Abortion activists have lost the argument

The argument on abortion is over. It is now time to enforce the laws and protect both the public and doctors writes Terence Cosgrave

I get it. I really do. I understand what it is like to feel you have no voice. That might seem strange given that I have what many would call a prominent voice – after all, the Irish Medical Times has the attention of the Irish medical profession. For good or ill, it has a reputation that goes back over half a century. To have editorial control over such a vehicle is not to be voiceless.

But though I have spent a lifetime in journalism, I have also spent many years outside of it too – and during that time my main thought was ‘they’re doing it all wrong’.

I am – like I suppose many people, but not all – curious enough about human life and our short earthly existence to want to know why we do things, and if they can be done better.

Add a bit of age to a natural curiosity and it’s possible to come to some conclusions that, if not correct, are at least appropriate and proper to the times. In my head. In my humble opinion.

I would be a proponent of free speech, for example. Aren’t we all in the case of people we agree with? But I would also give a voice to those arguing the other position. It’s not much of a concession as I expect my own position to ultimately triumph. But I do concede the right of my opponents to speak, to argue, to push their case. They may even bully me up to a point. In a debate, one has to be resilient in defending one’s position – right or wrong. Otherwise, one is crushed by the sheer enthusiasm and energy of the demagogue and the deluded.

But once the argument is settled, you (or I) can’t then bully other people who are not in that argument, but are merely living out its consequences. This is what has been happening with women seeking terminations in this country ever since one side won that particular argument, repealed the Constitution, and legislated for termination in certain specified cases in this country. I am aware that many people who oppose the practice of abortion consider it to be a moral evil, and they feel that this grievous ‘murder’ (as they see it) must be opposed on all fronts. It was. It lost that argument.

It all began with the visit of Pope John Paul ll to Ireland in 1979 which initiated a new arrogance on the part of Irish Catholicism – it didn’t just want to be part of the greater church – it wanted to impress the new Pontiff who had kissed the ground of ‘Holy Ireland’ and make the country even more Catholic. Better, of course, as some people saw it.

Since Ireland was already overwhelmingly and suffocatingly Catholic in official theory, law and outlook, this could only be done nationally and officially by legislating for the number of angels that can be found on the tip of a pin to be whatever the Pope said it was, since every other area of Irish life was as Catholic as St Peter himself.

This took the form of placing a ban on abortion in the Constitution – which was already forbidden by law – just to show off the level of adherence to Catholic doctrine of which Ireland was capable. It was a complete lie, of course, as everybody involved knew. We had already dispatched the problem of abortion to our neighbours, and tens of thousands of women availed of the service there because our own government was afraid to do so. We had the piety of believing however that we were ‘abortion-free’ – as if such a thing was possible.

The Repeal movement won on many levels but their most convincing argument was a true one – you can’t ban abortion (any more than you can ban sex) – you can only ban legal and safe abortions. Abortions will always take place. Women will always want to make choices. The only thing left for society to do is to determine whether or not we will respect that choice.

I’m not going to argue the ‘angels on the head of pin’ argument here – you either believe what the Catholic church preaches that life begins at conception, or you don’t. You might believe that abortion is merely the removal of a group of cells that couldn’t survive in any case without the wilful participation of the body that is carrying that group of cells. That’s up to you. The point is that we have already had that conversation, had a national vote on the matter, and the majority has decided the on issue.

In that scenario, the blockading of GP practices, family planning clinics and other healthcare facilities by anti-abortion activists is fascist harassment. The issue has been decided, democratically, but for some, the battle goes on – like some isolated Japanese soldier marooned on an island in the southern Pacific still fighting World War ll. It has to stop, as it now represents a violent mob preventing our citizens from exercising their human rights as laid out in our Constitution and laws. The government has the right – no, the duty – to protect its citizens from undue harassment, intimidation or violence. And for that reason, it must proceed rapidly with its proposed Bill – which would outlaw the persecution of women seeking terminations.

And equally, it must pursue these people in the Courts and convict them if they continue in their molestation of other citizens exercising their rights. There is no other alternative.

And before you chose to argue with my description of the mob as ‘violent’, there are two answers to that – the first is that it is violence to insert yourself between a person and their healthcare provider. This is not peaceful protest, it is provocative and violence-inciting. Secondly, while I would not call these tactics ‘American’, they originated there where they were followed up in many cases with actual violence. Murders have been committed to ‘defend life’.

Another aspect of these protests is the harassment and intimidation of healthcare workers – doctors, of course, but everyone who has to use such facilities. This idea that one can harass and intimidate based on one’s supposed higher moral principles is wrong, and needs to be nipped in the bud.

Democracy means that everyone has a voice, but when those voices speak and agree and vote, then, as the Americans would have it, out of many, one. Then there is one voice, one law, and it applies to everyone. That is the basic tenet and test of democracy. There is simply no justification for harassing patients and healthcare staff, and it needs to end now. We need to end it.

The Irish people have decided in a fair vote that women are entitled to terminations in a given set of circumstances, and that has been legislated by government. It is over. The protests are like someone sticking their head in the door a half hour after they’ve lost the argument saying: “And another thing…”

If this argument had any merit or support among the public, those advocating that position would bring their case to the public. But it has been decided.

Now it’s time to enforce the law and prevent the bullies from having their way.

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