A number of those contesting the Seanad panels have highlighted the issue of stem cell research and ethics as a roundabout way to get to the much thornier issue of abortion and to signal to an audience their pro-life or pro-choice credentials. I believe that in due course we will no longer need to use embryonic stem cells for research with adults cells serving just the same purpose to good effect, however until such a time comes around I support the conduct of research using embryonic stem cells. And I would support legislation to clarify the place of such research in the Irish context.
Now I will proceed to the core issue. One of the biggest weaknesses of those arguing both for and against the legalisation of abortion over the past 30 years in Ireland is that they’ve never quite come to terms with the fact that the problem we are dealing with isn’t abortion at all. The problem is that there are pregnancies that aren’t planned or wanted. If all pregnancies were planned and wanted then we’d have no need for abortion at all.
The debate we have about abortion is too easily framed in terms that exclude the messy greyness of real life. Even the names of the campaigns show that it is intended that there should to be little room of any middle ground in this debate. After all who would be the candidate in an election who would wish to be identified with being opposed to life or choice, the pro death or control of the actions of others candidate. Yet for all their profile, funding and activity they do not control the reality of the problem, we can in the words of a wise personage, reject their version of reality and substitute our own
I think some on the pro-choice side had somewhat aided and abetted in this misplaced focus. It may have been more out of a desire to confront the pro-lifers on their terms and not actually out of wishful intent to miss the point. At times it can appear, to me and others I suspect, that the argument about abortion is deemed utterly more important than solving the problems that result in the demand for it in the first place. If we had spent nearly as much time from the 1980s onwards ensuring there was a real sex and relationship education in our schools. Meanwhile we should have been saying point blank to many parents that it is not the job of teachers to education your children about sex, if your daughter gets pregnant or your son gets some other girl pregnant it’s not the fault of the school or of society. The primary responsibility for their actions lies with them and with you as the adult responsible for them. As a parent you really are always in loco parentis. And fathers, I’m looking at you in particular. You need to man up and take responsibility for talking to your sons about sex being about more than getting your end away. I apologise for writing in such crude terms but we need to get real about this if we are genuinely serious about solving the problem we are faced with.
Abortion is simply an outcome from that situation of being pregnant when you didn’t want or intend to be. If we focused on eliminating the pregnancies occurring in the first place then abortion would over time be almost a mute issue. Faced with a choice of ensuring comprehensive sex and relationship education in our schools and homes or preserving an unrealistic, and I think irresponsible, concept of human sexual relations the pro-life movement has stuck its hands in its pockets and pretended that we live in a world of no sex outside of marriage. That mentality has without a doubt contributed to the number of abortions each year taking place outside of Ireland but which originate from here. Meanwhile the pro-choice movement often adopts an attitude reminiscent of some Japanese historians who regard World War II as some natural disaster that just…happened…one day for no reason at all. One would be forgiven for thinking at times that the stork was making a comeback cos other than cases of rape or incest it seems that the pregnancies that end in abortions just…happened… . The truth is if you get pregnant then there was you and a bloke in it, it wasn’t a stork or magical fairy dust or whatever. We need to tell the generation coming along after us that sex has consequences and that for all the use of the word casual to describe it, it is far from casual for the simple reason that it involves human beings.
And I sincerely believe that in many cases where abortion are the outcomes that they don’t necessary solve the problem in the manner that the women expected they might. There again, I am a man and will never be faced with making that choice so I have to admit to an incomplete understanding on the situation. There again, if they were being honest, many of those women on either side of the discussion who are most adamant about their viewpoint who have never actually faced the situation themselves would admit the same.
Yet will we see anyone take positions on the issue of sex education or encourage even expect more personal responsibility from adults in this Seanad election? Nope, cos the way you get votes in elections is by corralling as many votes as you can from easily defined and appealed to groupings. No one gets votes in elections by challenging the thinking of the electorate on a topic, you get votes by convincing them that you think what they already think. Say you are absolutely pro-life, not a foetus, not a baby, not a stem cell and you’ve got a set % of votes in your back pocket, declare that you’re 100% pro-choice and you’ve got a definite but different grouping nailed down on your side. Express any kind of nuanced and genuinely human reaction that perhaps we shouldn’t be rabidly either of one view or the other and you’re not nailing down any support at all. In fact the exact opposite will be the case. Being of a safe, legal and rare mindset in Ireland is all too often viewed as some sort of cop-out by those who get to do the talking on the issue in the media. Maybe it is. Yet it remains my belief, for all that it will read like a cop out to those who are 100% convinced by one side or the other, is that we should take practical and measurable steps to reduce the number of terminations originating in Ireland while allowing for terminations to take place legally in Ireland in accordance with the out-flowing of the X case and subsequent decisions in the courts. It’s time for the legislature to legislate.
One aspect that tends to be missed on a practical basis by the pro-choice lobby is that even were abortion to be legislated for in Ireland, it’s highly unlikely that the issues around having to travel would entirely disappear. I can’t see that too many women, given the small size of the country and the population distribution, would find it all that straightforward to drop to a local clinic. Indeed, my understanding from the UK experience is that often times women will still travel from one city to another simply to ensure some sort of anonymity and privacy. So women from Donegal, Kerry and elsewhere would still be travelling, and they might well feel it as easy to travel to Liverpool as to Dublin. So legalisation wouldn’t lead to the end of women taking the plane or boat.
And for all that the pro-life side talk about the sanctity of human life and how vital an issue this is, they don’t bother to have the courage of their convictions and seek to restrict the right to travel and information because they know the public wouldn’t wear it. For most of them, it is about having an acceptable level of casualties that take place out of sight and they can live with that.
I don’t believe I will win any votes with my stance and I would strongly expect it to alienate some who might otherwise have voted for me, but it’s my opinion on the topic and I’m not inclined towards dancing around the campaign with euphemisms.