Have we the right to insist no woman can ever have an abortion in Ireland?
I was quite happy not to think about how I felt about the deliberate ending of pregnancies, until the issue burst into the communal conscience again with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar (may she rest in peace and may her loved ones find consolation).
For the last two months I have found myself agonising over my own stance, because I just can’t seem able to come to any conclusions. I am doubly troubled, in the sense that I’m not clear about my OWN feelings about the wilful ending of pregnancy and, even if I were sure of my own feelings, I’m not sure if I think MY feelings should determine the way I’d like to see our law-makers proceed.
I have read and listened to the people who argue on both sides of the question – on the one side, those who are clear in their views that the ending of the life of the unborn is always wrong, always murder and, way at the other end of the spectrum, those who believe each woman has the absolute right to decide for herself what should happen to, and in, her body.
I have also heard and read the more nuanced stances of those who recognise that there are times when the life of the mother has to be saved even if, by doing so, the unborn baby has to lose its chance at life. I’m aware of the view that would see that giving a morning-after pill to a girl/woman who has been raped is a right and morally justifiable and thing to do.
I am clear in my mind as to how I feel about terminating the pregnancy of a woman whose life is in danger – I feel her life must take precedence over the life of the unborn in that case.
But where do I stand on the question of the deliberate terminating of an unwanted pregnancy, the deliberate denying of a potential life? Very uncomfortable and very uneasy because I always try to get into the shoes of so many different kinds of people!
So, perhaps the best place to start is with my own experience. I’m a mother of two – a woman who was blessed to be in a stable relationship with the father of my (prospective) children, who has always had a wonderful support system of family and friends around me and a nicely comfortable, secure profession. I LOVED becoming a mother – both of my boys were wanted and desired and loved before they were even conceived, if that’s possible!
I loved my babies when they were in the womb – I cherished them and talked to them and felt myself wrapping them in my love and preparing to dedicate myself to making their formative years the best I could make them. So, basically, I loved the nine months that my babies spent in my womb.
But this isn’t The Waltons! Pregnancy was a long and difficult time in ways – the nausea at the start, the feelings of being like a beached whale as time went on, the utter discomfort and aches and pains that even the most straight-forward of pregnancies brings along with it and ultimately the utter agony of childbirth itself, were all part of the package.
Because I already wanted and loved my babies, they were a very small price to pay and I have never, for even a nanosecond, had even the slightest regret or wish that things were different. I am very much aware of how blessed I am to have two incredibly fantastic sons (and I’m still with their wonderful father and have my great family and friends around me too!). I thank God daily.
But what of those who are not so blessed in the circumstances in which they become pregnant? What about the woman who is raped; the stressed out mother who’s already at her wit’s end looking after young children, who’s partner has left and who has no support system to fall back on? What about the victim of incest? What about the teenager who’s terrified about what’s happening to her body? And there are so many more “What abouts”!
Is it truly right and morally justified to demand that such women carry a burden (literally!) that they find unbearable? If every moment of every day is spent in horror and anguish that the ‘growth’ inside them is something they cannot bear and that will have consequences for the rest of their lives, have I the right to say “You must do so”? And who knows what effect the feelings of such a woman might have on her unborn? If feelings transmit themselves into the womb (and I felt MY feelings of love did transmit themselves to my as yet unborn babies), then what kind of a start is it to come into the world unwanted, unloved and a cause of anguish?
Before somebody rushes to tell me that there are supports in place for women who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies, I acknowledge totally that such supports exist and thank God they do. I have no doubt that they have helped many a woman through such a difficult time and that such women are deeply grateful that they went through with their pregnancies and, no doubt, came to love their babies. I imagine that only in very rare instances do mothers reject their babies once they’re born.
But I don’t think we can assume that such wonderful organisations meet the needs of every woman who finds herself pregnant. For the woman who has a deep belief that, from the moment of conception, the developing embryo is a real new life, then such organisations are undoubtedly a Godsend (literally).
But what about the women who, in all conscience, don’t have the belief that life begins at the moment of conception, who, in their heart of hearts, believe that what is growing inside them is a collection of cells until they begin to develop into different constituents of human organs? (and at what stage does that happen? The medical profession can’t seem to agree, so who do we believe?)
Do I have the right to say to such women “Your view is wrong”? I imagine such women can see, with a totally clear conscience, that having an abortion is totally justifiable and morally right in certain circumstances. They won’t suffer any long-term negative effects.
In a sense, I envy those of you who are absolutely certain that you have the truth – on either side of the argument. You don’t have to face these difficult questions, you don’t find yourselves getting so far along one particular path only to come up against another fork in the road where you have to choose again. And yes, I DO pray for guidance. But my answers so far are of the “Keep looking” variety!
What I’m feeling quite strongly right now is that, while I don’t think I could ever have an abortion myself (it’s irrelevant at this stage of life anyway!) I haven’t the right to insist that the society I live in demands that no woman should have access to abortion within its boundaries even if her conscience is quite clear about the morality of so doing.
It scares me to put that down on paper, because straight after it comes the notion that it’s opening the door to a casual attitude to abortion – and I don’t want to see Ireland developing along those lines.
So we need to start much further back – we need to start by enabling our children to grow into maturity with a healthy, responsible attitude towards their bodies and their sexuality so that unwanted pregnancies don’t occur. I know! That will never happen. But we can aim for it and work towards it, rather than spending limitless energy fighting about what to do when it DOES happen.
I want to live in a society in which we respect diversity – in which each is encouraged to develop his/her full potential as a human being and child of God. That includes honouring and accepting those whose informed consciences have lead them along different paths than ours. Christ himself had no trouble accepting diversity, did he?
So thank you all for writing in this forum. I have no doubt that you’ll continue to give me material to think about and pray about and torture myself with for another while!