The FFers and self-named Pro-Lifers are accusing Pat Rabbitte of trying to muzzle debate on abortion because he had the temerity to criticise Cardinal Seán Brady’s recent outburst on RTÉ. He’s intimidating the Church, say the Pro-Lifers (to distinguish them from the rest of us who are, presumably, anti-life). How is he intimidating the church? Simple: he said it would be a bad thing to go back to the days when priests could lay down the law and the politicians would jump.
You think priests never told Irish politicians how to behave? Think again.
Take Liam Cosgrave, an otherwise intelligent and witty man, who, in December 1973, voted against his own party even though he was Prime Minister of this little State, because he felt duty-bound to follow the instructions of priests and vote against legalising contraception.
It always helps to put these things in context using music, so let’s see. What were people listening to that year?
How about Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, James Brown, Roxy Music, ABBA, Tom Waits, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and Al Green? Paul Simon. Smokey Robinson. Queen, for christsake! The New York Dolls. Steely Dan. 10cc.
In other words, this was not the Dark Ages, but it was a time, in Ireland, where a leading politician felt entitled to say that his Catholic beliefs took precedence over his duties as leader of the government. Ask any young person today what year contraception became legal in Ireland and they’ll look at you with incomprehension. You mean it was illegal?
It’s hard to imagine now, but it’s not so long since it was against the law to buy a pack of condoms in this land. In 1978, the ridiculous Charlie Haughey introduced a law making the sale of condoms legal on prescription, provided they were for the purpose of bona fide family planning, whatever that was. Haughey in his two-faced, hypocritical way, presented this as An Irish solution to an Irish problem, without ever acknowledging that the Irish problem was simple: the whole country had its head up its arse.
It wasn’t until 1985 that you could buy a condom, but even then, you couldn’t legally get one anywhere except a pharmacy or a hospital.
Why? Who knows? As late as 1990, the Irish Family Planning Association was fined for selling condoms in the Virgin Megastore. 1990! Twenty-two years ago. As recently as that, our State was prosecuting people for selling condoms. I kid you not. A Garda thought it was worth his while to buy a packet of condoms as evidence and initiate a prosecution for the crime of … well, nothing at all. Imagine that: our national police force prioritised this above everything else including the huge heroin epidemic that was sweeping Dublin at the same time, and the continuing political strife throughout the island.
Let me remind you when this happened: 1990, not 1890.
But let’s not stop with condoms. When did divorce finally become legal in Ireland?
That’s right: 1994, after years of vicious battles against right-wing Catholic ideologues who fought all proposals tooth and nail.
Is it any wonder we were the laughing stock of Europe?
Now, who was behind all this lunacy?
Precisely the same people who were behind every other socially-regressive campaign in this country. The same people who set up Family Solidarity, Youth Defence and all the rest of them. A small bunch of ideological bullies and thugs who were organised very effectively by a tiny core of fanatics and who gained a disproportionate degree of influence over the executive in this country.
Bad news, folks. They’re back, I’m afraid.
Our government has no choice but to legislate following the X Case: they must pass a law making abortion legal where a woman’s life is in danger. There’s no room for discussion on this. No room for debate. We’ve had five referendums and that’s an end of it. Where a woman’s life is in danger, our constitution says that abortion is legal, and our government must transpose that requirement into law, but no. Being Ireland, we have to start again at the beginning as if we’d had no referendums at all, and no debate for the last thirty years.
Cardinal Seán Brady, protector of child-rapists, is now lecturing the nation on the morality of saving women’s lives, as if he knew anything about such matters. In his recent RTÉ interview, Cardinal Seán, who clearly had never heard of ectopic pregnancy, declared in all his princely pomp that pregnancy never threatens a woman’s life. But at least, to his credit, his ignorance is probably because he stood by his vow never to experience a committed relationship.
What a great qualification that is for lecturing people about family life.
There’s no more room for slithering and equivocation on this issue. The reality is that abortion already happens in Ireland. Whenever an anencephalic foetus is prematurely induced, that’s an abortion. Whenever a fallopian tube with an ectopic pregnancy is excised, that’s an abortion.
Is it about feeling morally superior to the rest of the world or is it about facing up to reality? That’s the question. It’s just that we Irish are far happier hiding behind euphemisms and evasions. We have no nuclear power in Ireland, even though we buy electricity from Britain, and we have no abortion either. We love our equivocations and our denials, but this is it, folks. There’s no way out. Can a woman whose life is in danger get an abortion in Ireland or does she have to skulk off to Britain like a thief in the night so that we can continue to believe in our moral superiority?
It’s as simple as that, and what we do about it will decide whether we are finally fit to govern ourselves.