Pro-Choice Isn’t Extreme

It's the middle ground.

Several months ago, a Citizens’ Assembly concluded that it supported abortion without restriction.

The conventional wisdom in the Irish abortion discourse is that the public would never support such a thing. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said as much himself. The recommendations are extremely liberal, it is said.

It turns out that the Citizens’ Assembly was made up of citizens. A recent Red C poll found that 60% of people in Ireland support abortion without restriction.

This seems to contradict earlier findings of national newspapers which have placed that figure in or around 25%. Apparently, the Red C poll questions were phrased less confusingly.

The results are clear. Will the government hold a referendum to actually repeal the Eighth as people want? It’s uncertain. Sounds from politicians suggest that they’d rather run a much weaker referendum on allowing termination in special cases like rape.

Abortion rights activists are pressuring the government to run a proper referendum. They have a good reason. Most people don’t want to merely replace the Eighth. Allowing abortion in cases of rape would require the victim to prove they were assaulted. Rape is notoriously difficult to prove especially with sexism in the GardaĆ­. If it could be proven, they’d be lucky to do so before the pregnancy is far along. A second or third term abortion will always be much more upsetting than a prompt operation.

There’s this popular idea that the pro-choice position is extreme. The abortion issue is presented as a big fight where one side is as radical as the other.

This is not the case. Let’s spell this out. The whole issue is that abortion is a moral grey area. Anti-choicers are of the position that abortion ought to be forbidden in every case regardless of special circumstances. They have chosen this virtue, hold themselves to it entirely, and demand that everyone else do the same. This is a perfect fit for the definition of dogmatism.

The upside-down version of this dogmatism would be a movement of people who demand that any unplanned pregnancy is aborted. They would not allow any exceptions and would demand that the virtues they live by be written into law. Let’s call these imaginary people anti-birthers.

You will notice that anti-birthers do not exist.

The middle ground, surely, would be someone who looks at each particular case and makes a decision based on the circumstances. Since we could never magic up a committee for every unplanned pregnancy (nor should we), the most practical way to realise this is to leave the pregnant person in charge of their own pregnancy. The solution is to trust people with their own bodies.

This is, of course, the pro-choice position. It is the middle ground.

Over the coming months, Varadkar and his government will decide the shape of this referendum. We must keep the foot on the accelerator. Pile on more pressure. We’ll need it.

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