue (pp 42–3), this has always been a fact of Irish life. The only difference is that over the past generation the horrors of backstreet terminations have been avoided by the availability of safe, legal abortion abroad. Of course the issue of abortion remains a moral one but that, surely, should be a matter of private conscience. In the public domain it is long since time that our handsomely remunerated politicians, who have sat on their hands on this issue for the past twenty years, legislate and regulate for limited abortion (cases of rape, incest, miscarriage and severe physical abnormality of the foetus spring to mind). And if our much-mangled constitution proves to be an obstacle (including the Supreme Court’s ‘suicide’ ruling), why not a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and wipe the constitutional slate clean?

Tommy Graham

6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7

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