Abortion is a hot topic in Ireland and in the Irish media again. It’s 20 years since the ‘X Case’ that rocked Ireland to its core and divided the country. SPUC-ers termed themselves ‘pro-life’ as if everyone who held a different view was, somehow, ‘anti-life’ and feminists clamoured for a woman’s right to information and to choice.
The arguments often contained rhetoric like ‘you don’t know what you’d do if you were in that situation’. Or they pulled on emotional extremes like ‘what if your daughter was raped and then got pregnant?’ Well, when I was 12, I spent a few months worried that I was pregnant. It turned out I wasn’t. Years later, I learnt that one of the side-effects of the sexual abuse I suffered was that my reproductive system was so damaged, I actually couldn’t conceive until after I’d had surgery in my 20s. If I had been pregnant at that time, I’d have been pregnant by a relative as a result of rape (obviously!).
I was terrified. What would the baby be like? What would my mother say? (I knew she’d blame me). What would happen to me? This the worst case scenario that many people cite in order to underscore how valuable abortion is – and how it should be available to women in this country. Obviously they argue – in this position, every woman would want an abortion.
Actually, no, they wouldn’t. Had I been pregnant, I wouldn’t have had an abortion. But that’s me. That’s my choice. I have absolutely no right to force my decision on anyone else. None.
Years later, just before I turned 30, I discovered – to my astonishment – that I was pregnant. The father of my child, as I have mentioned on this blog before, ‘suddenly remembered’ that he was married. To his cousin. Who was living in India, while he lived with me in Singapore.
I had already married and left two abusive men, and I had a 17 month old daughter from my second marriage. When I told people I was pregnant, many people assumed I’d ‘get rid of it’. At work, one of the people senior to me took me to one side and put pressure on me to have an abortion. He iterated how easy it was to have an abortion – compared to how hard it was to be a single parent.
‘And you already have a child,’ he reminded me. As if I needed reminding.
‘How much harder do you think your life is going to be with two?’ he asked.
He put a hand on my shoulder.
‘Give yourself a break,’ he counselled. ‘Have the procedure done this weekend. You’ll be back in work on Monday and no one need ever know.’
I didn’t have ‘the procedure’. I had my reasons for not wanting one – but they were my reasons. I had no right to foist my reasons on anyone else. Not then and not now. Which is why I support women’s right to choose. I support legislation that would make abortion legal in Ireland. Not just for medical reasons, either – because all that does is pit one type of woman against another. All sanctioning abortion ‘for medical reasons’ does is allow one group of women the right to choose, while removing the right to choose from another group of women.
Ireland needs to start treating women like adults; allowing them to make their own choices, and supporting them in the choices they make. Instead of, like it does now, turning away from Irishwomen who must journey overseas to have abortions for whatever reasons they make those decisions.