What exactly does choice mean in the context of the abortion debate?

Mary Kenny with Hollie.

Mary Kenny with Hollie.

Spokesperson for LoveBoth

It’s a word that gets bandied about so much but maybe it’s time to think about what ‘choice’ means in the context of the abortion debate. Some of my friends consider themselves ‘pro-choice’. Some don’t understand why I support keeping the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution. Doesn’t it restrict women’s choices?, they say? Doesn’t it tell women what they can and can’t do? Isn’t life more complex than the Eighth Amendment would have us believe?

Life is complex for sure, but some things are simple, like the choice between life and death. I came to a fuller understanding of what the Eighth Amendment was all about when I met another friend, Mary Kenny. Mary was just a student like me when she discovered she was pregnant. She is very clear about one thing – she had no intention of having a baby at the time and if abortion had been available in Ireland, it could very well have been on the cards for her.

Luckily, things are different in Ireland than in countries like Britain. There, women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant are more likely to resort to abortion in the initial ‘panic’ stage that Mary talks about. We all have busy lives with lots of responsibilities and it’s not surprising that in Britain, abortion is now seen as simply another ‘choice’, and one in five pregnancies ends in abortion. It’s not surprising perhaps, but it’s tragic. Just think about what that figure means. One fifth of all unborn babies have their lives ended before they ever get to meet their mother.

If we repeal the Eighth Amendment, it’s very likely that we would end up with a similar situation in Ireland. That’s what’s happened in nearly every other country where abortion was introduced – the abortion rate increases and more babies lose their lives. Repeal campaigners in this country are upfront about it too. They openly say that they want Ireland to ‘get in line’ with other countries. What that means is that people like Mary who find themselves in difficult situations would see abortion as simply just another choice to make.

But here’s where things get even clearer. Abortion isn’t just another choice. Abortion isn’t like anything else. Abortion ends the life of a baby and often leaves a woman grieving that loss, sometimes for the rest of her life.

There’s another very good reason why abortion isn’t just a choice. In Mary’s case, that reason is her little girl, Hollie. Hollie is many things – she’s funny, unique, mischievous, beautiful. The one thing she isn’t is a ‘choice’. She’s a human being with the same right to be alive as everyone else. When Mary discovered she was pregnant, Hollie was still the same human being she is today. The difference between countries like Ireland and Britain is that the Eighth Amendment was here to give that extra protection to mother and baby.

The other strange thing about the word ‘choice’ is how so many women who have had abortions don’t talk about all the choices they feel they had at the time. Instead, many of them are clear about one thing – they felt they had none. Abortion was the last resort for them at a time when they were abandoned by a partner, or pressured by a family member or let down by work or in need of better childcare or financial support.

During the Citizens’ Assembly and Oireachtas Committee processes held by the Government over the last year, the only item up for discussion was abortion. Our politicians didn’t even spend one hour looking at better ways to support women, improve adoption procedures or even just ask women what positive supports would assist them during pregnancy. These questions should have been asked, but instead all the focus was on abortion.

Why haven’t we spent any time talking to women who have been through the tragedy of abortion to find out why if any of their needs could have been met so that they could have kept their baby? Support groups like Women Hurt (www.womenhurt.ie ) could have shone a light on this side of the debate in the last few months, but they weren’t even invited to the Oireachtas Committee.

All choices aren’t equal and it’s time we stopped pretending they are. Abortion ends a baby’s life. Continuing with a pregnancy gives life, gives a mother a chance to avoid the grief that abortion can often cause, and, like my friend Mary, instead discover that something that felt like panic and distress can become something very beautiful and precious instead.

Mairéad Fallon is a third level student and a spokesperson for the LoveBoth Project www.loveboth.ie She lives in Barna with her family.

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