Last week my only daughter – the one I call Yoda, turned 7. It’s a lovely age really. Young enough to still believe in both yourself and everyone else, and old enough to look for a little extra independence at every turn.
I can remember when I was her age. 1983. The pinnies and itchy acrylic tights. The homemade haircuts. Getting my ears pierced in Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt and fainting, only coming round long enough for them to do the second one. And I also remember that year for the referendum on the 8th amendment. I remember the horrific posters that lined the roads on my way to school; the leaflets stuffed in the letterbox; the letter read at Church telling Catholic families how they should vote; and my Dad quietly standing us up and leaving.
In 1992 I was 16. My convent education had taught me that french kissing brought boys to a point where ejaculation was INEVITABLE and pregnancy a high certainty – without explaining of course how one did not necessarily have to lead to the other. That was the year of the horrific X-case – when the State stopped the parents of a 14-year old rape victim from bringing her to the UK for an abortion. I remember the divisive debates. The perverse notion that on a mere whim we’d all be dashing off on some sort of ‘abortion holiday’. That same decade of course, we were warned that we’d be fatherless bastards by Wednesday week if the divorce referendum went through. Those were joyous times.
And the cases went on and on. It was an alphabetical litany of shame – Misses A, B, C, D, P, X,Y.
Some we even knew by their names. Sheila Hodgers. Michelle Harte. Savita Halappanavar.
But most were just rounded up in the statistics, recorded by foreign Departments of Health and private clinics. Girls who ‘took the boat’ after getting themselves ‘in trouble’. Hundreds of thousands of them.
And in the background there were the dirty little secrets. The laundries, the ‘homes’ and the schools, where children and women were victims of institutional abuse time and time again. The repeated failures to report the pedophiles who preyed on our children. The bans on contraception. The inquiries. The abuse. The endless, endless hurt.
And here I am today. 35 years on from the walk to school. Holding another little girl’s hand and choosing what type of society I want for my Yoda – and her brothers; for all of us.
And for something so complex, I find it all very simple.
I am anti-abortion. I consider each and every abortion a tragedy. I wish there was never a need for any abortion, ever.
I am a realist. While every abortion is a tragedy, every tragedy has a context. A poor medical prognosis for the woman or unborn child; risky unprotected sex or contraceptive failure; misplaced trust or – even worse, abuse.
I am a mother. I want my children to have access to medical services – even those like abortion services, that I hope they never need to use, at home in their own Country with all of the supports and safety they need.
I am a woman. The 8th amendment has fundamentally affected the delivery of even the most routine medical care. I know about the breakdown of trust as a woman looses her right to assert consent to medical procedures once she’s pregnant. The cancelled treatments of serious illnesses. The secretly administered pregnancy tests. The aggressively managed labours. The coerced and bullied c-sections. The scissors, the cuts and the stitches. And I know women have died because of that.
I am a pragmatist. Banning abortion has only led to illegal unregulated abortions and abortions carried out in clinics and hospitals in another jurisdictions. Maintaining the 8th amendment does not change that – in fact it just perpetuates it.
I am not a hypocrite. I want to be trusted in the decisions I can make in my life, and I simply have to afford others the same courtesy – even if I wouldn’t always make the same decisions myself.
For me not only is voting Yes is the only way to tell women that they are safe, trusted and equal – it the only way to keep them safe, earn back the trust broken by 35 years of this hypocrisy, and really treat our women and girls equally.
35 years. When is it enough? How many women is too many? How much damage do we cause before we mind each other?
35 years. If not now, then when?