As the abortion debate rumbles on and indeed heats up in the Republic of Ireland where activists are campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment which protects the life of the unborn child, a disturbing and new sinister piece of pro-choice rhetoric has emerged.
Faced with the advent of ever-more sophisticated and detailed ultrasound images which annihilate the concept of the unborn child as being little more than a cluster of cells or blob of tissue, abortion clinics and their supporters have instead decided to repackage abortion as being simply another aspect of motherhood. So we see articles such as this one, from Cosmopolitan in 2014, which describes abortion as being a normal part of women’s lives, alongside sex, childbirth, infertility and miscarriage.
It’s also why, over the past few years, abortion providers have been keen to highlight that over 50 per cent of women both in the UK and the US having an abortion, are already mothers. It’s a deliberate piece of misdirection, with the aim of swaying public opinion in favour of abortion as being a compassionate and responsible choice.
Logically, if one is considering the issue of personhood or the rights of the unborn child, then it should not matter one jot whether or not a woman is already a mother. Either you believe that the unborn child is human life and thus deserving of protection from the moment of conception, or you believe that a woman has a right to get rid of the unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason whenever she chooses in pregnancy. Any other position does not make sense. If an unborn child is not really a baby, at what stage do they become one? Does some sort of magic happen in the birth canal, does the blue fairy wave her wand and say ‘you’re real’ right at the moment the baby emerges? Why is the unborn child arbitrarily accorded humanity simply because their odds of survival outside of the womb, have shortened?
Abortion providers are keen to emphasise that many women presenting for abortion are already mothers because it raises the emotional ante. It is to evoke sympathy for a woman who must surely know what she is doing and ironically concedes the humanity of the unborn. The use of the word ‘mother’ admits that a child is involved. The concept of motherhood carries connotations of love, compassion and responsibility. Seeking to associate motherhood with abortion is an attempt to imbue it with similar qualities linked to maternalism and to present it as the act of a loving, compassionate and above all, responsible, woman.
That’s not to say that woman who abort are not all of these things, and many woman who do opt for an abortion do so precisely because they know exactly what raising a child entails and feel unable to welcome or accommodate another child into their family. But this is not something that we can feel morally neutral over – it is a profound tragedy if women are so constrained by financial, career or other family burdens that they feel that the kindest option for all concerned is to end their unborn child’s life.
Having compassion or sympathy for a woman in such a situation does not equate to a tacit approval of her decision. Is it really for the best that a child has had their life ended in what should have been a place of comfort, nurture and safety? Is it really a compassionate, loving and responsible choice to end your baby’s life because of a disability? What message does that send to the baby’s siblings, who were lucky enough to arrive at the right time, or without any obvious health problems. That killing vulnerable people can sometimes be a loving, responsible option? Or that their existence and perceived wellbeing justified the ending of another life – they were more important than their siblings by virtue of having emerged from the uterus?
Speaking from my personal perspective as one who has been through the experience of abortion, miscarriage and childbirth, abortion is the very antithesis of motherhood and it is a grave insult to bereaved mothers everywhere to describe it in these terms. Unlike miscarriage or childbirth, abortion is a conscious rejection of motherhood, even if one already has children. You are refusing to become the mother of the child that you find yourself carrying.
Like so many women, I had an abortion because I felt unable to become a mother at that particular time – it was precisely because I did not want to become a mother that I ended the life of my child. As is so often the case, the welfare of my child became an additional justification for the decision to abort. The child would not have the life that I had envisaged for any potential offspring, therefore the kindest thing would be to abort them went my rationale. The reasoning falls apart on closer scrutiny. It’s similar to declaring that because one can’t provide the education of your choice for your children, it’s kinder and more compassionate not to send them to school or educate them at all!
The arguments about compassion and responsibility serve to soothe the consciences of post-abortive women and to make the idea of abortion altogether more palatable. Ask any mother who is grieving the loss of a child due to miscarriage or stillbirth or who is struggling with infertility whether abortion is part and parcel of motherhood and you’ll receive a furious response.
Equally, the reason why so many pro-choice or post-abortive women become so angry and defensive about abortion is because at some stage they have had the experience of motherhood which makes one confront head-on the issue of a child’s humanity. Going on to give birth to a child after an abortion, or already having the experience of pregnancy and childbirth prior to one, painfully highlights the inequality in terms of your treatment of your unborn children. It is an excruciating truth that I have had to confront in every single pregnancy subsequent to having an abortion. Regardless of any mitigating factors, I nonetheless behaved in a less than maternal way towards one of my children and whom I deprived of the chance of life.
Even if you accept the statistics that one in every three woman has had an abortion, it still means that two thirds of women have not. Motherhood is defined as being either the state of being a mother, or the qualities of being a mother. To extend the definition or qualities of motherhood to taking the life of one’s own unborn child is surreal and disingenuous newspeak.