I have been pro-life all my life. In fact, the very first time I voted was in 1983 in favour of bringing in the Eighth Amendment to the constitution, giving an equal right to life of the unborn with the mother carrying the child. To me it was a no brainer. The amendment was giving protection to the most vulnerable members of society.
When I was running in the general election scheduled for early 2016, the prospect of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment was being talked about. As I had very strong feelings on this issue, I decided that running on a pro-life platform would be one of my core issues. This resulted in me being subjected to a campaign of negative and sometimes abusive tweets at the time from pro-choice advocates. In the election I received 251 first preference votes, hardly an endorsement for my stance.
However, I was committed to the cause and soldiered on. I canvassed in Dublin and Galway and had letters and opinion pieces published in local and national newspapers in the run-up to the referendum which as we all know was held in May last year. Like all pro-life people I was bitterly disappointed with the result and especially with the scale of the defeat.
In the months afterwards, I began to question myself and my staunch pro-life views. As in my involvement in the same sex marriage referendum, I had looked on my pro-life views as an equality issue…equality for the unborn. However, girls/women looked at the issue from an equality perspective also in that they desired autonomy over their own bodies.
I am a man, so could never know what it is like to be a girl/woman, find myself pregnant and expecting a baby that I had no desire for. Furthermore the pro-life movement never had a proper response for girls/women who find themselves pregnant as a result of rape….the situation all the worse if the girl is underage.
Another issue the pro-life movement never properly addressed is the fact that there has been abortion in Ireland for many years. Women have abortions. That is a fact of life. I don’t like it but it seemed pro-life people were happy for women to go abroad and have the abortion there as long as it wasn’t happening in Catholic Ireland. The Eighth Amendment never stopped abortion.
After the referendum I contacted Galway Pro Choice in a personal capacity to see if they would be interested in working with pro-life people, but they never got back to me. I feared divisions which had opened up as a result of the referendum campaign would intensify. While we differed ideologically, I felt we all agreed on the desirability to reduce abortion rates.
I didn’t think I could further commit to the pro-life cause unless I believed 100 per cent in what I was doing. After all, the referendum had settled the issue. While I was on the winning side in the same sex marriage referendum, 38% of voters had voted No, but yet these people had accepted the result. Consequently, I pulled back from my involvement in the local pro-life organisation and was prepared to leave it at that.
Shocked at protests
However, in recent weeks I have been shocked at the protests outside doctor’s surgeries by pro-life activists. People visit their doctors for a variety of reasons. It is a confidential relationship. As a man I do not want to see people standing outside my doctor’s surgery monitoring my visits anytime I attend. What is it like for a woman visiting her doctor? Is she wondering if the activists are drawing conclusions as to the reason for her visit? The protests are a complete invasion of privacy irrespective of why someone is attending their doctor.
I still consider myself to be pro-life but I feel these protests are counter-productive. They give pro-life people like me a bad name. Last weekend pro-life protestors held white crosses outside a doctor’s surgery in the Westside. This is completely giving out the wrong message. To me, being pro-life was always an equality issue, not a religious issue.
I know writing this will not endear me to many people on either side of the abortion debate. Pro-life people may think I am betraying the cause or even kicking them when they are down. Pro-choice people will wonder why one of their biggest critics before the referendum didn’t say some of these things previously.
I believe Yes and No voters in the referendum have more in common than might first appear. It is time for pro-life and pro-choice activists to come together and seek common ground. Protests outside doctor’s surgeries do not help anyone and just alienate the pro-life community