On the 8th March 2017, Larissa Nolan wrote an impassioned piece for the Irish Times about why she felt the Repeal the 8th march would fail. For many reasons, detailed below, I felt the need to respond. I was disappointed that several publications I approached weren’t interested in publishing my piece. Perhaps it was too moderate? This is an extremely heated debate that is gaining momentum, for which I’m glad. But I feel it’s important that all voices are heard and that we try and understand as many viewpoints as possible.
So with that in mind, here is my open letter to Larissa Nolan and anyone else who feels marginalised by the pro-choice campaign.
Dear Ms Nolan,
Firstly, I applaud you and respect you for writing your piece in Wednesday’s Irish Times. I can empathise with feeling like you are being silenced into a corner. As women, we often have to work harder to have our voices heard. I think both sides are guilty of having people who feel by shouting loudly they will win. And then there are those in the middle, like yourself, who want a reasonable debate, who want to discuss the options and choices that are right for Irish women. I welcome that debate and although I feel like this contentious topic is continuously falling on the deaf ears of some of our male powers that be, I do think it is important that us women (and the many men who are keen to be involved) continue to talk.
However, reading your article saddened and frustrated me. There were many points I understood, several I even agreed with. But overall it just angered me and felt narrow and closed minded of you. The very things you are accusing the pro-choice campaign of being.
So I would like to take a moment and go through a few of your points.
Firstly, I am pro-life. I am also pro – choice. I don’t know if I am pro-abortion because, and I say this with all the honest gratitude in the world, I am very lucky to have never been in a situation where I have needed an abortion. It irks me that the opposition to this debate takes the line that they are pro – life. That they care for all living, breathing things and we, horrid, abortion people, would kill a foetus as quick as that, if we had our way. I am pro – life. I love life. I hope some day to have a life growing inside me. But if I was in a situation where I had been raped or the foetus had a fatal foetal abnormality or I wasn’t financially, or in anyway ready, for a child, I deserve to have the choice. The hardest choice I may ever make, but my choice all the same.
I don’t agree with you belittling this campaign and reducing it to a “fashion” statement. For me and my peers it is not about being cool, or the latest trends and pictures on Instagram or Snapchat. It’s actually about life and death (of the mother as well). See the reality is before 2012, this country was in a coma. Abortion was the herpes nobody wanted to catch. Those in power threw it about like a scabies covered kitten, hoping, but not really caring, if someone claimed it. And then, as you know, Savita Halappanavar died tragically. And we woke up. And we said no more. See the thing is because Ireland chose to ignore this issue for so long a new way of communicating has emerged. When I was out marching on Wednesday I was overwhelmed and emotional at the number of young women and men out on our streets. Because they are the ones that this affects most. They are the future. And they communicate through social media. Nobody should be silenced for a difference of opinion, but I feel your distaste of the colourful and vocal platforms that are being used portrays your real truth. You understand, as well as I do, that this campaign is gathering momentum. Our voices are starting to be heard and although you may not like it, social media has been and will be central to any changes being made.
You talk about “when you force an idea down people’s throat, they rebel”. Oh how right you are. Isn’t that what’s happening on our streets these days? Don’t you see that this archaic and inane law has been forced down Irish women’s throats for too long? The Ireland of 2017 is a very different place to that of 1983. I understand there are people who don’t agree with abortion but we can’t keep allowing our citizens to travel to another country simply because we don’t want to face this truth. I whole heartedly agree that abortion is not a clear cut issue. It is and probably will continue to be one of the most contentious topics of our time. And I have been where you have been. In the middle. We want full access for fatal foetal abnormalities and cases of rape and incest but we’re not sure if abortion should be available for the twenty year old woman who had a one night stand and can’t afford to have a baby. Or dare I say, doesn’t want a baby right now. Oh Larissa, there are so many things wrong with that. So many. Firstly, who am I or you or anyone to say what another woman should do with her body? Who are we to judge that choice? And what about the man in the situation who more times than not can just walk away from an unexpected pregnancy with little or no responsibility?
Now, I tread carefully here. As with both sides of this argument I can’t tar everyone with the same brush. Many a young man would stand up and be accountable I am sure.
“Give girls and women the facts, be non-judgemental in your support, and allow them to figure out for themselves what is the lesser of two evils. Be pragmatic about the realities of raising a child alone without painting it as an oppression instead of what it can be, a reward”.
That is exactly what we’re asking for. Give women the facts and the choice. I have friends who never want kids. I could say I don’t understand their choice and they don’t understand my desire to have children. But neither of us force our opinions down each others throats. We respect them. No one has the right to tell another person their life would be destroyed if they had a baby. Same goes in the reverse, don’t you think? I would like to think that if the twenty year old decided to have her baby that her life would be fulfilled and happy and she would have no regrets. But that’s my hope. My dream. And the reality is I can’t regulate for that. I can’t be there to hold her hand and make sure it all works out.
I wish we could all live in a world where, as you say, “life in the womb is cherished and protected”. But you have to ask yourself, who was looking out for those foetus and babies that were found in a sewage chamber in Tuam? Over eight hundred skeletal remains. Eight hundred babies that some nun did away with. Those nuns didn’t give those women a chance. They didn’t take care of them or protect them. I know we’re living in a very different time but sometimes I wonder if we actually are. A man is presently in court for allegedly beating a woman to death for fear she would spill about their sexual encounter. A woman and three children died in a fire in a women’s refuge home. Nobody believed Catherine Corless that there were remains in Tuam. I think it’s naive and unfair of you to think that abortion should be a last desperate option for a woman. An option where there is no other hope. Why can’t you view it as a human right? Why does viewing the choice to have abortion as a freedom have to be a negative thing?
I also think it’s ludicrous when you say a woman with six children should be prioritised over her dying foetus. That is what is so scary about this country. If I got pregnant tomorrow and there were complications I couldn’t guarantee that the doctors would save me over a foetus that probably couldn’t survive without me anyway. It.Makes.No.Sense. As a woman how do you not see the absurdity of this situation? Yes, the mother of six should be saved. But so should any mother. Any woman. Again these laws were made by men. Men who have never given birth. Men whose lives are never in danger due to child birth. Men who this will NEVER affect. How are we still letting these men make decisions that affect our lives?
“It is grossly irresponsible to push your own beliefs and agenda, whatever they may be, on anyone who finds themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation. It is a decision only they can make, as the only ones who have to live with it. It is not you and your political ideology that could be left with a lifetime of psychological damage”.
Could this not be said for both sides of this debate? Offering complete and comprehensive choice is the best option. In my opinion, it comes down to education, which you mention. Education in the family home, at school, with your doctor. That is where it begins. There’s no reason that we can’t have legal abortion here in Ireland and educate men and women as to their choices. All options should be presented in an informed, unbiased manner. No one option should be favoured over another. I know several women who have had abortions and every one of them made a reasonable and informed decision. You have to trust that women know their own minds. We have to put safe guards in place that no one would be forced into having an abortion. That all options are presented fairly. I laugh to myself writing that, when I think of the number of cases where a women has sought a termination and the government has sought an injunction stopping them. It infuriates me that people can be so blind. Demanding one thing but unwilling to give it in the reverse.
I could go on and on arguing for one reason or another and so could you. As I mentioned above abortion is not a black and white issue. So I ask you, Larissa, and those on the other side of this debate, to take your own advice. Come to a march or a meeting and talk, discuss, listen and together we’ll find a solution.