Thursday 24 May 2018

Men and the Irish Abortion referendum

Not Irish. Not a woman. Two good reasons to keep out of this debate.

But then: Irvine Welsh. Not Irish. Not a woman. (And countless other non-Irish men of that ilk.)

Hoping for a huge YES vote in the Irish abortion referendum. Time to consign all those flat earth medieval clowns and their antiquated patriarchal pish to history’s garbage can.

So let's talk about men and to men...

1) My first memorable brush with the issue of abortion was as a student on a training day for a counselling service. I was pretty left wing in a slushy, undergraduate sort of way, but certainly would have signed up to all the usual shibboleths including abortion on demand. The presenter was a (male) GP who began by bad mouthing one of his partners (a female GP) who apparently had religious objections to contraception, abortion etc. He then enthusiastically went on about how easy it was to do an abortion secretely, describing how they had managed to get a girl into an abortion facility without her mother (female, cleaner at the hospital) ever knowing. It was all very gung-ho. Even at the time I thought it was utterly repulsive. And typically male.

2) Me. (Male.) Can't remember which of my wife's pregnancies it was but one of the 'routine' tests flagged up a heightened risk of one of those conditions which all sensible people abort. (I think it was Downs.) The next stage would have involved an amniocentisis with a risk of miscarriage. I confess I was slightly tempted: I was scared of having a child with a disability. Didn't even cross my wife's mind to accept the further test with the possibility of an abortion down the line. Not the first time I was reminded of  the mother-child bond, nor the first time I was reminded of male inadequacy. (And neither of us were Catholics at that point.)

3) Welsh. (Writer not people. Male.) Would it be fair to describe him as patriarchal? He's a bit bullish anyway, hardly presents as quiche eating. Likes boxing apparently. Creates imaginary, druggy Lebenswelt which is striking rather than flourishing. Seems very certain of his own rightness on any number of issues including pish and abortion. Wants to leave it up to women by telling them how to vote.

4) The guy (that guy) who screams abuse at pro-life rallies or at pro-life women on Twitter. (Male.)

Men like Welsh are heavily involved in promoting abortion: the debate just wouldn't be the same, certainly in tone let alone substance if it were left to women. Moreover it's hard to think of a more patriarchal othering of women than reducing the multiplicity of views and feelings and even morality among real women on this subject to the simplistic 'Women think...', 'Trust women' etc etc. Reasoning regarding the status of an unborn child, bodily autonomy and the interaction of law and morality don't just disappear 'coz lady brain or summat'. I'd be perfectly happy to leave the debate to women because there are plenty of women who defend the pro-life position and, frankly, do so with more authority because they have more skin in the game than most men. But let me say this as a man to men: don't delude yourself that the creation of a culture in which 1 in 5 children are killed, where men encourage women to see abortion as a morally neutral issue, and where you push some ultra dumb narrative about bringing Ireland out of a world of 'flat earth medieval clowns and their antiquated patriarchal pish' into a glorious shiny future just like Britain's isn't more poisoned by patriarchy and indeed neo-colonialism than anything you'll see from the pro-Life side.

Let's leave the final word to a woman:

This immediately makes essentially relevant not only all the facts about human reproduction I mentioned above, but a whole range of facts about our emotions in relation to them as well. I mean such facts as that human parents, both male and female, tend to care passionately about their offspring, and that family relationships are among the deepest and strongest in our lives -and significantly, among the longest lasting.
These facts make it obvious that pregnancy is not just one among many other physical conditions; and hence anyone who genuinely believes that an abortion is comparable to a haircut or an appendectomy is mistaken. The fact that the premature termination of a pregnancy is, in some sense, the cutting off of a new human life, and thereby, like the procreation of a new human life, connects with all our thoughts about human life and death, parenthood and family relationships, must make it a serious matter. To disregard this fact about it, to think of abortion as nothing but the killing of something that does not matter, or as nothing but the exercise of some right or rights one has, or as the incidental means to some desirable state of affairs, is to do something callous and light-minded, the sort of thing that no virtuous and wise person would do. It is to have the wrong attitude not only to foetuses, but more generally to human life and death, parenthood, and family relationships.
Rosalind Hursthouse (1997) 'Virtue theory and abortion', in Daniel Statman (ed.) Virtue Ethics: a Critical Reader, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, p.236.


  1. I'm no more Irish or female than you are, Lazarus...

    This subject (which, of course, is never simply about abortion, but is grounded on profound attitudes concerning human nature, reality and what is good) brings to mind the words I once heard from an excellent Scottish religious sister who said something like:

    'It is wrong to pretend that the expectant mother in a "crisis pregnancy" has a choice between having a child and not having a child: rather she has a choice between having a child and having an abortion.'

    And this truth changes everything.

    Let us pray that our friends in Ireland do what is right and save the 8th!

  2. When all is said and done, these wise words from Evelyn Irene Thérèse, which you highlighted on your Twitter account, show what is at stake in a way which should be intelligible to all people of good will:

    Sancta Maria Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.

    1. Well, judging by the exit poll, massive yes vote. Not surprised, but dismayed, by way issue has obviously become mythologised by many yes voters into slaying of old Ireland where everything was bad in favour of new Ireland where everything is very shiny... Similar self hatred among progressives in Scotland. Won't end well and will certainly damage at least one generation's lives. But here we are, I suppose.

    2. So sad for Ireland - and yet another defeat for all who cling to the moral patrimony of humanity. Why are these basic realities (i.e. murder is wrong; the sexual order; the given-ness of being male of female; etc.) so contested and denied these days?