Do stick around though. I have something special planned for the end of the week involving a considerable number of pie charts.
What Is Pro Choice?
To my mind the population is divided into those who feel a woman's reproductive cycle should be governed by society, and those who feel that individuals of the female persuasion are best placed to make decisions involving their own bodies. I consider the latter pro choice, and the former anti choice. It is only fair to remark that the anti choice grouping contains subgroups that would likely violently oppose each other. Supporters of China's one child policy with its attendant forced abortions clearly favour state control of wombs. Closer to home but further back in time, those who wished to restrict child benefit payments for third and subsequent children of Northern Irish parents mixed an urge to influence women's reproductive wishes with their anti-Catholic bias. Societies that pressure women to have abortions or commit infanticide until they are pregnant with a male are similarly an anathema to the pro choice position. They belong rightly on the side of those who judge reproduction unsuitable for a woman to govern without outside intervention.
Separate and distinct to these examples are those who feel abortion should be restricted to the fullest extent possible, generally in the belief that, once fertilised, an ovum should attain the rights we associate with persons. It is clear that they belong in the camp of those who feel opposed to women having ultimate control of their uteri, but also clear that they are separate in motivation, aims and goals. With the possible exception of restricting child benefit, those who oppose abortion would strongly condemn others in the anti choice camp.
Let's Start With The Easy Stuff.
I think we should support people who choose to have children. Pure selfish self interest buoys me considerably here - I like the idea of young potential taxpayers. I like the idea that when I reach retirement, some time in my 80's, there will be a replacement population of workers ready to maintain the state. I think parenting is an important job and anything we can do to ease financial burdens on those willing to apply yields a remarkable rate of return over a few short decades. A woman forced to delay or inhibit a desire to start a family for financial reasons has not made a choice, she has been denied one.
I support proper accommodation and support of primary care givers following the birth of their children. I've met some inspiring stay at home dads and it's a choice more couples are making, but in general, for now, we're talking about women here. Again my argument works equally well to a heartless monster - to deny women reasonable maternity support is to deny half the nation's population access to full participation in the workforce. I can think of no surer way of catapulting Ireland down the leagues of living standards than to jettison an entire gender. And again, a woman forced to delay or inhibit a desire to have a child to maintain her career cannot be said to have made a choice. She has been denied one.
I oppose shaming of pregnant single women. At a recent pro choice meeting I met a man whose mother was single at the time of conception. Rather than bring shame on the family she was pressured to take the boat to England, as was the euphemism of the time. Instead, she extended two fingers and chose to continue the pregnancy. This attitude lives on: a prominent story included a priest branding Olympic medallist Sonia O'Sullivan a "common slut" for being an unmarried mother. Last year a school refused education to a teenager who'd chosen to continue her pregnancy in a letter which included the phrase: "The school has an uncompromising ethos and will not become a dumping ground". If a woman is pressured into having an abortion by a judgemental society she has not made a choice. She has been denied one.
On Life And Death
Unlike attendees at Ireland's recent #Vigil4Life, I support the introduction of long overdue legislation to give medical professionals the legal clarity required to perform therapeutic abortions where the life of a woman is at risk. I'm unaware of an internally consistent argument against this stance.
A Risk To Health
Humanisticus wrote eloquently and with emotion on the case of a 13 year old Peruvian girl. Suicidal after becoming pregnant by rape, she jumped from her neighbour's roof. The fall was not far enough. She broke her neck. Considerable advances have been made in spinal rehabilitation but early intervention is crucial. Her treatment was incompatible with continuing the pregnancy and, despite Peru granting women a right to health in their abortion legislation, the doctors refused to operate until the eventual miscarriage. Only then would they provide the treatment that could have, if administered at the right time, ameliorated the damage. She's now in a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms. It's important to note that there is no provision for the protection of women's health in Irish abortion law.
I asked myself if I could value a small, brainless clump of cells against this teenager's desire to live a normal life. I could not. Could you? Where would a line be drawn? What disability should we judge as an acceptable cost, despite the woman's wishes? I feel I cannot wrest this decision from a woman and her medical team.
On Mental Health
I oppose the division between mental health in this debate in much the same way I would oppose a distinction between upper body health and lower body health. Mental health is real and will not vanish if proven inconvenient. Attempts to relegate or exclude it are offensive throwbacks to an era I hope we're leaving behind.
Pregnancy Without Consent
Imagine you've been kidnapped. You awake, finding yourself strapped to a medical device which is also connected to a man you recognise as a famous violinist. A letter at your side explains that your blood group is an exact match for his. His kidneys are failing, and a deranged fan, without the violinist's knowledge, has kidnapped you and turned you into a human dialysis machine. The letter assures you that after nine months' captivity the violinist will be permanently returned to health and you will be released. You see that the door has accidentally been left open.
Should you have the right to choose to leave?
I've yet to meet someone who says no, yet this situation is a close analogue to pregnancy where consent was not given. I support the right of women to choose abortion - or not - in this situation.
Fatal Foetal Abnormality
Pregnancy is the most public private experience a woman is likely to have. It is not something easily hidden and as friends, family and colleagues observe changes they will undoubtedly offer well-intentioned enthusiasm and congratulations. I cannot imagine the heartbreak this would cause to someone who knows their foetus will not survive outside the womb. There are those in such situations who would continue with the pregnancy, perhaps hoping against hope, perhaps accepting of the diagnosis but still valuing the time they have. I respect and admire their choice, but equally I respect the choice of a woman who feels abortion is the most appropriate choice for her.
I have not covered every scenario. Another post will be required. In the meantime, how much do you agree with me?