There is this inherent attitude in the pro-life argument, regardless of its precise content, that if we don’t legislate for abortion on demand, the problem will go away. I haven’t come across anyone naive enough to think it could ever go away by itself, but I have come across people who believe that there are other mechanisms with which we can deal with unwanted pregnancies. Even if a pro-life organization is willing to admit that part of the problem, regarding the way in which society treats women, is to blame for them considering or feeling pressurised to consider abortion, they still think that the answer is never ever for a woman to abort. I have quite a few issues with this.
Firstly, I commend the attitude that there is a problem with society and its view of pregnant women and women with crisis pregnancies. There is an attitude that makes an expectant mother feel guilty for even considering to have an abortion, an idea that women should never have an unwanted pregnancy, because they are a woman, and this is what women are built to do. A woman who does not want to have a child but finds herself pregnant is having unnatural thoughts, thoughts that some pro-lifers say come from societal pressures, and that it is society that needs to change in order for the problem to be dealt with. “We need to offer our women a better solution” they say. While I understand and commend this argument in so far as it admits that women are not to blame, I disagree with the core idea that if we change society’s attitude to pregnancy and women, abortions will not be sought. Unwanted pregnancies will always exist. There are a myriad of circumstances that can lead to a pregnancy being unwanted, none of which any woman should be expected to justify to anyone else.
Secondly, if the pro-lifers who believe society is to blame are really so very passionate about this grounding for being pro-life, why is it that they don’t set themselves up as organisations committed to sexual education for youth and providers of free contraceptives? I am perfectly willing to admit that in my own country, sexual education is wholly inadequate and that access to contraceptives is something that only became apparent and available to me in my very late teens. I would also like to point out that from a socio-economic point of view, I am, some might say, in a position of privilege and I see a direct correlation between this and my own sexual education and the aforementioned access to contraceptives. These things, though provided, are most certainly not provided equally. To my mind, if you believe that society needs to change its attitudes in order to avoid a problem, the way to go about being active about that is to make active changes, so, in this case, provide sexual education and free contraceptives. Instead, I’ve seen an “all talk” approach, and no difference in re-educating society to help women.
I mentioned in my last blog that I have yet to see an actual direct response from someone from a pro-life organisation explain exactly what they say to a rape victim who finds herself in the position of being expected to carry a child to term or raise anywhere between €500 and €2500 to travel abroad for an abortion. Carrying the child to term and raising it, or carrying the child to term and parting with it to give up for adoption. Raising money so that she can travel abroad, because in her own country to make this choice is a criminal act. To choose to terminate a pregnancy after such a horrific and unthinkable event in this country is to announce yourself as a law-breaker. Just what is it that the pro-life campaigners believe should be done here? What societal change could ever make a woman in this situation feel as though her pregnancy could somehow be wanted as opposed to unwanted? What authority is it that they grant themselves to feel that they can tell women in situations like this what they ought to think or ought to do? Has society really failed in a case like this because the woman considers abortion, or has society failed because it believes that she should want this child and is wrong to think otherwise?
Another case that is mentioned but not often directly addressed is the case of risk of the expectant mother committing suicide. Just recently I heard two gentlemen opposing legislation for abortions on demand argue against the case of threat of suicide. I have heard their argument from officials of pro-life organisations also. Both made exactly the same point and it is an argument that I have been hearing on replay for the last two months; “Abortion is not a treatment for suicidal depression”. Now, I will accept that as a statement. Abortion does not treat suicidal depression, there is no doubt about that. Treating suicidal depression is a very difficult and intricate process, which is different for each individual and can involve many steps including anti-psychotic medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, and just about anything in between. Suicidal depression can affect all people from all walks of life. Any amount of circumstances can cause it. If a case is presented of a homeless drug addict who is suffering from suicidal depression, it would be incorrect to say that if they stopped taking drugs, the depression would go away.
However, it would be correct to say that if they stopped taking drugs, they would find themselves in a frame of mind in which they were better able to cope with the depression. I am not for an instant comparing the life of an unborn child or any pregnancy to drugs or drug addiction, but what I am saying is that in cases of suicidal depression, changing a circumstance or set of circumstances in someone’s life can help a person get into a frame of mind in which they are able to deal with the depression. In the case of a woman carrying an unwanted pregnancy, I don’t think it is ever as simple as to say that if the pregnancy is terminated, the suicidal depression is or can be dealt with, but I do think that the correlation between the unwanted pregnancy and the depression should be investigated thoroughly and deeply before a judgement is made on it, and it should be recognised that each individual case is different.
Having reached this point, I’ve noticed something about my last two points. I’ve noticed this before of course, that whenever I find myself standing for the pro-choice side, I find myself addressing the issues of suicide and rape. I wonder why it is that we feel we have to wait for a woman to be in situations as dire as this before we will even consider allowing legislation that could help her. I wonder why it is that until a woman’s life is in danger, until her mental health has been pushed to its absolute limits and until she has suffered traumatic acts like rape or incestual rape that have resulted in her pregnancy, we think abortion is bad. Until a woman is in a situation where her circumstances are so dire that she feels wholly unable to nurture another human for at least nine months, we think that abortion is unacceptable. What is it that makes people think that this is ok? Is this what we want for our women, for them to be silenced until they are in danger of death or in such deep suffering that they cannot cope? I sincerely hope that it is not.
In conclusion, I’d like to point out that there are several points on the pro-life side that I find incredibly interesting and accurate. I think there is a societal problem, I think society needs to change the way it views women. Where I disagree is that that societal change entails us idealising pregnancy and behaving as though the response to pregnancies can be changed. I think as a society, we need to learn to trust a woman, within reason, when she says that her pregnancy is unwanted. We need to trust our women to make decisions about their bodies, their lives and their lifestyle choices. It’s unacceptable to me that we try to change a woman’s mind about her pregnancy as though her mind is ours to change. It’s simply not the case, and the mass delusion that that’s possible is what is keeping women shamed. In my country, abortion on demand is not legislated for, and yet thousands of nationals have abortions abroad every year. These women do not need to be silenced, these women need our support. These women need to know that whatever their circumstances, they have adequate care and support. These women are the women you and I know and love, and they deserve more than what the government is offering them now.