Time to face up to Ireland’s last taboo

 

Image by Katie Tegtmeyer via Flickr

“Abortion tears her life apart,” the billboards scream. “There’s always a better answer.”

If you’ve been through Heuston Station in the last while, you’ll have seen them. These ads, 220 of which are soon to be seen on Luas trams in the capital, belong to a group called Youth Defence. These self-proclaimed protectors of “mothers and babies” are well-known for their extremism. Founded in 1992 after the X Case, the organisation is strongly Christian and pro-life, anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-everything. Put it this way, they’re not the type of people I’d have on my Christmas card list.

The distortion of history on their own website is frankly sickening. It refers to the X Case as being “a real threat to the unborn child”. Many of us, myself included, are too young to remember the X Case, so here’s a rundown. Twenty years ago the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was legal in the case of a threat to the life of the mother. The girl in the case was fourteen years old, and she had been raped, and she was pregnant with her rapist’s child, and she wanted to kill herself.

Can you imagine what that must have been like? Violated, alone, and knowing the child she was carrying was the seed of a rapist, undergoing the stress and strain of court and lawyers, all while the clock ticked down the days and weeks to the point where it would all be too late, and she would have to go ahead with her pregnancy, or take her own life? All at the age of fourteen?

The girl, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a miscarriage. Her rapist was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but he got out after four. The glossing over of the facts of the X Case really tells you all you need to know about Youth Defence and their outlook.

The judgemental tone is implied. Mother knows best, or maybe Mother Superior. Abortion ruins lives? There aren’t too many women that would jump for joy at the memory of their abortion, but there are those who certainly don’t regret it. Of course there are women who bitterly regret their decision; but that’s the key. It was their decision to regret, not the state’s, and certainly not Youth Defence’s. Ironically, because our abortion is outsourced to the NHS, we have no reliable figures to ascertain just how many Irish women’s lives have been “ruined” by abortion, due to a lack of aftercare counselling.

Groups like Youth Defence, whose members are mostly ultra-conservative Catholics, seem to think that all our problems arose from the 1960s onwards, when the Beatles corrupted everybody and the Pill was invented. Ironically then, in the era of the first Eucharistic Congress in 1932, Ireland had a high rate of infanticide, which was then recorded as a separate offence to murder. There were 49 cases in 1935-36, which may not sound a lot, but bear in mind there were only a handful of murders annually. These were just the cases recorded; who knows what grim secrets were concealed in isolated houses in those pre-car days?

Anyone who considers that Ireland’s moral lapse began with the decline of the Church’s influence would be well advised to read Diarmaid Ferriter’s Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland.

We can never go back to those days, where the covering up and murder of a living child, backstreet abortions, and imprisoning women and children for perceived ‘sins’ were preferable to contraception and legal, safe abortion. Thankfully. But yet, in 2012, we continue to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

The fact that we can’t even complain about these ads just shows how far Ireland takes the ostrich attitude.

We are a modern country in so many ways. We are not America, where a politician gets censored for saying ‘vagina’. We are tolerant, progressive, and show a general live and let live attitude. Apart from this. We need to move into the 21st century on abortion.

Maybe these billboards are, in a perverse way, a good thing. We have as a nation ignored this problem for far, far too long. The subject of abortion has raised its head in the public discourse once already this year, when four women met with a Dail group to discuss their experiences. It can be no bad thing to raise our heads out of the ground, have a proper and mature debate, and make a bloody decision for once and for all and legally enforce it.

And I, for one, will smirk if Youth Defence’s billboards come back and smack them in the ass in the most spectacular way possible.

This article appeared on Studenty.me on June 22 2012. 

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