Here we go again. Like the Troubles, abortion in Ireland is a topic that practically everyone is happy to pile into but which virtually no one likes to look at. Let me explain.
This week in the south of Ireland, three women who took cases to the European Court of Human Rights got a judgement. The cases of the first two were dismissed, the Court deciding their human rights hadn’t been infringed; the third case was accepted, the Court ruling that the woman was offered no clear procedure that’d have given her access to the limited abortion services available in the south.
Since then, we’ve had people like Audrey Simpson of the Family Planning Association in Belfast lamenting that the ruling didn’t go far enough, that women should have the right to choose abortion if they wish; and people like Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times saying that Ireland’s health service is among the best in the world for maternal mortality figures so there really isn’t the need for abortion to be legalised by a change in the Irish constitution. Both women failed to focus on the central question.
Because the abortion debate has a core – a frightening core – and one that must be confronted by anyone talking about it. The issue is simple: is an embryo human life from the moment of conception? If it is, then it’s hard to see how opponents of abortion could possibly be excessive in their protestations. At a Humanist Society debate I was involved in last week, Audrey Simpson cited the cases of anti-abortion people shouting ‘Murderer!’ at women on their way to have an abortion: she was heavily critical of Catholic Church authorities for not punishing those who shouted the abuse. Similarly, the display of pictures of foetuses and accounts of what actually happens to the foetus during an abortion have been condemned by pro-abortion activists as in bad taste.
Why? If anti-abortion activists believe the foetus is a human being, then to shout ‘Murderer!’ or show photographs of the foetus or its destruction is surely to act in a restrained fashion. If you believed a medical centre was taking innocent children and killing them, to shout ‘Murderer!’ or show photographs would be seen as a pathetically weak response. “Why didn’t they call the police?” you’d say. “Or if the police wouldn’t act, why didn’t they go in there and stop these murderers, by force if necessary?” It’s hard to think of an action, however extreme, that wouldn’t be justified to protect innocent youngsters from being systematically killed in their thousands every year. But that’s what anti-abortion people believe is happening at present to children in the womb. Restrained isn’t the word for their response.
As to pro-abortion people: their stance is that the foetus is not a human being. In that case, it makes no sense to talk about a decision to abort as a serious moral decision, best left to the woman involved. If the foetus is just a collection of cells, morality doesn’t come into it. Aborting your foetus should have no more significance than blowing your nose.