Emotional. Divisive. Personal. Three simple words, simple yet powerful in their summation of the long, hard campaign for the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment that culminates at the polling booths this Friday. Listening to and reading stories from both sides of the divide the past months, other words come to mind: shocking, sickening, sad, sorrowful. Heartbreaking.
I listened to the many, many stories of women who bore and gave birth against all odds, against all that seemed, and very often was deemed, implausible, and with harrowing and long-lasting consequences.
As I write, Sinead is on the radio, 37 weeks pregnant, and told at 17 weeks that the foetus would never be a viable human being. The phrase used was: “It is not compatible with life.” For the past 20 weeks Sinead has had to carry what is not compatible with life, and until delivery, in a numbing, nauseating, limbo of sorts, pretending to inquiring strangers that all is well, because she has no choice.
‘N0w 37 weeks pregnant, at 17 weeks the phrase used was: It is not compatible with life…’
I listened, too, to the stories of women, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters – the woman down the road – who, as they saw it, had no option, no choice, no say in the matter, their matter, but to take the boat to England, furtively, frightened and alone because Irish society, its politicians, its priest, its puritans saw fit to cast them out as sinners and fornicators.
Others, mere children themselves, sinned against rather than sinned, secreted away in industrial laundries, in mother & baby homes – what a misnomer – their babies, if lucky to see the light of day, snatched from them and sold off for lucrative sums to strangers in a strange land. Forgotten children.
Then, again, other women whose anniversaries have occurred during the campaign and who were commented upon and dissected, scandalised and scrutinised, and pored over: the 14-year-old child-woman at the centre of the X Case; Joanna Hayes, 25, and the Kerry Babies; Anne Lovett, 15, in her garden of Gethsemane in Granard; and Savita Halappanavar, 31, the first public and pitiful casualty of the unworkability, the moral conundrum, of the current Eighth Amendment of a Constitution that purports to cherish every living man, woman and child equally but that fallacy is, alas, for another day’s debate.
I am old enough to remember the times when a man with arable land gave a dowry to take a woman for his own; to remember when a woman was not allowed continue to ‘work’ in State and semi-State bodies after she married; when a woman abused, emotionally and physically, raped repeatedly in the marriage bed or perhaps just utterly exhausted with too many children to fend for and with no choice to guard against another pregnancy and who, foolishly perhaps, confided in the confessional only to be told, in so many words, to go home and fulfill her wifely duties..
We might like to think we have come a long way since then. We haven’t. Ask Savita’s still grieving husband. Ask Sinead on the radio. Ask countless others.
We don’t live in a perfect world. We humans are flawed, otherwise we would not be having this conversation. But bad laws like the Eight create hard and difficult cases, whatever the exceptions. If we purport to be a civilised, grown-up society then we must act civilised and grown-up towards such hard and difficult cases.
We must guard against the vagaries of Man and Narure and of misinformation about what is and is not compatible with life.
I trust the women, wives, daughters and sisters I know – instinctively good, caring, nurturing people. I trust them implicitly to allow them a choice in their matters, in their lives. On Friday I am voting Yes.
I am voting Yes. I am voting Yes.