SPEECH BY FINOLA BRUTON AT THE IONA INSTITUTE ON APRIL 10TH AT 8 PM IN THE ALEXANDER HOTEL DUBLIN.
May 25th may well mark a turning point for this country.
There is effectively only one question before us. Do we or do we not introduce a liberal abortion regime into this country. This is not about some sing-song “ Repeal the eight “ day out at the polls.
For the most part, this is an agenda driven, ideologically led, media and youth focused attempt to allow for the extinction of the lives of thousands and thousands of our most vulnerable human beings before they have allowed to be born.
The rare cases upon which some pro choice advocates build their case, are really no longer the main issue. What is being proposed is beyond all expectations and has disturbed many middle of the road citizens.
Two leading female journalists, have unequivocally and chillingly stated that they accept that there is a baby in the womb but that that baby’s life must be trumped by a woman’s right to choose.
At least, one could argue, that they are accepting what many others will not accept and that is, what advances in science, have been incontrovertibly telling us for some time now. It is that we can no longer talk about a mere bunch of cells. That often, before a woman even knows that she is pregnant, there is a beating heart, and a rapidly developing little body, a little boy or a little girl.
A MORAL VISION
This referendum is therefore challenging us as a society, to look at our basic moral vision and to examine our attitude to the value of human life.
It is making us ask ourselves the most fundamental questions of all – what does it mean to be human?
Are only some humans to have the most basic of human rights?
The breathtaking proposals that our legislators are envisioning, aided and abetted by the media, are at last stirring that still small voice of conscience in many who have up to now, being slumbering in a fog of moral ambivalence and misplaced, if well intentioned, compassion.
I was taught nearly forty years ago that there were two sorts of moral vision.
The first one saw human life as a spectrum from the moment of conception to death. At every point on the spectrum life is equally sacred. There can be no exceptions or justifications or obfuscations. We cannot modify it in the interests of other values. It is, undoubtedly a difficult path to follow. And often, in the case of abortion demands a heroism that none of us can honestly guarantee we could deliver with certainty. In other words we don’t know, in spite of our genuine respect for the unborn, how any of us might react in difficult circumstances. That fact, however does not alter or take from the prolife commitment to the unborn baby which they believe is truly human.
So powerful are those commitments and beliefs, that remarkable courage -real and genuine courage-has been the hallmark of many prolife groups, here in Ireland and around the world and in particular, of the members of the Iona Institute, headed by David Quinn.
The second vision calls for compromise in moral situations. The individual, views morality as something that pertains primarily to themselves and their own situation. Some prochoice feminists will say that they wish that abortion was never necessary but that women are often the victim of circumstances. Accordingly they advocate that they must look out for themselves and if others get hurt, or die, then it is really not a woman’s fault. To sober this thought process up, to make this sound acceptable, language is changed, new moral codes are invented. Subjective concepts and feelings, inherently vague anyway, replace the notion of basic human rights. Old wine is rebottled. And compassion is invoked to justify all and sundry. Who could ever have known there was so much of it about?
We are by now well used to these linguistic developments. We have debated most of the arguments. We depend on a subtly biased media to put forward our simple but uncomfortable and threatening views on the sanctity of all human life and on the human rights of all unborn babies.
There are some issues that I would like put out for further discussion here this evening.
These issues are difficult.
They are ones on which people have different, but often implicit and unstated, values.
But if this is to be an informed and democratic debate, these values need to be made explicit and discussed openly.
When it comes to constitutional rights, are all rights equal? Is the right to life inferior to the right to bodily integrity?
What is our understanding of humanity? Who is human and who should have human rights?
If we are a society that values life, do we accept that the taking of a life will leave emotional scars afterwards on those involved in that decision? Should we not acknowledge this openly before we change our constitution.
As a society, we proclaim our belief in equality as one of our fundamental values. So how can we reconcile that with removing the equal right to life of the unborn from our Constitution?
As a society, we agree that our policies, should” be child centred”. If so, how can we justify leaving the interests of the unborn child out of consideration to abort its life?
As a society, we insist that fathers, as well as mothers, take responsibility for the welfare of their children after birth. If so, how can we say that fathers should count for nothing in a decision to end the life of one of their preborn children?
None of these are easy issues to discuss. They can generate anger and hurt and sincere disagreement.
I offer my own views on these questions here ask those who take a different view to tease out the arguments with me and to share their values with me, so we can move forward in mutual understanding and respect.
There are three issues that I would like to develop for further discussion here this evening.
CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN AFTER ABORTION
The first issue which has been pushed out of this debate, is the long term consequences of an abortion for the mother herself.
Regrettably, some of the dismissal of these effects by professionals, Doctors and Psychiatrists, over the last few months has been patronising. It really is a bad reflection on their profession.
Yes, it is true that some people can bury these doubts, in the long and the short term. However, for many others, the consequences have been catastrophic. When I worked as a Counsellor, I have been, for better or for worse, a witness to a number of these traumas. They are not experiences that one would wish to have repeated.
The terrible guilt, the awful grief, the desperate if futile wish that all could be reversed. If only, they could go back. Yet, at every desperate mental and emotional turning, they are told that what they did was for the best. And more harshly, that it was their choice. So, move on!
Yet, in my experience, no one can move on from something that they suspect might not have been the right decision without confronting that decision and acknowledging that they might have made a mistake.
To forbid women to do this, is to place an intolerable burden on their already heavy shoulders. And they often have to carry that burden alone, for the rest of their lives, fearing the hostile judgemental admonitions of an oppressively business like sisterhood.
Our modern culture is a harsh environment for anyone struggling to come to terms with what they sincerely believe to have been an act of destruction, however pressurised or reluctant that decision may have been.
This is a real and genuine medical and health aspect of the abortion debate. Yet, for all the talk of the health of women of women over the last few years, the often long, tortuous road that a post abortion woman has to travel is relegated to a footnote or is simply not spoken about at all. We might well ask is this not, in some respects an echo of the past?
This aspect of her mental health, this constant suppression of a guilt that she may feel, this turning away by those women who have led the prochoice argument, is, in my view, something that we as a society ought to challenge.
Its interesting that, on the one hand, we encourage women to open up about their abusive past, about the trauma of a deprived background, about the loss of their childhood. We suggest that they speak of their adoption experiences and have sought government help for them to seek out their birth mothers. We have commissions and tribunals and even a weekly television programme on lost families. But we do not want to hear from those who regret an abortion.
It seems as if all this compassion and concern is selective, and sometimes self serving, in that it suits other agendas. And we dismiss the hidden distress of those who now find themselves truly alone. Is Closure to be only for the chosen? Are the rest to be deleted from memory? Is this because it does not suit the narrative?
GENDER ISSUES – HALF THE VICTIMS WILL BE GIRLS.
The second issue that I would like to raise is the Gender issue.
Its extraordinary that our very vocal feminist journalists and academics seem blind to the fact that half of those babies they wish to allow to be aborted in Ireland are girls. How do they reconcile this with their notions of equality of treatment? Their own sisters are to be sacrificed on the altar of choice! Their mothers too? Because in time to come, this also will happen.
Drunk on the power of choice, it would seem that all human life is expendable. If we begin by extinguishing the life of the child in the womb, then, all rights ultimately fall.
Some argue that a life can justifiably be extinguished if it is not viable.
If life is not capable of being lived independently, is that a justification for supressing it? We are getting into very dangerous waters here. What of all of us, who, one day, may not be capable of living independently? The pro abortion advocates like to dismiss this as scaremongering, but the logic is inescapable. That debate is already underway, shelved for the moment. One step at a time.
REMOVING A HUMAN RIGHT FROM THE CONSTITUTION.
The right to life is the first and most fundamental of all human rights, without which there can be no others. One cannot exercise any other human right, if one is not allowed to exercise the right to live. We cannot say this often enough. Without being allowed to be born, one can have no civil rights, no free speech, no right to bodily integrity.
We must not forget that this drive to repeal the 8th Amendment is about taking away a constitutional right that is there already. This is unprecedented. The history of our constitution is that additional rights have been conferred either by amendments or judicial interpretation.
This is the first time in Irish history that a constitutional right is being taken away. A profoundly utilitarian view of human life is determining our ethical and moral understanding of what it is to be human.
THE ROLE OF MEN
The third issue concerns the role of men in the abortion debate, or, to be more accurate, the non involvement or the non engagement of the fathers of our unborn babies. And the distancing of many husbands and indeed older men from the whole issue.
Its an irony that 40 years ago, men were able to walk away scot free from any responsibility towards their pregnant girlfriends. The Feminists railed furiously against this, and with justification.
Today, in an open and free society, where women are visibly involved in every walk of life, where more than one third of all births are to single women, where DNA testing can establish the paternity of unborn babies, it seems as if men have vanished off the face of the earth.
We catch an occasional glimpse of older men, or younger husbands in newspaper reports, muttering about this being a woman’s issue. “ No, they will leave it up to the women”!
We have anecdotally heard about others in shops, pubs, the local chemist, or from their wives, no less, that its do with women’s bodies and God forbid that they should interfere.
The same women who complained all those years ago about men getting off the hook, are actively encouraging them to stay out of this and mind their own…business.” MY body, My choice. “
There are, however, sadly another group of men for whom the silence must be deafening. The fathers who wish to take responsibility for the children whom they have fathered and are as yet unborn. The fathers whose DNA makes up 50% of that of all unborn babies. The fathers, who long to hold and nurture and cherish their children are forced to stand aside, or worse, accompany their girlfriends on a life ending voyage.
For them it’s truly a question of what’s,” His baby too,” is “Her choice only”. His baby, Her choice? Where is the equality in that? Is this not discrimination? It is almost impossible for those souls to speak up as they are knocked down instantly by a battery of, by now, culturally ingrained ideologies and prejudices, that only belong in the domain of the female gender.
We need to hear those male voices. We need to support them if and when they speak. They need to know that not all females will drown them out. They too have an ownership, in so far as it goes, of what happens to that child that they helped to create. They too have rights and responsibilities.
WHAT WOULD REPEAL TELL US ABOUT IRISH VALUES? EQUALITY?
What are the basic beliefs of the Irish people?
Advocates of change in the last referendum on marriage equality, relied on two basic concepts to make their case. These were equality and opposition to discrimination. And, as we know, a majority of the Irish people agreed with them.
It is notable that, in this referendum, many advocates of change, of repeal, are not making their case on the basis of equality or on opposition to discrimination.
This is no accident. What they are advocating now are is inherently discriminatory. They want our constitution to discriminate against an unborn human life. They do not believe that an unborn human should have a right to live, ever to see the light of day, to breath air into its own lungs.
What concept of equality will the Irish people be endorsing if they vote yes to the repeal of the 8th amendment? It would seem that a very inconsistent version of equality is being granted to those who can make their voices heard but denied to those who cannot.
A CHILD CENTRED POLICY
We had another referendum recently on Children’s rights.
That referendum was child centred.
We were told our existing constitution was insufficiently child centred, and needed to be amended to make it truly child centred. We were told that this was necessary so that the Constitution would reflect the values of modern Ireland.
There has been no such ”child centred” approach in this debate to repeal to repeal the 8th amendment. It is not child centred at all. The child is a forgotten entity.
There has been no focus, no emphasis, no mention of the unborn baby at all in the Oireachtas report. It was far from child centred!
In fact, since the 8th Amendment was inserted into our Constitution in 1983, the only focus has been on the mother. Her choices, her rights, her health. That would have been fine, if it had been balanced with the beauty and wonder and health and safety and rights and sanctity of the unborn baby. Sadly, thirty years of neglect, thirty years of the active cultivation of choice over life, thirty years of talking only about the Woman, has led us to this referendum.
In light of the proposed legislation which the Government are framing, there is another question that must be asked.
What will happen when a child in the womb is on the cusp of viability at 23 or 24 weeks?
The Government has indicated that at this point the baby will be delivered alive, rather than killed in the womb first.
But is this really what a humane society does?
When a baby is this premature there is a high chance that the baby will be disabled precisely because it is so premature.
How could any government contemplate such a thing?
And who will look after this baby if the mother doesn’t want to do it? Will the baby be put into state care, or will some heroic family step forward to adopt the baby?
What will happen just before viability, say at 20 or 21 weeks?
The Committee on the 8th amendment heard what happens in Britain. The baby in the womb is paralyzed first and then poison is injected into its little heart. How can any humane society do this?
What happens to the corpse of the baby? We know that in Britain thousands of foetuses – aborted and miscarried – have been disposed of in hospital incinerators. Will we do that? If not this, then what? Could a mother bring the body home? What would she do with it?
I would like to know the answers to these questions.
The Irish people need to know the reality of voting Yes.
And how can it be acceptable that the baby in the womb can be a bunch of cells at 11.30 on a Tuesday night and a human being at just past midnight on the Wednesday morning?
These are some of the hard questions that the pro repeal side have not, so far, answered. But they are the questions, that we, the Irish people must all ask, on and leading up to May the 25th.
I cannot conclude without making reference to another area being neglected in this debate.
That is the topic of Adoption.
Why has it gone out of fashion? Because out of fashion it has gone!
I have spoken to young people who say “OH, I could never give my baby away”. It seems easier for many to extinguish its little life instead. Fidelma Healy Eames initiative, ‘ADOPTION INSTEAD’, that she launched very recently, is a very welcome development in this debate.
Of course, the sad reality is that it can never come back to ask why it was let die. Yet, many, as already mentioned are haunted by bitter regret after making such a decision.
An adopted child offers a peace, even if tinged with great sorrow, that an aborted baby can never offer.
Adoption exists under our law and it is a child centred, as distinct from an adult centred, solution to an unwanted pregnancy.
There are many other aspects of this debate upon which discussion is needed. Unfortunately, the media conversations have largely been in and around procedures and political fallout. We need to insist on our being given time to deal with what essentially this referendum is all about. A baby, a defenceless little girl or boy, a human being whose life we believe is worth more than a mere choice.
This human being is truly one of us, as the Billboards from The Iona institute around the country remind us.
If the Irish people vote yes, there will be no going back. That is the history of abortion everywhere.
We ask the Irish people to vote NO, to reflect on the life ending consequences of voting YES.
There is and can be no fudge here. Its, ultimately, either YES or NO to the destruction of precious human lives.
For Ireland, this is the most important social justice issue of our times.