Get On The Fence
On the 25th of May 2018 millions (hopefully) of Irish citizens will flock to polling stations all around the country. We will be voting on whether or not the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution should be repealed or not.
So what is the 8th Amendment? It reads as follows:
"The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."
Essentially it means that an abortion cannot be carried out in Ireland, even if the life of the mother is in danger, as both lives are equal in the eyes of the constitution. This amendment was added to the constitution in 1983, with 67% of people voting in favor of it. Abortion was of course already illegal in Ireland, but this amendment guaranteed that an abortion could not be granted through the judicial system under any interpretation of the law.
In 2012 this was tragically enforced when 31-year old dentist Savita Halappanavar died from blood poisoning in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion. It was a harrowing event that dominated the news for weeks after and in many ways kick started the campaign for the repeal of the 8th amendment.
35 years have passed since the addition of the 8th amendment and a lot has changed. The firm grip that the catholic church held over the country for hundreds of years has weakened significantly, with over 10% of people identifying as non-religious in the most recent census (with this number being significantly higher in Dublin city, the most densely populated area of the country). At the time that the 8th amendment was introduced divorce was illegal and contraception required a prescription. Most young Irish people today probably wouldn't believe it if you told them that they would have needed a prescription to buy a condom, such is the drastic nature of the social changes in the country. And with these social shifts the 8th ended up right back in the spotlight all these years later.
Take a walk through the streets of Dublin today and you will see young women in black jumpers with the word 'REPEAL' printed on them . Hanging from lampposts there are pictures of fetuses with words like 'death' and 'murder'. You may even encounter more gruesome imagery of recently terminated fetuses on 6-foot posters held up my campaigners, with many parents lamenting the position they are being put into with regards to having to explain to their young children what these posters are about.
The debate is raging across all forms of media and personally I find it both tiring and frustrating. I'm not sure if it makes me a bad person but I just don't care that much. I have never been directly or indirectly affected by the 8th amendment and as such don't have a strong emotional feeling about it. This doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion about it or that I don't think it's important, but I'm not about to go knocking on peoples doors or putting up posters to try and push my opinion or moral stance on others. That's the tiring part, the constant bombardment. It's all over traditional media, social media, billboards, hanging on lampposts, interrupting videos on Youtube. It's even knocking on my door. It's excessive to the point where I just want to block myself off from it completely.
This battle between the 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' brigades has got me thinking though. Thinking about the phrase:
"Get off the fence.'"
It's generally said in a derogatory way. You're being told to pick a side as if not having a rigid stance on any given issue is a bad thing. The person on the fence is indecisive and doing more harm than good through their inaction. Politicians in particular are put under constant pressure to pick a side. It seems to be a sign of weakness to avoid giving clear cut black and white answers to complex questions.
I can't help but feel that we need to embrace the complexities of life. To admit that there are no easy answers. That we need to stop expressing ourselves through overly simplistic headlines and slogans. In doing that we reinforce tribalism. You either agree with the statement or you don't and in doing so take a side. Everything becomes an Us VS. Them scenario. It's called reductionism and it's not good.
When I think about the 8th amendment I do think that it should be repealed. I think that we need to be careful about absolutism in general. To me saying 'No one can ever have an abortion' is as crazy as saying 'Everyone must always have an abortion'. Life is rarely so simple that it can be governed by absolute statements like that. I don't like the idea of abortion, I think it is tragic that people are put into the position that they feel like they need to have an abortion (be it due to sexual assault or suicidal depression). But one thing is for sure, I think that Savita Halappanavar should still be alive today.
I don't fit into either camp. I couldn't wear a jumper that says 'Repeal' because it is a gross oversimplification that puts me completely at odds with everyone that has ethical or moral concerns about abortions. I also couldn't put up a poster that says 'Abortion is Murder' because that is another gross oversimplification that shows no compassion to those that are struggling emotionally or whose lives may be in danger. I'm on the fence and I don't plan on getting off. My jumper would have to say:
Repealing the 8th amendment is probably the right thing to do because I feel that it is too restrictive and absolute. I would love to live in a society where thanks to sexual education and contraception abortion is extremely rare and only ever occurs in medical situations where there are no alternatives, but that is not the reality we live in. We need to look at the reality of the situation and not paint ourselves into a corner with an overly restrictive constitution.
I'm not sure that would fit on a jumper and I'm pretty sure no one would read it anyway. Maybe instead I should just get a jumper that says:
Get ON the fence, because everything is more complicated than you think.