Your opinion about abortion doesn't matter
Updated: Nov 23, 2018
The right to abortion isn’t just about the right over ones body, its about the right over ones conscience. It’s about whether we recognise women as intelligent beings, capable of making their own moral choices.
Today, Ireland will vote on whether or not to repeal the 8th Amendment, which outlaws abortion in almost all cases. Walking through the streets over the past week, it seemed like everyone had an opinion. The stylish young women with colourful hair that marched from Dublin city centre to the airport, calling for repeal. The group of men handing out "No" leaflets somewhat ironically standing around the Spire, arguably the most phallic symbol in Dublin. There was a man dressed as a priest, brandishing a plastic model of a fetus and yelling that abortion was murder, and the men and women surrounding him, shouting back. There were dramatic posters on every other lamppost, Vote No or babies will die. Vote Yes and save the lives of women like Savita. The campaign was everywhere, and everyone seemed to think they knew the truth on the matter.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter what people think about it. Nothing can back their claims up anyway. Biologically, there is no proof that a fetus is a life from conception. Medicine shows that the vast majority of embryos lack the capacity to become living human beings. That doesn’t mean they will turn into disabled humans, it means they do not produce any form of human life. The definition of "life" given by the pro-life movement just isn’t consistent with any scientific fact. On the other hand, there is nothing to say that an embryo being a clump of cells makes it not important. We are all just clumps of cells.
Science can’t answer the question of whether abortion is wrong or right. Religion has an opinion, of course, but not one that can act as law in a democratic society. There is no ultimate, supreme authority to help us answer this deeply philosophical question. The only truth, the only right answer, is the one given by the person who has that embryo inside them. Whether that embryo is a life or not, whether it matters or not, depends entirely the person who’s uterus is hosting it. For the rest of the world it is just two lines on a pregnancy test.
Only she can decide whether it is a life, or whether it will remain nothing more than the two most inconvenient pink lines that she will ever see.
Trust me, this is good news. Because I have no idea whether an embryo is a sentient, intelligent life form, but I can assure everyone that women are. They are smart enough, moral enough, to work out the answer on their own. They should be free to answer their own difficult questions.
We can trust them.
And of course, that has always been the real issue. Trust. Not life.
The arguments of anti-abortion campaigners are quick to unravel. Quick to show that the only life they were really concerned with was that of the mothers, how to control and judge it, not that of the could-be child.
This is visible in arguments that abortion would be used as a "form of contraception", on the campaign posters lamenting "abortion on demand". Because surely, if it is murder, the issue isn’t whether or not it’s used too frequently or too willingly. Murder is murder.
The majority of anti-abortion activists agree with abortion in some cases. In America, only 19% of people think that abortion should be banned in all cases, while 52% think it should be limited in some cases. In Ireland, 73% of people think you should be able to have an abortion if you are raped, while only around 50% think abortion should be widely authorised. The case of rape is exemplary for this. To play the devil’s advocate, if you truly believe abortion to be murder, the way that life was conceived shouldn’t matter. A rape doesn’t justify a murder.
There are no good and bad murders. So if anti-abortion activists believe there to be good and bad abortions, then clearly they don’t think murder is abortion, either.
What they are really saying is that there are good and bad women. The vast grey zone of when they consider abortion to be acceptable is in reality the space in which they judge and control women's lifestyle choices.
And this control is what they are really terrified of loosing. The paternalistic urge to punish women for their behaviour, because they don’t trust them to have a moral compass of their own.
The right to abortion isn’t only about the right over ones body, its about the right over ones conscience.