How did the abortion debate descend into sane vs crazies?

Let me preface this post by stating that I am solidly pro-choice. I believe that abortion is far too complex an issue for a one-size-fits-all law to work. There will always be a scenario where the law is too restrictive, so the law should be as open as possible, and let people assess their individual circumstances.

That being said; pro-life is a logical position, or at least it can be. It doesn’t make sense that such a clear left-wing/right-wing division has arisen on this. Nor why the pro-life campaign has been completely monopolised by such psychos as Youth Defence. I completely understand how someone can be adamantly anti-abortion. To a certain extent, everyone is a little bit anti-abortion. Take the scenario that a perfectly healthy baby is due to be born, obviously an abortion the day before that baby’s due date is just plain wrong. This is clearly a ridiculous example but it gives a decent jumping off point for the argument.

There comes a time in the development of a foetus where abortion is just plain unacceptable. The day before the due date is past that point, but we don’t really know where that point is, nor can we. Some might argue it’s when the nervous system develops, but fully develops? The first signs of it? or some point in between? Is this point when consciousness begins? Well when is that? Or is it when the soul takes hold? When is that? Is that even a real thing? There is no concrete point we can point to and say “That is when these molecules become human.”

Instead everyone makes their own judgement on it. And it’s not even a concrete decision, it’s a gut instinct. When a couple are having a child. They don’t decide on an arbitrary point on a calendar that they’re looking forward to when they can say “this is real now.” It’s a feeling that grows as the pregnancy continues. That feeling can be stronger earlier or later for different people, it can even be earlier or later for the same couple in different pregnancies.

While there can never be a definitive moment in a pregnancy for people to point to, there does seem to be something of a general consensus around 20 weeks. It’s not true for everyone, and it’s very broad and loose estimation, but 20 weeks seems to be the number that sticks, and hence it’s become an important before/after point for abortion acceptability in international debates.

But what if, for you personally, The Point is significantly earlier than 20 weeks? Whether people agree with you or not is kind of irrelevant, as it’s a personal instinct, and that’s all anyone has to base this judgement on. But if you believe that The Point is actually around the one week mark, then how can you not be outraged that it could be nationally acceptable to obtain an abortion after that point? If you’re outraged at the thought of a baby being aborted a day before its due date, that’s because that is obviously well past The Point. At a day before the due date, everyone agrees with you that that’s well past The Point. But as you go back further in time over a pregnancy, into the fuzzy realm of an entire society’s personal instincts, the further back you go, the less people will agree with you. And while arguments can be made for different points, the fact is that no answer is right, and no answer is wrong. Even if you gathered all possible data, facts and figures, the best you can come up with is maybe defining a point after which The Point has certainly occurred, but you still don’t know exactly when it did occur.

If the government were trying to pass a bill allowing the abortion of healthy babies the day before they’re due, there would quite rightly be uproar. It is therefore perfectly understandable that there are people who are passionately opposed to abortions past when they feel The Point is. If someone believes The Point is extremely early in a pregnancy, you can’t exactly call them wrong, as gut feelings are all anyone has to go on, and you can’t blame them for being furious at the idea of abortions past that point. You don’t have to agree with them, but you can’t blame them for their passion.

I understand why people are pro-life, I understand why people are so passionate about it. I see a logical reason for it. But why do I never see this logic in their campaigning? Instead I see scripture and shouty slogans and pictures labelled as scenes of abortion (but which most of the time are wildly inaccurate). There is space for a healthy debate here, and healthy debate is what we need. Long after the current argument over legislation has passed, no matter what the government does or does not do, this is a debate that needs to keep happening as it is an important choice that needs to be weighed seriously. But instead of healthy debate we have Youth Defence and their ilk being outrageously crazy. And on the other side, we have a movement of people outraged by Youth Defence’s outrageousness drowning out the voices of people trying to actually discuss the issues at hand.

Youth Defence are an easy target though, they invite so much vitriol and attack that sometimes they get attacked for the wrong reasons. Take for example one of their poster campaigns this year featuring a picture of a woman with the slogan “abortion tears her life apart”. There was uproar over that, and several complaints to the advertising standards authority. But this was a picture of a model, hence they were portraying a character, a character whose life had been torn apart by their decision to have an abortion. That is not a ridiculous scenario, many women suffer for years from the weight of their decision to have an abortion, their lives can in fact be torn apart. I know women who have struggled with that choice for many years, just as I know women who have managed to find a peace relatively quickly. Youth Defence saying that having an abortion can tear a woman’s life apart isn’t inaccurate, it would only be inaccurate if they said it always tears their life apart, which they didn’t. But the real problem with Youth Defence’s position, is just because a woman suffers with the weight of their decision, doesn’t mean it wasn’t their decision to make.

Another thing Youth Defence gets slammed on is that they are largely funded by Americans. To call this a serious stain on Youth Defence is hypocrisy. Many left wing organisations in this country are funded by Americans and have been for years. Ireland doesn’t have a decent philanthropic infrastructure and advocacy groups on all kinds of issues, left wing and right, have been depending on american money for years. It’s not problematic that pro-lifers get american money, because pro-choice gets american money too. The problem with Youth Defence is the particular Americans they get their money from are despicable, hate-filled, bigoted cretins.

There is a decent argument to be had from the pro-life side. An argument we should hear, just as they should hear our arguments. But as long as pro-lifers in this country keep spouting scripture and hatred, we’re never going to get that healthy debate we so desperately need.

Disclaimers: I described a couple experiencing pregnancy, as opposed to just a woman. This is not some kind of judgement against single mothers or any other kind of scenario not necessarily involving a couple. It is simply my perception of the experience of pregnancy as I know it best, having experienced it as part of a couple (though obviously I didn’t experience nearly as much of it as the other part of the couple did).

Some people are going to get angry that I seem to have drawn a comparison between an abortion the day before a due date, and a day after conception. The day before the due date is an extreme example, but I needed an example I was pretty positive no-one would disagree with for being an awful time for an abortion. You can try and transpose it to an earlier time if you’d like, but you’ll soon encounter the fuzzy mess of uncertainty as you try to define a concrete point.

Other people aren’t going to like my slamming of scripture spouting. I have a healthy respect for people of faith, even if I’m not one myself. My girlfriend is christian and our daughter is baptized and being raised to experience christianity before she makes her own choices. But religion has no place in this debate. If your sole argument against abortion is that it’s against your religion, then you’re only ever going to convince people who already share your convictions. If you want to get through to people about this issue, talk to them about this issue in universal terms, not terms restricted to your faith. And if your goal is to convert people to your faith; then in the middle of an already fraught and heated debate is not the time or place to do it.

Still more people are going to get mad at me for any number of things I’ve said in this post. All I can say is, I’m not here to piss people off (except maybe Youth Defence because whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, those people are fucking disgusting). If I’ve phrased something particularly poorly, I’ll try to clarify, if I’m objectively and demonstrably wrong about any aspect, I’ll correct it. And most importantly, if there are alternative opinions, I will listen and take them seriously. If people are still mad at me then, well that’s just the price of doing business.