When I was in first year of college, I joined a pro-life group. It was Socs Day and I signed up without a second thought. I was studying human rights at the time and I thought this would be in keeping with those beliefs. The right to life? No-brainer. I’m against the death penalty, so surely this was in the same vein?
I never attended a meeting and continued to get texts from the society, urging me to get involved. I didn’t think much about it, to be honest. I definitely felt that it was a principle to be upheld and I was fairly adamant that there was no situation where abortion could be acceptable. I thought the right to life should trump the right to choice in every case. I never considered the intricacies of what the Eighth Amendment entailed because, frankly – and quite selfishly – I never had to. It never really affected me in any tangible way.
One day, as I was walking past the college gym, I saw a prominent member of the pro-life group planting dozens of small white crosses in the grass. I was told it was a symbol to represent the babies who had been killed as a result of women travelling overseas for abortion. It was a stark and harrowing sight, and one I haven’t really been able to shake since. It didn’t sit right with me.
That was the closest I came to a lightbulb moment. It wasn’t exactly a sharp transition from pro-life to pro-choice but that display really made me reconsider my views. I kept thinking about someone who’d had an abortion, for whatever reason, passing that makeshift graveyard. I realised that, though I felt my beliefs were from a caring standpoint, my harsh stance on the topic allowed for no empathy or understanding whatsoever.
A culmination of things over the years – from the aftermath of Savita to reading horrific stories of rape and fatal foetal abnormality, to hearing the UN criticise the Eighth for its part in “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” – led to a change in perspective. I slowly came to realise that the strict limitations of the Eighth cannot possibly account for the myriad of cases that fall under the broad spectrum of pregnancy.
I’m a stubborn person and I usually stick to my initial opinion. Here, though, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the issue wasn’t black and white. To frame it in such a way would be – and has been – very harmful to thousands of Irish women. Women who’ve had to take an awful journey. Women who’ve resorted to other, unsafe means. Women who’ve had no choice.
Abortion hasn’t affected me personally. I don’t know if it ever will. If I got pregnant in the morning, I don’t know that I would consider abortion. But that’s very easy for me to say as someone who’s in a long-term relationship, isn’t struggling to make ends meet, has a loving family and is broody as hell. Then again, who knows? Who knows how you’d feel if it was your own body?
Even if it’s not the right option for me, that’s not my decision to make for someone else. Even if it doesn’t affect me personally, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care about the plight of countless other women for whom it does affect.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a Yes vote does not mean you’re ‘pro-abortion’. You can still hate the idea, even. The point is, you have a choice and a right to your feelings on the matter. So does everyone else. Why deny them that?