Friday, November 23, 2012

Abortion: the Decision that Needs to be Made, Not Blocked

The current debates and actions for legal abortion in Ireland may have been triggered by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died from complications following a miscarriage after being refused a clinical abortion, even though she had been told her fetus was not viable. But the issue of abortion urgently needs to be addressed in Ireland, and other countries where it is currently illegal, and not just in situations where the mother's life is at risk either.

As it is not possible to legislate against the circumstances which lead to people requiring an abortion, it is necessary to legislate about whether they should be entitled to a safe abortion. If safe abortion is available, a decision can be made about whether to have one, where a need has arisen. If safe abortion is not available, which is usually the case where abortion is illegal, people have to take other steps, which can put them in very serious danger. But making abortion illegal denies them the opportunity to make decisions that could protect them against injury, and even death. Banning abortion is refusing to make a decision about the lives of those who have a need for an abortion, and simultaneously denying them the possibility of making a decision themselves.

Holding that life begins at conception is a similar refusal to make a decision that could protect those who have need for an abortion. These are hard decisions to make, and in the case of some of the philosophical problems involved, humanity has yet to come to any solid conclusions. But we can not ask those with a need for an abortion to wait till we decide on some issues that have dogged us since civilization began. The need for access to safe abortion and for protection against unsafe abortion is too urgent to postpone making a decision on, as we in Ireland, and many other countries, have done for so long.

The issue of abortion is far more extreme in countries like Kenya and Uganda because maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates are very high. Safe abortion is only one vital health service that people are denied. Safe healthcare of any kind is denied to most people in most developing countries. Banning abortion has resulted in women taking huge risks with their health, many having suffered terrible consequences, social as well as health-related; many have died. Far from making a moral choice about safe abortion, a choice has been made to block people from making a decision about something so vitally important.

Ireland is (or has been) very heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which does not have a great history when it comes to the rights of human beings, Catholic or otherwise. Why Irish people still allow this institution to wield such an influence is difficult to understand. Other countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, also seem to be influenced by various Christian churches (that themselves appear to be overwhelmingly American). The reputations of powerful states such as the US, and various Christian churches, is not much better than that of the Catholic Church. So it is perplexing to be accused of breaking moral laws by institutions that preach about moral behavior, but don't always practice it.

Rather than invoking some kind of authority that goes beyond us as human beings, we need to address the issue of abortion ourselves, in terms we can understand. Political and religious leaders do not have the moral high ground they seem to assume they hold. People can not wait for decisions to be made in their name by those who are no better qualified than they are themselves. Invoking a higher authority is also a refusal to make a decision, a means of hiding behind what amounts to no more than a wish that difficult decisions didn't have to be made, a wish that things were different.



Anonymous said...

You are so right. It is not about the mother having an abortion or not. It is about access to a safe abortion. Sometimes a person's life is at stake. While I prefer to educate people regarding sexual activity and procreation, I also recognize that adoption is an option in many places. However, that is not always the case. I hate to put it this way but the question may also be "Is it better to not exist or to exist in a world with child abuse, famine, rape, etc?" At any rate I hope my children will choose to be responsible and should they have a child young or are unable to care for the child I would absolutely care for the child. It really is not up to me and IF my child decided to have an abortion I would want access to a safe one rather than an old rusty coat hanger or some other equally dangerous choice.

Simon said...

Thank you for your comment. I don't disagree with anything you say but I am not arguing that abortion should be allowed in certain cases, such as where someone's life is at stake, though I hope that would also be taken into account. I am arguing that banning abortion cuts us off from making a decision that needs to be made, as does holding that life begins at conception. Nor would I ask the question you ask about being 'better to not exist' because permitting abortion does not address any of those other things you mention, nor need it. My feeling is that some people are in need of abortion, and wishing things were otherwise is failing them, in addition to being futile.