Lucy Williams writes about the current abortion rights debate
I remember my mother wearing them when my youngest brother was born. When I asked her about them, she told me they were just to remember how tiny her babies had been in her belly. But, I imagine, she just didn’t want to explain the details to a seven-year-old. Then in secondary school, they appeared on school blazers- the gold glinting among the house pins, prefect badges and boyband stickers. These tiny golden feet have been worn by generations of women internationally to symbolise their commitment to the pro-life movement. They represent a foetus’ feet 10 weeks after conception and are used as a reminder of the humanity of the unborn.
However, what they also do- implicitly and insidiously- is claim that care and compassion towards the unborn is the sole preserve of the pro-life movement. What needs to be acknowledged plainly is that pro-choice does not equate to pro-abortion. It merely means that we trust the women who are faced with crisis pregnancies to act in the best interest of themselves and their baby, without imposing and inflicting our own morality on them.
The simple fact of the matter is that the criminalisation of abortion does not stop it from happening; around 1000 women travel to England from Northern Ireland to receive access to abortion every year. It does, however, prevent poor and migrant women from accessing what the UN declares a human right. It prevents women who cannot afford travel costs from accessing their human rights, and increases the risk of terrified women resorting to drastic and dangerous means to terminate their pregnancies. Therefore, our abortion laws do not stop abortion from happening and safeguard the rights of the unborn child as Precious Life and other similar organisations would lead us to believe. They merely abdicate responsibility for Irish women to another country, and create further social division. Thus, the continued criminalisation of abortion on the island of Ireland is not a bulwark against a “silent Holocaust” as it is referred to on the Precious Life website. In reality, it is still happening. Just on English soil.
Pro-life ideology pervades Irish society on both sides of the border, and the fact that most churches are pro-life holds tremendous clout in such a religocentic society. No doubt, the majority of individuals who identify as pro-life do so on the basis of great personal faith and compassion for unborn children. However, the tactics employed by the more organised pro-life movement are shaming and shameful. These methods to prevent abortion are at best ineffectual and unnecessary, at worst shamefully sanctimonious.
The only way we can truly prevent abortion is to create a society where crisis pregnancies are less frequent and women can envisage a decent life for themselves and their children. Primarily, this means inculcating a real understanding of consent and contraception in young people through sex education, and increasing the access to and financial accessibility of contraception for all, in order to decrease the number of women and girls who find themselves with crisis pregnancies in the first place. It means making a real effort to remove the stigma associated with teenage pregnancies and being a single mother. Moreover, a move to reduce rates of abortion would be to ensure that no woman is faced with the monumental task of raising her child or children in poverty. It means that we would make a real, concerted effort to create a more inclusive society that provides for and improves the lives of those born with special needs or disabilities, so that women and their families would not feel terrified and overwhelmed at the prospect of raising a child with additional needs. It means striving towards a society where all children are safe, their basic needs are met, and where they are all given a chance to thrive.
The criminalisation of abortion does nothing but punish and shame women- it does not save lives. To save lives, and reduce the number of women who feel that abortion is their only option, we must work towards creating a society into which every woman would be happy to bring a child.