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Aren’t you just worn out hearing about the 8th amendment? Was there ever a bit of the constitution you were more sick of hearing about? We – those campaigning to have it repealed – have been banging on and on about it and we just can’t seem to stop. Well ya know who’s sickest of it? Us.
We don’t bang on about the 8th amendment because it’s fun. It’s not. It’s tiring and repetitive and we all have plenty else going on in our lives we’d rather be doing. I like dogs, trash TV and long walks on the beach, myself.
I like going for drinks with friends and talking about, frankly, anything other than reproductive rights. But people start talking about them to me. They mightn’t even notice, but I’m often not the one to bring it up. If they do, I have no choice but to be – I’m glad to be – an ear for their fears, set them straight on erroneous ‘facts’ they’ve heard, or reassure them that if the 8th were to be repealed, nothing about their day-to-day life or beliefs would change. Then there are the people who feel that they have licence to attack, just because you’re there, handy. Or to tell you how wrong campaigners are getting it all, when they themselves are clearly anti choice, or deeply uncomfortable talking about it, because they haven’t had a proper factual chat about it before now. That’s hard. Campaigners are people, often people who’ve lived a crisis pregnancy, maybe even one they wanted but was tragically unviable. We need nights off, too. We can’t be campaigners and counsellors, legal and medical experts, educators and hand-holders for everyone who has doubts. Of course, there’s a reason we have no doubts: many of us have lived it.
But many campaigners have not; they’re just empathetic souls who strongly believe in human rights. The right to autonomy. Privacy. Safety. Care. The right not to be talked at harshly in a bar because someone can’t quite get their heads around the fact that this isn’t – in large part – about abortion at all. The 8th affects every single person who gets pregnant in this country. Once you’re pregnant, even if you wish to continue a planned pregnancy, your consent and rights disappear. Not good, is it? But when you raise that with Harshy McHighhorseFace, they don’t believe you. (a) They haven’t researched the issue and don’t realise this is the case. (b) It’s easier for them to believe you’re making it up, because you love abortions and abortions are all you want to talk about and you want everyone else to have abortions. That’s why they’re so cross: because you’re out there boring the face off everyone, for the craic, about how much you want the whole world to have abortions.
STOP. Have a look at that. Why would anyone press for everyone to have an abortion? It doesn’t make sense. First of all, if we do end up getting it decriminalised and achieve full reproductive rights, most abortions – like, 90% – will be in the very early stages. (Later ones are almost all wanted pregnancies gone tragically wrong for medical reasons.) As soon as someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant finds out that they are, they can take a pill, under doctor’s supervision. No one campaigning for repeal will ever know about it. We have nothing to gain from someone having an abortion. We want everyone who gets pregnant to want to be pregnant, that’s all. But we know some of them won’t. We don’t want them to get hurt trying to end unwanted pregnancy themselves, or having an unsafe backstreet abortion, or being forced to continue in desperation. Judge Judy always says, “If it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t true”. Told you I loved trash TV.
Campaigners come from wildly different backgrounds, we often disagree politically or on what shape activism should take. But we’re united in a common goal: acknowledging reality and keeping people safe.
Being visible as a pro choice campaigner in a country where abortion is criminalised (and maternity care compromised) by misogynistic laws is hard. ‘Til recently, these things have been fully and unquestioningly accepted as ‘how things are’. I’ve had my own journey from indoctrinated schoolgirl to pragmatic, realistic and (hopefully) compassionate adult. It took reading. It took listening. It took seeing that even if people don’t ‘like’ abortion, it happens anyway.
It’s hard, hearing you’re alienating some indefinable ‘middle ground’ when you know that’s what pro choice is. Hard, hearing people say they’re moderate, not extreme, and therefore would allow abortion only in exceptional cases, such as rape, incest or fatal foetal anomaly. If they would allow it in these cases, they’re alright with abortion. The procedure in these cases is no different. It’s how the person got pregnant, whether they believe she’s suffered, that’s at issue. Is the person worthy? That’s a pretty extreme position when you really think about it. But still pro choice campaigners get singled out as such. Even, disappointingly, in our parliament.
Being visible on this stigmatised issue means that people who’ve been forced to keep secrets for decades, or are in crisis today, come up to you in shops and burst into tears. Or they write impassioned emails, detailing their horror. Having their trust is an absolute privilege. But it’s a lot. It means you can never go to bed at night and just forget about the 8th amendment. Because real people are at risk right now.
It’s fine to be ‘against abortion’. Check out @betaburns’ #knowyourrepealers: dozens of posters said they’d started out anti choice, but listening made them pro choice. Much as the Citizen’s Assembly discovered. There can never be consensus on when life begins, everyone’s moral take will differ, so our laws must reflect international best practice. But if someone is cut-and-dried ‘against abortion’, sees banning it as a moral high ground, it’s important to reflect on what that makes them ‘for’: for forced pregnancy, forced labour, forced birth; for burdening someone unable to care for an existing family; for someone forced to carry a dead or dying foetus; for sectioning of young women; for jailing of those trying to determine their own futures or manage a situation with which they can’t cope; for exile for medical care. The list goes on, not really a list to be proud of. Most people, whatever their feelings on abortion, aren’t ‘for’ all that.
If you want change, please get involved. We need every voice, every gesture. Resources are limited, campaigners are stretched. You don’t have to carry a banner or take to the streets if you’re not able. But take part online, or donate to a pro choice organisation, maybe join a group, or have a chat with someone. This isn’t divisive as the media would have you believe.
— Tara Flynn (@TaraFlynn) January 1, 2017
Or maybe just support someone you know who is campaigning. Make them a cuppa. Give them a hug. Chances are, they’re very tired.
Pro choice campaigners aren’t closed, hard people. The problem is the opposite: we hear too much. We can’t ignore it. We hear people’s terrible situations. We take shedloads of abuse, for the most part with as much grace as we can muster. We’ve taken on board our opposition’s misgivings, apprehensions or simple distaste, and weighed them up. We have. We hear their conscientious objections. But this will not affect them. We hope. We wouldn’t wish crisis pregnancy on them for a second. What spurs us into action is reality. People are in crisis right now. And it is urgent.
And we’re as sick to our stomachs of that as you are.