Advertising Abortions In The Irish Times


Waking up this morning, I flopped over in bed (almost exactly like how I imagine a sleepy walrus would) as usual, and picked up my phone for a bit of a browse of some news until I felt ready to face the world. I can’t be the only person who does this, can I? Somehow reading news articles in bed feels almost like I’m doing something productive. Almost.

This morning, I was treated to news of an ad in the Irish Times today. Doesn’t sound like news to you? Check this out:

bpas

That, my friends, is one hell of an advertisement. It’s more than an advertisement. It’s a gauntlet thrown at the Irish government to get their act together, grow a pair (of ovaries), and start providing women with the healthcare and bodily autonomy that are our rights. And it manages to simultaneously give essential information to people with crisis pregnancies. I’d have put a hat on just to take it off to them, if I weren’t, as I mentioned, still under my duvet at the time. It was a chilly Saturday morning- I wasn’t getting out of there before I had to, especially not to tip my hat to people who weren’t in the country, never mind the room.

Then I read the comments. I know- don’t read the comments. Unless they’re the comments on a blog with a silly name that seems somehow related to tea. You should read those. In those comments were a few things that I think deserve to be talked about.

What had the charming anti-choice masses of the internet to say?

You’re all a bunch of filthy murderers, tearing babies apart limb from limb

Ah, this old chestnut. The charming characterisation of pro-choice people as slathering, bloodthirsty hordes who love nothing more than dismembering innocents. I imagine that we also take the time to perfect our evil laughs before an entertaining evening spent kicking puppies, stealing sweets from children and then chopping the heads off their favourite teddy bears, yes? Oh, and we never use our indicators, always hold our umbrellas at your eye level, and turn the volume on our headphones up so loud that you can sing along to our earworms from the other side of the bus.

While all of that is of course perfectly true, there is one factual inaccuracy here. It’s the bit about “tearing babies apart limb from limb”. You see, while Irish people have abortions at about the same rate as our UK counterparts, there are a couple of important differences in how it happens, both of which can be traced directly back to the Irish abortion ban.

Irish women have abortions later. And we have more surgical abortions.

We have abortions later- two weeks, on average- because travelling to the UK for a medical procedure is not a simple process. Finding money. Finding a clinic. Finding money for flights- ever had to book Ryanair on short notice? Booking flights and other transport. Can you afford a place to stay? Have you friends to stay with? Getting time off work. Have kids or other dependants? You’ll need to find someone to care for them. Oh, and remember that bit about the money? Time is ticking, and the cost of an abortion is rising with every passing week.

Even when Irish women manage to have abortions early, though, we still end up having surgical abortions far more than our UK counterparts. Why? Medical abortions- that’s the abortion pill- take more time than surgical. Those pills take time to work, and controlled miscarriages can be as painful as natural ones. Despite the fact that many women would prefer medical abortions to having surgery, they often simply can’t afford even more time away from home, as well as the cost of days of accommodation.

So let’s get something straight: if anyone is encouraging women to “tear their babies limb from limb” (a description that is as unpleasantly graphic as it is, in the vast majority of cases, inaccurate), it’s the people who force Irish people seeking abortions to have their abortions weeks later, and to endure more invasive procedures than they need. That’s anti-choicers and the Eighth Amendment, by the way.

But let’s move on, shall we? I have a couple more chestnuts to get through. How about this one:

noplane

Who do BPAS think they are, sticking their noses into Irish business?

On the face of it, this seems legit. Us pro-choice activists are always banging on about how certain anti-choice groups active in Ireland seem to be a little.. further West.. than most of the rest of us. Y’know. A fair bit west. The kind where you set off from, say, Kerry or Galway, point yourself away from land and keep going till you get to the land of s’mores and Taco Bell. If we get to complain about how they seem to get shedloads of money from shady US backers, then they should be able to object to UK organisations taking out ads in our papers. Right?

Wrong, actually.

When we object to things like overseas funding and a strange unwillingness to publish where certain organisations get their money, the point isn’t that some people who happen to live outside Ireland are giving people some money. The point is, in fact, twofold. It’s inappropriate and harmful for people with no stake in, or knowledge of, contemporary Ireland to try to influence our laws- it’s quite frankly none of their business. And hiding that you’re doing so, while pretending that you have vastly more local support than you do, is unethical and dishonest. If you can’t make your point while fighting fair? GTFO.

BPAS, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Ireland’s ban on abortion doesn’t mean that Irish people don’t have abortions. It means that Irish people get our abortions from English doctors. English hospitals, nurses and doctors do what their Irish equivalents will or can not. They provide the care and services that we need. By banning abortion, Ireland forces itself into a symbiotic relationship with our neighbours. UK hospitals, whether we like to admit it or not, are an integral part of Irish health care.

BPAS aren’t strangers to Irish women. They are the people who, for decades, have stepped up where our country has abdicated responsibility. When Ireland talks about statistics and anonymised cases, BPAS provides services to real people. They are as part of Irish healthcare as my GP down the road. And as the people who care for Irish women, who hear our stories and show us the respect and compassion that our country denies us, they have as much a say in this issue as anyone on this island.

And they write their name on their ad.

This is just a cynical move by those murdering scum to make more profits from killing cute little babies who have toesie woesies and things

This one makes no sense. BPAS are challenging the Irish government to actually get off its butt and decriminalise abortion already. BPAS are a British organisation. Britain is where Irish pregnant people go to get abortions now. Irish pregnant people don’t get NHS treatment, so we have to pay privately for our abortions. If abortion were legal in Ireland, we would have abortions in Irish hospitals and clinics. Not British. This would mean that they would be paid less money by the 12 people a day who wouldn’t need to travel.

It’s called logic.

You know what else, though? I took a look at BPAS’s site today. They have a specific Irish website which I found through their main site. While Irish women cannot access the NHS, BPAS charge us significantly reduced rates than UK private patients. They can waive consultation fees in several circumstances. They link to non-directive pregnancy counselling, free post-abortion medical and counselling services, and to the Abortion Support Network for people who need assistance with funding or accommodation.

Does that seem like the actions of uncaring people who care about nothing but profit to you?

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Whose are you? Marie Fleming, assisted dying and the right to one’s self.


Whose are you? Who does your life belong to? Are you yours?

Are you?

Whose are you?

Isn’t that always the question? This past month I’ve been talking about gender recognition, abortion, ableism, body policing, sex work, and the one question that always comes up is this. Whose are you?

Today Marie Fleming, a terminally ill woman, is in the High Court seeking the right to assisted suicide. She is suffering with end-stage multiple sclerosis. She is on constant pain, almost entirely paralysed, and has no hope of survival past the next year or two. According to the Irish Times, Marie

had said she lives “with little or no dignity and feared”, with the inevitable deterioration of her condition, she was facing unbearable pain and a situation where she be heavily sedated and/or could end up starving to death as she would not wish to be intravenously fed.

In a statement, Ms Fleming said she was not afraid to die and did not want to live much longer in a situation where he[r] condition is incurable and worsening. She was sorry she had not taken her own life five years ago when she had the use of her limbs, she added.

She wanted to be able to die at a time of her own choosing in the arms of her partner.

I’ll never say that assisted suicide is not a complex issue. It is. In creating guidelines and legislation around assisted suicide, we have to balance compassion for the person who needs assistance to end their life with our very real concern with preventing abuse.

Everybody’s life is priceless and unique. Nobody’s life is nothing more than a burden. Nobody should be forced to continue an existence which has become unbearable with no hope of improvement.

But in all of these complexities, there are two questions which must be the basis for all of our discussions. What is the compassionate act in this situation? And whose are we?

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of combining honesty and compassion. When it comes to assisted dying, we need both.

Thinking about death

Few of us like to contemplate death. It’s uncomfortable. Most of us avoid thinking of terminal illnesses as much as we can. It’s understandable. We have one chance to live our lives. Who wants to spend what little years we have on our end? If we’ve lost people we love- which most of us have- it gets even harder. Thinking about death reminds us of those godawful weeks or months or years when we sat by our loved ones as they slipped away from us and there wasn’t a damn thing that we could do about it. It hurts.

You know what else hurts? A woman who says that her pain is unbearable. Who is terrified of being denied the right to die without pain in her partner’s arms, and of the prospect of a drawn-out sedated death by starvation. Those of us who are not- yet– in her position have a responsibility to prioritise compassion over our own discomfort.

We’ve got to be honest.

None of us will live forever. Medicine allows us to live decades longer than we otherwise would have, but there will inevitably come a point for each of us when it can no longer save us. For a long time, this has been the primary goal of medical science- to cure, treat and prevent disease and by doing so to give us all longer and healthier lives. It’s been a stunning success. My immune system is swimming with antibodies from vaccines to diseases that killed in my grandparents’ generation. Several members of my family can look forward to long, healthy lives after spotting a genetic condition that would have eventually killed them untreated. Because of medical science, I hope that we can all enjoy a long old age together.

But it doesn’t last forever. And it doesn’t always work. For every polio and haemochromatosis there’s an MS, ALS or an untreatable tumour. We can’t fix everything. Eventually every one of us will come down with something that we just can’t fix. If we’re lucky it’ll be relatively short and painless. Sometimes it won’t be. For Marie Fleming, it is neither. Sometimes we come to a point where we cannot cure, we can no longer treat, and we cannot ease pain. When we can’t do those things, what can we do? What do we do?

When allowing assisted suicide prolongs life

Suicide is not illegal in Ireland. We each have the right to die by our own hand. What is illegal is assisting someone else in ending their life. In most circumstances, that makes sense. The idea of a grey area where taking someone else’s life is legal seems like it would introduce the kind of legal ambiguities that could be used to let people quite literally get away with murder. But look at this:

[Marie Fleming] was sorry she had not taken her own life five years ago when she had the use of her limbs.

I think that we all can agree that euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be taken lightly. They should be a matter of last resort when everything else has failed and when there is no hope for happiness and a decent quality of life. But because assisted suicide is illegal in Ireland, Marie Fleming wishes she had taken her own life while she still could. Our banning of assisted suicide led directly to a woman wishing she had taken her own life before it became unbearable. Because she knew that there was no other way. And the reason that she did not?

Mr Curran had dissuaded her from taking her own life five years ago but had assured her, if or when she came to the point where she wanted to die that he, “notwithtanding his own fears and sadness, will do all he can to help me”.

Marie Fleming is alive today because she was promised a way out when she needed it. Our state will prosecute him for this. We’ll tell him that he is a murderer because he gave his partner half a decade of life. Do you think that is reasonable or ethical? I don’t.

Whose are we?

And here we come back to that interminable question. Whose are we? Do we belong to our families? To the state? To (FSM forbid) the church? Are we ours?

If Marie Fleming belongs to the state, then the state can intervene to prevent her from getting the assistance she needs to take her own life. If she belongs to Marie Fleming, then there is only one person who can decide when her life should no longer continue.

We need to allow dying people the same dignity and bodily autonomy as the rest of us enjoy. We have a two-tier system in this country right now- one law for those of us with full use of our limbs and another for those without. None of us want tragedies like Marie Fleming’s illness to happen. But when they do, we have the responsibility to act with humanity and compassion and the understanding that each of us, at the end of the day, belong to ourselves.