home Features, Opinion Opinion: Repeal the 8th – a response to Oliver Callnan

Opinion: Repeal the 8th – a response to Oliver Callnan

Within the past year we have seen the increase of new & repeated arguments, opinions, and personal stories, adding to the overall debate surrounding the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution. As the debate picks up speed, however, it’s become nigh impossible to scroll through your Facebook or Twitter feed without coming across an article or a comment of someone adding ‘their two cents’ to the general conversation.

The problem seems to be that frustrations are high for all sides of the debate. This can be considered somewhat the fault of the trigger-happy trolls, sitting behind their screens, ready to pounce on the first comment that mentions the topic. It can also be seen as the result of the ever growing importance of social media and the internet in how people express themselves, and how we experience news and current events. The main issue seems to be, though, that as the shouting gets louder from both pro-life and pro-choice sides, the facts get blurred, the politicians run for cover, and each side of the debate finding their words falling on deaf ears, or just lost in the stream of nasty comments and posts online.

While it is surely a positive thing that people have opened up in Ireland, and are engaging in the conversation about abortion and the law, the debate appears to be on a track with no finish line in sight. The question follows then, as to how exactly we can come to a conclusion on the Eighth Amendment’s place in the Irish constitution. Or, as Oliver Callan so eloquently put it in his recent article in The Sun, “Is there any way of aborting the abortion campaign?”

Callan covers a lot of his own issues with the abortion debate in Ireland, but in the midst of his satirical jibes, he actually does touch on an important point – the need for the debate to finally be put to rest. At the beginning of this month The Irish Times released a poll that highlighted that a ‘significant majority of voters’ wish to see a change of some kind in the Constitution with regards to the Eighth Amendment. This poll shed light on the fact that, although a majority don’t appear to be in favour of having “UK style abortion” laws in Ireland, they are certainly sure that they want to see a change in the restrictions on abortion.

With only 18% of the poll stating that they wish to keep the Eighth Amendment in place, and 8% claiming to not know what is best, why is it taking so long to implement any real effort of change? Arguably, the blame lies with the Irish government, and the need to step up to the mark and remove their heads from the safety & warmth of the sand. The only sign of actual political progress on the issue is the gathering of a “citizens assembly,” something that involves no politicians, and will not report back until “one year from the date of the first meeting:” a long time to leave the Irish public brewing their opinions.

Behind the comedic veil of his article, Oliver Callan unearths the issue of “awkward truths.” This is a point that both sides of the fence accuse the other of avoiding. While Callan mentions that it is the “pro-choicers” who need to digest these realities surrounding abortion & the Eighth Amendment, it is hard to take any real sense of seriousness from that. Pro-lifers’ claims that pro-choicers need to face up to the facts become somewhat laughable when the existence of some “rogue” family planning clinics were revealed in the media. They were found to be misinforming women about the aftermath of having an abortion, such as exposing themselves to breast cancer and suicide. It seems more apt, then, that perhaps it is the people engaging in these scare mongering tactics who need to do some serious truth swallowing, rather than those on the pro-life side.

The recent flood of personal stories coming from women who have had abortions paints a very different picture to the claims of avoiding reality. These stories are ones that are in no way avoiding the truths and realities of abortion. They deal with the difficulties of the situation, and how being forced to travel abroad only makes the experience incredibly more complicated and upsetting. Róisín Ingle, Tara Flynn and Helen & Graham Linehan’s self-exposure of their experience with abortion, for example, reveals the human aspect of the pro-choice side from some well-known names; that behind Ireland’s strict laws are thousands of women who are forced into hiding and shame by their own country. What was also astounding was the impact that the hashtag #TwoWomenTravel had on people; as two women anonymously tweeted their trip to the UK, where they went to have a termination, they revealed the actual reality behind the Eighth Amendment. These stories are only a tiny proportion of the whole picture, and highlight the issue that, for every person, the situation is different. It shows that it can be dangerous to blanket all people seeking an abortion under the one restrictive law.

Callan writes that “naturally, some of my glib arguments against both sides will be seized upon as being ‘insensitive’.” To be frank, that is because they are somewhat insensitive. His article does come across as something more of a prodding finger, trying to jab a reaction from readers, than a satirical outlook of the issue; but perhaps the very reason for this is because of the flurry of social media debating on the Eighth Amendment. It becomes hard to engage with any of it at all, as what should be considered satire ends up being taken for gospel by many, and then outrages others.

This is most relevant when considering Callan’s comments that “pro-choicers…should be called pro-abortion.” This is perhaps the most confusing issue for people on the fence of the two sides, as those whose personal beliefs disagree with abortion, overwhelm the importance of choice. And yes, while admittedly Callan’s article should probably be taken in jest, comments like these can be dangerous for those with tunnel vision. Being pro-choice does not necessarily mean being pro-abortion, but being pro-life does mean, as Callan puts it, “imposing a law on others which doesn’t affect them in return.”

In simple terms, this is exactly what the repeal of the Eighth Amendment comes down to. There are those who wish to see the introduction of choice and change, in some form or another. Then there are those who will allow women to travel out of Ireland to access abortion, but want to keep access to the procedure in Ireland prohibited. This is also something which many of us forget impacts on minorities, like asylum-seekers, who are not permitted to leave the country in the first place, subsequently complicating their option of travelling to somewhere like the UK to have the procedure carried out – but perhaps that is an issue for another day, another debate, another news feed scroll.