We all have moments in our lives where we look back and cringe at the views we once held. For me, the one most pertinent right now is the time my Venture Scout group held a debate on abortion when I was a teenager. The pro-lifer? Me. The pro-choicers? Everybody else. As somebody with Irish heritage who went to a strict Catholic school, abortion was the one teaching that stuck. When I was 12 years old, our RE teacher sat the entire class in front of a video called “The Silent Scream” - a propaganda movie which shows the ultra-sound of an abortion taking place. The school also distributed literature and hosted speakers from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) - the vile Catholic anti-abortion pressure group that opposed gay marriage on the basis it would increase the incidence of abortion. Religious brainwashing was immensely efficient, if profoundly appalling, and the argument was powerfully simple: who could support the murder of babies?
The emotive strawman was prevalent in every argument I gave in that debate and, I’m ashamed to say, the disregard for women was palpable. “What about the father who had to endure the murder of his child because the woman wanted an abortion and he didn’t?”; “Well, you might say that this child won’t have a decent quality of life because of a defect or disease, but how can you make the decision that it would rather be dead?”. Most appallingly, when challenged on rape, I parroted the answer our entire year group was given at school: “Of course rape is awful, but does that mean an innocent child should die?”. I can’t quite put into words the disgust I have for that viewpoint and the fact I held it. The attendees of that debate probably won’t read this, but if they do, I offer my most profound apologies for it.
The truth is that the Catholic Church has never truly cared about the welfare of children. Every chance they have had to put actions to words they have failed in a way that shows almost dogged determinism. Those putting up posters about dead babies in Dublin today didn’t protest or march when the hundreds of tiny bodies were excavated from the earth and septic tanks of Tuam. They angrily campaigned when consenting adults wanted to express their love in marriage, but remained silent when case after case of child rape by clergymen was uncovered and the trail of senior cover-ups revealed with it. There were no banners and placards wielded by these people when the Ryan Report was released in 2009, detailing the abuse and humiliation of children by priests and nuns in Catholic institutions spanning over six decades. The current Pope, who is lauded as some sort of liberal hero for being mildly less of a monster than his predecessor, accused victims of child abuse in Chile of slander and only changed his tune after a public backlash.
This whole referendum isn’t about the welfare of children, it’s about something else the Catholic Church famously has, to put it mildly, no regard for: the rights of women. The arguments have precisely the same misogynistic undertones: that women are mere vessels for the produce of man. That the right of a foetus overrides the right of a woman to control her own body. There are the same distortions, the same lies - that women use it as casual form of contraception, the winking insinuation that all those who seek them are “women of ill-repute” who dared to invoke their own right to sexual fulfillment without formal permission from a sexually-starved man in a white frock. As much as this is about the Catholic Church’s utter disgust at women it is equally about their intensely dangerous and unhealthy attitude to sex. The arguments are driven primarily by men who would inevitably sing a different tune about the availability of abortion were they able to get pregnant.
Abortion doesn’t stop just because it’s made illegal. Women who can afford it travel elsewhere, adding to the emotional toll and stress they already endure. Those too poor to do so rely on different, more dangerous methods. The Church knows this and is content with it - to them, women in those situations are beneath contempt. As tempting as it is to engage in the argument that a woman should never be forced to deliver and raise her rapist’s child (even if that is what opponents of the Repeal are condoning), we shouldn’t rely on those extremes. There should be one basic principle that a woman should always be in control of what happens to her own body, whatever the circumstance. No moralistic condemnations laced with slut-shaming or misogyny. No insistence from pale, old white men that women are nothing more than offspring incubators. Certainly no more contributions to the debate from a religion that preaches about “the welfare of the unborn child” after the unimaginable suffering and death they have dealt to the born child.
To the women of Ireland: as a former ‘pro-lifer’, I’m truly sorry for being taken in by those fallacious and damaging arguments. As a pro-choicer, I have everything crossed that today Ireland will end a damaging and shameful legacy.