The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

A Woman's Right to Choose

Mick Hall • 5 November 2004

I found the Blanket article by Joanne Dunlop on a woman's right to choose extremely relevant and timely (Your Silence Will Not Protect You; 31/10/2004). However the debate that followed its publication on Slugger O'Toole, shocked me to a degree that I found somewhat surprising. Whilst one cannot but be aware of the conservative nature of much of Irish society, particularly in the areas of politics and culture, as one comes across small examples of this on an almost daily basis, the tone and content of the debate on Slugger O'Toole made me feel as if I had been taken back thirty-plus years, for the last time within Europe I had heard such reactionary arguments around the issue of a woman's right to choose was that long ago. Although sadly, to this day in the U.S. one often hears such stone-age arguments from fundamentalist born-again Christians, not least during the recent Presidential election campaign.

Perhaps before I go any further it may help if I give a brief synopsis of Ms Dunlop's article; in it she tore into the political establishment in the North —which now it seems includes Sinn Fein— accusing it on this issue of conspiring to maintain the Status quo, as far as she is concerned, on this vitally important issue of a Woman's Right to Choose. Gerry, Mark, David and Ian are in total political agreement and it is an agreement based on the most gross hypocrisy, as they and the rest of the north's politicians are well aware that thousands of Northern Irish women travel across to England to get abortions if the need arises. Yet these politicians prefer to bury their heads in the sand and ignore this and all the implications that flow from it.

As to the often made claim in Ireland, north and south, that abortion is not a political issue, well, Joanne basically regards this as being too stupid for words and par for the course as far as the majority of Ireland's male politicians are concerned. She is absolutely right too, for the very people who claim this, the reactionary, often misogynist religious bigots and the politicians who keep an ever-watchful, opportunist eye on the pulpit for fear of offending it, themselves regularly conspire together politically to keep the Right to Choose off Ireland's political agenda. How else can one explain out of all West European Nations, Ireland North and South stands almost alone as far as refusing a woman's Right to Choose? All in all, a fiery straight talking article from Ms Dunlop, that in all probability expressed the views of a majority of the north's young women.

What followed the article's publication has taught me that I have a long way to go before I fully understand the truly reactionary nature of the cultural attitudes that can lurk below the surface of Ireland's civil society. Those who post to the Slugger O'Toole blog come from across the sectarian, class and political divide; in the main when posting they stay within these narrow confines, rarely crossing over into unfamiliar territory, nevertheless whilst managing to keep a civilised discourse when debating on list. However many of them bizarrely seem to believe, having taken their lead from Ireland's mainstream politicians, that the Right to Choose is not a political issue. This being so they felt free to express their opinions in a manner that would probably be thought outdated if not somewhat misogynistic elsewhere in western Europe. It was as if the supporters of the North's main political parties were determined to prove Joanne's case for her. Slugger O'Toole to date (4/11/04) has received well over 140 posts on this subject alone, the overwhelming majority opposing the Right to Choose, all of course from the very highest principles. It became clear from these posts that out of all the parties that contested the last Stormont Assembly election, only the Greens, Alliance and the small Derry based SEA support the Right to Choose. This being the case it is difficult not to agree with Joanne when she claims that there is a conspiracy of silence on this issue and it is based on not offending powerful religious forces, both Protestant and Catholic, thus this being so, as Joanne claims, this conspiracy cannot been seen as anything but supporting the status quo.

As to the Gerry and Ian connection on this issue, well one would expect the 'good' Doctor to oppose abortion, as he is the closest politician and religious leader Ireland has to the fundamentalist Christian bigots in the USA. But to find out that Sinn Fein, with all its talk about being at the forefront of progressive politics in Ireland and that it intends to become the vanguard of radical politics in the South, is as reactionary on this issue as Big Ian, although admittedly after adding a great deal more spin than Mr Paisley, must come as deeply disappointing to many of its socialist members and supporters. Or for them is this just another example of real politick, as when their Ministers implemented Public Private Finance Initiatives (privatisation) when member of the Stormont northern Irish Government? If so they should take care, as if/when they finally gain power in the South, their cupboard marked political principles may well be bare and they will find their party becoming Fianna Fail Mark 2. A SF member stated unambiguously on Slugger that "Abortion is Murder". It almost takes your breath away, such certainty on this issue but so much fudging on so many others.

After fifty or so posts someone at Slugger noticed that bar one, Ms Dunlop, it had only been men who have contributed to the debate and perhaps it might help if some females had some imput. Joanne, by now at the end of her tether, thunders in reply:

“What is the point? It's not going to stop all of you trying to decide exactly how much control I should be "allowed" (gee, thanks) over my OWN FUCKING BODY”.

The level of the debate among some then descends to comments like the following, which is a peach, worthy of some Colonel Blink writing in the letters page of the London Daily Telegraph and signing himself, ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’

"Frankly that sort of ill-tempered outburst is counterproductive to Joanne converting people to her point of view."

Joanne rages with a heartfelt outburst, which makes one wish to cuddle her and cheer her on, and this character replies as if she is something nasty on the bottom of his shoe, priceless.

At the start of this piece I said that this Kafuffle took me back thirty years and more. The reason being this type of argument was common back then prior to the Right to Choose becoming law in England and other West European countries. Identical arguments were put forth against the Right to Choose, also almost entirely by men. Much of it couched in the same terms, i.e. one of high moral principle, the right to life is sacred, etc. Thus those who put forward this type of argument claimed they would never change their minds on this, no matter whether the law changed, they would always oppose the Right to Choose.

Of course the overwhelming majority went on to accept that it is a woman's Right to Choose and the State has a responsibility to help them do this in safety and provide the means to put their decision into practice if they choose to terminate their pregnancy. Since then from time to time the odd believer attempts to resurrect this issue onto the political stage, but to date they have had little success in doing so. When believers start harping on as if they had a monopoly on compassion towards the unborn, most of us who see religion as either a private matter or don’t believe feel pretty offended and think with their track record of causing humanity's ills, they would be far better off keeping their thoughts to themselves. This is especially true of religious fundamentalists whether they be Christian or Islamic, with their nasty advocacy of capital punishment, invading other people's counties and forcing their beliefs down the throat of others.

These days within much of Europe most men sit back thoughtfully when this issue is raised; we may still hold strong opinions about abortion, for or against, but we have been there, had the argument and witnessed that in a civilised society women are not going about aborting unborn foetus without a thought. A complex often heartbreaking process takes place in the minds of the majority of women before they decide to terminate a pregnancy. And even if it could be proved that occasionally some do not, whilst perhaps disapproving, we understand it is not us who have to carry the child and give birth to it and bring it up, so we try to show a bit of compassion. If we really feel that strongly against abortion, we know it is far better for us to spend time badgering our children into using a form of contraception when they have sex, not moralising and pontificating about what a woman can or cannot do with her body. How have I reached this conclusion, well thirty odd years ago, I too wrote silly letters to the press and made daft arguments against a woman's Right to Choose.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

7 November 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

How We Progressives Helped Elect G.W. Bush
Fred A. Wilcox

No Escape from the Anthill
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Talking With... Áine Gribbon

Meeting Hugh Orde
Anthony McIntyre

A Woman's Right to Choose
Mick Hall

A Single Palestine
Peter Urban

Turkey Day
Brian Mór

4 November 2004

The Torture of John Devine
Anthony McIntyre

Defending the Faith
Dr John Coulter

Simulating the Simulators
Eoghan O’Suillabhain

Learning from Hurley
Gréagoir O’Gaothin

Politics and Reason
Mark Burke

If Looks Could Kill
Sean Smyth

Fraternal Parting
Davy Carlin

Bluebeard's Castle
Toni Solo



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