Irish stew: Where abortion and national identity collide
The Irish favor the very narrowly limited law they are being promised. But they oppose abortion on demand. Creighton was telling them that if they support the former, they will get the latter. That was the heart of the issue that Savita Halappanavar’s death unleashed: Will this itty-bitty, health-based exception to Ireland’s abortion ban open the floodgates to the normalization of abortion across society?
My friend with the brother who thinks of the church as a criminal organization says: “It’s going to be limited. There’s nobody who’s saying, ‘We want to open an abortion clinic on every street corner.’ ” That is the Fine Gael view as well. The government is “not considering in any shape or form abortion on demand,” Justice Minister Alan Shatter said in a speech in November. Diarmaid Ferriter agrees. “I accept that it’s big,” he says. “I don’t accept that it’s a floodgate moment. I think that is propaganda. And I think that it is working to the advantage of the pro-life movement, of the so-called pro-life movement, to present it as a floodgate moment. It’s about catch-up. It’s quite clear we’re not going to have anything resembling a liberal abortion regime.” The Economist summed up the entire controversy with the bemused headline: “A limited plan to ease Ireland’s laws against abortion provokes sharp debate.”
All these distinguished people are wrong. Abortion opens up possibilities that societies that lack it cannot anticipate. The “Therapeutic Abortion Act” that Ronald Reagan signed in California in 1967 increased the number of abortions by a factor of 200. The Abortion Act which passed that same year in Britain was supposed to be tightly limited. But there are about 200,000 abortions in Britain annually, the great majority carried out on the basis of “Ground C”: a “risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the woman.” This is a gripe of both pro-choicers (who believe it humiliates the women who request it) and pro-lifers (who believe it makes abortion easy)…
When you travel a certain distance from Fine Gael circles, pro-choice leaders are quite blunt and sincere about what they want. “The agreed position [between Fine Gael and Labour] is that we’ll be legislating for the X case,” says Ivana Bacik, the law professor and Labour senator, sitting in a quiet conference room near her senate office. “And I’m really delighted we’re going to do that after many years of delay on it. We’ll be the first government to face up to this. But it will be very minimal. As somebody who’s very much pro-choice, obviously I would still be campaigning for abortion to be available on a broader range of grounds. I accept that that will probably mean a referendum to delete the Eighth Amendment.”