A big issue in Ireland this year is abortion. There was a Supreme Court decision about twenty years ago, that asked the Government of the day to pass legislation to clarify under what circumstances abortion can be allowed here.
I’d better state my own position: I am confused, teetering on a rickety fence that sometimes puts me down on one side and sometimes on the other. I don’t like the idea of abortion, as I don’t like the idea of killing in any circumstances, but we all know it goes on. As someone once wrote, What kind of God populates the world with predators, and particularly one superior species of same, and then tells us not to kill? Besides, abortion isn’t only something humans do. I’m not entering into a discussion about God, The Universe and Everything (though I will do here one day, fascinating topic) but since the so-called Pro-Life movement is so heavily biased towards religious arguments, sacred nature of creation and so on, for the sake of argument, let me first write as if there is a God who takes an inordinately detailed interest in our personal lives. Abortion is one of several tools he uses and has always used to keep populations of all species under control.
It goes on first and by far foremost, in the natural process of conception. As any adult must know, zillions of spermatozoa are given the task of finding the egg and starting the process of gestation without ever getting close. All those dead sperms, all those unfertilised eggs. Then, when eventually one of these blind fools does manage to get to the egg and penetrate it, the development of a viable foetus remains desperately uncertain. Anyone who has been involved in having children knows you don’t tell anyone beyond the immediate family that you are pregnant until the foetus has survived the first three months, because so many such foetuses abort of their own accord. And then quite a lot more fail to make the full term, ending their short life in late miscarriage. So it seems to me rather sad to intervene and abort a foetus that has made it through that fraught process. But that is all I can say: it is sad, but it is not the whole story.
The Pro-Life movement (so much has already been said to point out the abominably misleading nature of this title, as if its opponents are anti-life, that I think I need not add more); that movement resorts to the Word of God and His Commandments argument a lot, even if they are not overtly religious (though it seems the majority are). They are referring to the seventh Commandment as quoted (twice) in the Old Testament, which says, in the Greek anyway, Thou Shalt Not Murder, meaning unlawful killing, and on this basis they say we cannot allow abortion by human intervention. That book then goes on elsewhere to outline circumstances of lawful killing, but one must wonder if God (if there is such a thing) would make this useful political distinction. If we take it as it is often given, as Thou Shalt Not Kill, then we had better dismantle the armed forces for a start, as they definitely give permission to their members to kill, indeed they expect it of them. And if it is argued that they act in self-defence (one of the lawful definitions in the Bible), what about the drone campaign so beloved of the American and Israeli governments, or the invasion of Iraq, or the firepower deployed in Vietnam against a peasant army? Indeed, any bombing and shelling campaign that threatens (and usually kills) civilians, who clearly offer no threat to the bomber pilots or the men controlling the drones from their desks in an office somewhere far from the scene of destruction?
Of course, this anyway does not address those who do not accept the Christian Bible as the Word of God, nor any book that makes a similar claim (there are lots of them), but who seek to make their own morality from their observation of life as it is lived. Can we, living in a society richly mixed as it is today, and mainly secular in its nature, impose a single set of beliefs on our fellow citizens? We can argue our case, we can, I suppose, attempt to convert them to our system of belief, but surely we cannot force them to accept our morality or our beliefs.
Besides, if we are to take the argument about not interfering in God’s work to its logical conclusion in the case, then we should also ban intervention in infant mortality, up to perhaps 5 years of age, this having been another major preventative of over-population. This applies to contraception too.
But really, the most obtrusive elephant in this particular room is that the debate is ultimately to be solved by laws passed by the government whose members are, perforce, politicians. It is a sad fact that we all can recognise, that politicians nowadays do not have much in the way of balls, metaphorically speaking (I could not possibly comment on any other meaning). It is no surprise that this question has gone unanswered for twenty years here in Ireland, since the X case in 1983, where the Irish Supreme Court told the then government and all successive governments, that the current state of the law and the constitution is anomalous and should be clarified. Politicians no longer think in anything approaching the long term, so this hugely difficult question will be addressed by people whose main concern is to please the most vociferous of their constituents as expressed in the next few months, and then hope the rest of us go along with their decision, or if it comes to it, vote Yes in their referendum.
The other elephant in the room that amazes me, is that the majority of those who are debating the subject and making the decisions are men. Women do contribute to the debate, on both sides, but the main players are all men. Whatever my own confusion and attitude, I do think the people to decide the issue are the women who bear our children.