Friday 28 October 2016

Terry Prone: Termination is an agonising issue, no matter what side of the debate you're on

Councillor Kate O’Connell
Councillor Kate O’Connell

When Kate O'Connell discovered she was carrying a baby with a major abnormality, she did what any bright, educated woman in that situation would do.

She Googled. She studied. She made choices. The one choice that was not open to her to make, as she pointed out in the Irish Independent yesterday, was to have a termination in Ireland. She was pro-choice, but without the wherewithal to vindicate that choice if she and her husband made it.

As it turned out, she chose not to travel, not to terminate, and in due course gave birth to a son who needed immediate major surgery. That boy starts primary school this Autumn, which, to many, would sound like the happy ending to a difficult story.

The easiest thing for someone who's planning a political career would have been to view it that way and keep quiet about any other aspects to the story, especially given that she's now expecting her third child, ergo subject to the bump-glances and the flurry of well-wishes visible pregnancies generate.

Instead, the pharmacist and city councillor has decided to go public, four years after the birth of her boy.

"One of the worst parts of the whole experience was realising that when we needed it most, our country couldn't facilitate our choices and support us through them," she said. "When my husband said 'we can fix this', he genuinely thought that we could do that here, close to our families, and with the help of our trusted and caring doctors."

But, the more they discussed it, the clearer it got. If a termination was to happen, given the medical circumstances outlined, then it was not going to happen here, close to families, in a familiar hospital or clinic, in the care of trusted doctors. It would happen in Britain in a strange location with medics who do terminations for a living.

"Our foetus had a 10pc chance of being born alive...and my country couldn't facilitate our choices when we needed it most," she said.


It is at this point that ideological reflexes kick in. People who are pro-choice find themselves instinctively shaking their heads and asking if this is where women's rights are, in this country, well into the 21st century.

People who describe themselves as pro-life would find themselves instinctively pointing out that, partly because of the difficulties caused to Kate and her husband by the absence of the possibility of termination, a little boy will go to school this September.

On one hand, many people will reject the idea that a woman should have to prove her foetus is unviable in order to even begin to seek a termination: the law, they believe, should be changed so that a woman's body is her own business.

On the other hand, many people believe that a foetus is human, with the right to survival implicit in that humanity.

Older politicians, who have experienced these tangled agonising issues being played out by passionate activists and wounded women, bury their heads in their hands and hope they will go away.

Some of the younger politicians believe those attitudes are rooted in a pro-life ideology which, down the decades, saw women pregnant outside of marriage as outcasts and, taking their babies from them shortly after birth, had them adopted often without consultation or care for the mother.

Today, young women who find themselves carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities suddenly find an issue of competing rights turning into an issue of unbearable tragic reality. Personal reality.

Even in that situation, Ireland is divided. One group of parents, faced with that reality, demand - as does Kate O'Connell - straightforward choice, while another group, who have gone through the infinite sadness of watching their babies die directly after birth, oppose choice because, in their experience, holding their child before its death was infinitely precious.

This is an issue amenable to no sweet compromise, because each side believes the other to be at best deluded and at worst evil.

Democracy has a way of rubbing down the sharp edges of such issues.

It's now clear that this issue will be on the agenda for the next Government, whatever that shapes up to be.

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