Last week the BBC contacted me to ask ‘What would a NO vote say about Ireland’. The type of profound question that stops you in your stride. It was uppermost in my mind over the weekend.
Sunday was a beautiful day and the Galway vs. Mayo match made it even better! On our way home from Castlebar we stopped for a break. The mood being upbeat we struck up a lively conversation with a lovely young woman. She told us she was 19 and attending College. Her striking features reminded me of my friend’s daughter.
Conversation got round to the Referendum and I heard my friend say ‘I suppose you’re voting ‘yes’. Leaning forward she asked ‘if I tell you will you judge me?’ We reassured her that we respected her view, and she said ‘I’m voting No’. She added ‘I guess it’s because of my experience’. ‘Oh’ I thought and again she reiterated ‘you won’t judge me’. I could feel myself freeze. ‘I had an abortion at 17. That’s why I’m voting No’, she said. Deeply touched, we expressed our sorrow for what she had to go through, so young. She poured her heart out.
“I had no support. My parents would have killed me if they found out and my boyfriend didn’t support me either. He just wanted everything his own way, he even beat me. I should have had more sex education at a younger age’. Everyone said ‘use protection’ but what did that mean? I could google it but it would have been better to have it explained properly in person to us, even if we were all laughing’”
Coping afterwards she said was really hard — “I felt really lonely. I knew I had something living inside me. I felt the loss. My boyfriend was there to control me not to support me”.
The impact of her testimony was mind blowing. I asked was it good to have the ‘choice’ as the Yes campaign claims. Her reply stunned me: ‘No, I had an abortion because I had no choice’, she said. ‘I didn’t know I had any other options, there were no supports. There was no one I could go to for help’.
And with that I realised how much we had all failed her and other women like her. We cannot assume just because we know how to get assistance that others do, especially young people. The world of Google does not replace proper relationships, sex education and compassionate supports.
Nor is it natural for any woman to want to end the life of her baby. But our State, our government, has never surveyed women who have experienced abortion, as to what measures could have been put in place to help women hold onto their babies.
False quick fix
The timeliness of this conversation and the young student’s conclusions made me reflect further on that BBC question. A ‘NO’ vote would say a number of important things about Ireland today:
1. That we care enough about our women to realise that abortion is not a solution. That abortion is not care but a false quick fix that in many cases hurts women and leaves them feeling bereft as in this young woman’s case. The memory lives on. That the solution needed is a range of options which provide real care and compassion, not unrestricted abortion on demand as proposed in the referendum.
2. That we value human rights and the lives of the most defenceless and innocent amongst us, the ‘something living inside me’ the baby in the womb. A NO vote will say that our laws will continue to protect the lives of both mothers and the babies they carry, showing real compassion for both by protecting both, rather than compassion narrowly limited to one, to the total exclusion of the other. This in particular is what this young College student craved, a solution that would support both, so she wouldn’t have to bear the pain of ‘loss and loneliness’ for her baby and the lack of someone to support her.
3. A No vote would also say that we want to facilitate choices consistent with the right to life of all human beings, by offering a range of real and practical supports to women in crisis pregnancies, including housing; improved financial support to address risk of poverty (eg., the immediate approval of children’s allowance on confirmation of pregnancy ); and more affordable subsidised childcare to facilitate continuation in work and/ or further education. These are the real supports our Government should be focused on if it wants to address women in crisis pregnancies and simultaneously, achieve its stated goal of growing our population!
4. That the options of adoption and fostering, if promoted wholeheartedly by Government, would provide real life-sustaining alternatives for those who do not feel they are in a position to raise a child, with each party being counselled and assessed, thus leaving the door open to a future for mother and baby. This I know to be true, as an adoptive mother myself (see www.myadoptionstory.ie ).
5. Most of all a NO vote would show the world that Ireland is a confident nation that does not need to follow others and repeat the deeply regrettable past mistakes of legislators and politicians in many other countries. That instead we are an Ireland that insists on doing better for our women and their babies through life-affirming and non-violent solutions to complex and difficult situations, and most importantly caring solutions that address the real reasons why women seek abortions in the first place. This is where our real focus needs to be and what the young College student said would have been the support she needed.
6. That the Irish people do not wish to take the right to life away from the smallest and most vulnerable human beings, and so do not accept an extreme proposal from the Government that would deny all constitutional protection to all unborn children, henceforth replacing the right to life with the right to end life. This is a big deal!
And furthermore, taking power from the people on this issue and giving politicians sweeping powers to make this matter of life and death a political football into the future, eventhough they are frequently not trusted to handle other matters.
I am confident that there is so much more we can offer families, women and their babies by voting NO on Friday May 25 whereas a ‘Yes’ vote pretends that ending a life has no effect on woman or baby.
Our ‘No’ vote will show our Government that we are saying think again and show us real care and compassion. It will show the rest of the world that we lead from the front on human rights. That as a nation we are a beacon of hope, protecting the dignity of life without discrimination. Let’s fill that space!