Stop, Look, Listen: Your Safe Cross Code for Talking about Repealing the 8th

It’s my last weekly column for HeadStuff. I said goodbye last week because for this last one, I want to leave you with some thoughts and homework, if you’re up for it. You’ve guessed it, it’s about the 8th amendment. I’ve said a lot of this before, but I wanted to group some recurring points in one, easy-reference package.

We keep hearing how tricky it’s going to be to have conversations in the run up to a referendum. Well, I’ve been having every version of the conversation for ages now, so I’ve put together a handy guide to how to keep yourself safe, without getting run over by myths, lie-juggernauts and people who haven’t really thought the route through but are intent on running you off it, even though they don’t have a licence themselves and prefer to sit down the back of the bus, in a most pass-remarkable way, while somebody else does the driving.

(You didn’t think I’d let my last column go without an overworked extended metaphor, now did you?)

First, sadly, we need to forget most media reporting on this. They tie themselves into such knots, striving for ‘balance’, that balance is the last thing they provide. Giving 50% of airtime to myth is not balance. On top of that, their thirst for two warring sides robs the discussion of nuance when, in fact, nuance is all there is. This has never been black and white. Now, ignoring the media is going to be hard, because that’s how many people get their info. So, we need to give those people a dig out. Make sure they have access to facts, make sure they’re asking the right questions. Because this isn’t about not having questions or doubts, it’s about not being dragged down a rabbit hole about views on abortion (we will never all agree) or on when life begins (if science can’t find consensus, we eejits never will).

When these discussions arise, it can be useful to stay focused on a few simple facts. Here are the main ones:

  • We all know someone who’s had an abortion. This isn’t abstract. If you don’t know someone, it’s likely only because the someone you do know hasn’t told you. It’s a private thing, after all.
  • ‘Pro choice’ is not a scary term. It doesn’t mean ‘pro abortion’. You can be vehemently morally opposed to abortion yourself, but believe in another person’s right to autonomy over their body and to determine their own wellbeing and future. It’s supporting someone else’s right to choose, not what they choose.
  • Outlawing abortion doesn’t stop it happening. Desperate people will do desperate things in a crisis. Most people don’t really want people to harm themselves or be forced into a situation with which they can’t cope. Forced pregnancy is classed as torture. Most people aren’t for that. The current situation simply places the most hardship on those who can’t travel. I believe Ireland is fairer than that.
  • Gestational limits arguments become another rabbit hole. It’s important people know that 90% of abortions happen in the first twelve weeks, as soon as someone realises they are pregnant and aren’t able to continue, for whatever reason. If the abortion pill were legal here, people could simply take it under their doctor’s supervision. That would be the vast majority of cases. After that time, you are almost always looking at a wanted pregnancy gone tragically wrong. Imagine putting grieving parents through legal hoops at a time like that? That is why we ask for broader limits.
  • Remind people that the 8th amendment affects every pregnancy in Ireland. Even a wanted one, even one that you wish to continue. I’m not sure why we’re not more angered about the ‘other A’ – Autonomy – maybe this is an example of how effective anti-choice rhetoric can be. By only focusing on abortion, which they oppose in all cases, we can forget the simple fact that someone can lay hands on or cut us, prescribe or deny us treatment regardless of our wishes, as soon as we’re pregnant, because of the 8th amendment. (Amnesty released a great video about this this week.)
  • Exceptional cases are called exceptions for a reason. It goes without saying, these need urgent attention from our legislators. But focusing only on them is not a ‘middle ground’, an un-scary way to approach this discussion. In fact, it’s dangerous. When you peel back the (undoubtedly) good intentions, you find a pretty misogynistic stance. If you’re ok with abortion in the case of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality, you’re ok with abortion, just not with how a person gets pregnant. You, in fact, are the one playing judge and jury on which pregnancies it’s alright to end, so long as the pregnant person’s suffered. It’s hard to put this concept gently, because it deeply challenges a stance many are proffering as a moderate way. But it needs to be challenged. It would see little change and might, in fact, allow our government to claim action and return to deafness on this issue. We can’t leave the majority behind.
  • There is no Repeal or reproductive rights movement without you. Join a group, or don’t. March, or wear a badge. Have a chat. Write to your TD. It’s all going to count. There is no Repeal movement to point to, because it’s you, too. If you hear anyone saying “Repeal the 8th should…” ask them who they mean? If they’re pro repeal, ask them what they’re doing to improve strategy themselves. If they’re not, let their words wash over you. They’re just words. Hopefully they’ll get on board soon and do something, because we need all hands on deck. This will be driven by all of us, with all our different backgrounds: social, political – some of us are even from Cork. If you’re not actively contributing, I ask you now, please, at least get out of the way. Don’t tell us we’re doing it wrong, do something yourself. We have enough obstacles and we’re doing our best with nothing. Thank you.

So, just before I leave you in a HeadStuff-way, here’s my Safe Cross Code for talking about repro rights.

  • STOP. Don’t knee-jerk. All we’ve ever heard about this issue until recently has come from one side. Some of the things you’ve heard about abortion might not be true. There are people with good intentions spreading myths about it; but be aware there are others more cynically actively twisting truth and attempting to discredit those they disagree with. Educate yourself as best you can. Spread the word.
  • LOOK at who you’re talking to. Assess whether the conversation is worth both your energies. Be gentle if the person is coming from lived experience – talking likely takes it out of them. If the person is vehemently opposed, let them off. That’s their belief. But do remind them that we’re not asking them to change their minds, just to be allowed to make up our own.
  • LISTEN to experts. Not people who simply don’t agree. This isn’t some abstract concept for debate. Instead, listen to people who have researched and thought about this in real terms, or are coming from a legal, human rights or medical background. I recommend the Abortion Rights Campaign, Amnesty International, The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and organisations like Doctors for Choice, Lawyers for Choice (who can tell you all about legislation post repeal), TFMR, Parents for Choice and AIMS Ireland (particularly on consent during continued pregnancy). The real, impartial information is out there. Make it your mission to seek it out and share it.

Thanks to everyone who’s come here for a read of a Sunday in the last 18 months. Thanks to HeadStuff for having me – I’m looking forward to other projects in the HeadStuff family. Meanwhile, there’s a lot to be done in the next year, but I know that, together, we can do it. Please, keep talking. Repeal the 8th.