The language of the abortion debate has been cruel and unfair – on both sides

Note: This article was originally published at

Tonight’s vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill probably won’t end the public debate about abortion – and the women we all claim to care about deserve better than the unfair language that has been used recently, writes Aisling Twomey.

TODAY, OR RATHER early tomorrow morning, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will go to a vote in Dáil Éireann following some debate on the 165 proposed amendments to the Bill. This Bill allows for the lawful termination of a pregnancy if there is a risk to the life of the mother. This risk must be real and substantial. A medical practitioner is to carry out the procedure, with the support of two other doctors unless there is an emergency and immediacy is required.

The suicide clause allows for a termination where life is risked by suicidal intent. Three doctors must sign off on such a termination, with an appeal for the pregnant woman to a further three doctors, should she feel the need to appeal the original assessment.

This Bill is as restrictive as possible

At its heart, this Bill is restrictive. It doesn’t afford a woman a choice as to her medical care in the event of her not wanting to carry a child to term. It doesn’t afford a woman any right to choose; to say otherwise is to be misinformed. The facts are before us and Enda Kenny has said it himself: this Bill is as restrictive as it can be.

Abortion has, for the entirety of its existence, been a contentious issue. This is the case all over the world and not just in Ireland. When Savita Halappanavar died in Galway Regional Hospital last year, the entire country rose to discuss the issue once more. For the first time since the now infamous case of Attorney General v X in 1992, as a nation we debated abortion for Ireland.

I am pro-choice

I always called myself pro choice. It is my absolute belief that a woman should be able to make a choice as to her own medical care. It is her body, her life: her decision. Throughout history, we have lambasted regimes that take ownership of autonomy; we have undercut and undermined efforts to liquefy personal rights.

Not only have I considered myself pro choice, I am in the extreme of that bracket. I believe that a termination is a medical procedure and that a person should be able to seek one out should she wish to, regardless of circumstance. I believe that that is absolutely none of my business what another person elects to do with their body.

I am pro-life

I have also always identified as pro life. I firmly believe that life is an absolute miracle. I think that we have fought to protect it, to save it and to celebrate it for thousands of years. I admit openly that were I to become pregnant at this point, it would be an unwelcome development – but I also admit that I would be reluctant to seek a termination. I don’t believe that I am the only person who feels this way.

The fact is that the language we use in discussions about abortion is a crude bastardisation of realities. The reality is that everyone is pro life, because nobody is pro death. Nobody in this debate preaches or celebrates death.

In the same vein, nobody is pro abortion. Abortion is an actual tragedy. Nobody grows up wanting to have an abortion and nobody grows up wanting to give one. I can’t think of a medical professional whom might express delight at such human tragedy. I cannot name a person who has ever claimed to like the notion. If abortion is to exist, it should be safe and legal and very rare.

The language used has been crude, cruel and unfair

The language used by both sides of this debate is crude, cruel and unfair. These brash words are used to define what can’t be defined, to separate people and to put them into camps. The reality is that you can believe and invest in both sides of the argument according to your own belief.

To support abortion laws for Ireland does not make you an ‘abortionist’. It does not make you pro abortion or anti life. It does not make you a murderer.

To reject abortion in all its forms for all reasons does not make you a religious zealot. It does not make you a fascist.

The words we use to define sides of this debate are appalling. Savita Halappanavar and her husband were not abortionists or murderers. They sought to protect what life could be saved, and doubtless would have mourned the loss of their unborn child. Instead, Praveen Halappanavar must mourn both.

Every now and then, I think of the girl involved in the X case. No more than a child when she was brought before the court, defined solely as a suicidal mother to be. We neglect constantly to remember that she was a child, a crime victim and a rape survivor; we talk of her only in terms of her suicidal intention, her court case and her unborn child. She wasn’t a murderer and she wasn’t an abortionist. She was a child.

We owe more to the women we all claim to care for

As activists, our horrible definitions are backed up only by our deviant tactics. Posters with pictures of foetuses on them are incendiary. Defacing a building with excrement is literally filthy and demonstrates a severe lack of respect. Calling regular people on the street murderers is callous and untrue. Showing people photographs of allegedly aborted foetuses is a sick scare tactic and it’s upsetting. Hacking a website is a crime; publishing a full newsletter list is an invasion of privacy. Taking down posters and replacing them with others is laughable. The inflammatory mailouts to constitutents and the attacks on politicians’ homes are all intolerable. Bloody letters sent to the Prime Minister of the State? Absolutely disgraceful.

We have used this debate to incite, to revile, to hate. We have used it to undermine women, to undercut activists and to abuse politicians. In yet another example of language gone awry, the word ‘conscience’ is tossed around a lot on both sides of the debate, but many of the actions of campaigners- on both sides- have been far from conscionable.

Ireland has been a significantly single issue country for the past few months. Not a day goes by without abortion commentary coming from here or there, experts talking in the Dáil, hundreds of articles published, countless letters to the editor overtaking national newspapers. That rush may now be coming to an end but you can be sure that it will crop up again in the future. If it does, our method of campaigning has to change. We surely owe that to ourselves, to each other and to the women we all claim to care for.

Blowing the Whistle on the Darkness of Government

Note: This article originally appeared at OneEurope.

Felt, Ellsberg, Assange, Manning and now Snowden, are just names. What they have done for society is provide us with honesty.

When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were assigned to report on the burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate building in Washington DC, they had no way to know what they would uncover and show the world. By the time they were finished, the President of the United States had resigned and Woodward and Bernstein were household names. As was their informant, a man who was known for over thirty years by the name Deep Throat.

Mark Felt was an Associate Director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He had given Woodward stories at the Washington Post before. When Woodward called him after the Watergate break in, Mark Felt gave him the information he needed. He became the most notorious whistleblower in history.

He was both revered and derided in the national media when he was finally confirmed as Deep Throat in 2005. Some called him a hero, and some said he did the wrong thing. Why didn’t he go to a grand jury? It was suggested that he did it out of spite, that he wanted the Directorship of the FBI, and that he didn’t care about the morals. Ostensibly, this version of the story is the correct one.

Charles Colson, President Nixon’s chief counsel, said that Felt had violated his oath to keep the nation’s secrets. Colson was wrong. There is a huge difference between minding launch codes and telling a country that leaders have them in the first place.

Times haven’t changed too much. Felt isn’t widely known today, but his nickname is. He has been replaced by other notorious and divisive characters. Julian Assange, wanted for sexual assault or rape (depending on what government you ask), but more widely spoken of as the founder of Wikileaks. Bradley Manning, Private in the United States Army, five time medal winner, more widely spoken of as the man who leaked documents to Wikileaks from a tent in the desert. And finally, Edward Snowden, a systems administrator with Booz Allen Hamilton, now widely known for instigating the largest leak in NSA history. He is currently at large and seeking political asylum, fully aware that he has probably left the United States for the last time.

Media attention on Snowden has been, at the very least, interesting. The Guardian, where Glenn Greenwald published the details of Snowden’s leaks, is supportive of Snowden and his actions. In the United Kingdom, details are emerging of even worse infractions by the UK government. The details of the US PRISM program are still coming to light, but the point is clear; the United States, in gathering data from countless countries as well as its own citizens, broke no laws.

That is the most phenomenal part. No laws had to be broken to allow the United States to do this. Each day, we get closer and closer to 1984-like conditions, and still, the media are writing about the stickers on Snowden’s laptop and how he didn’t get his high school diploma first time around.

In Europe, there is rage. The European Union has started acting quickly, perhaps because they know the sins of the past too well. In 2011, the European Commission intended to push for the protection of EU citizens’ data by way of authorized transfer requests and adjudications. The Commission backed down after fierce lobbying by the United States.

The European Parliament is now pushing that same agenda. The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) would require a judge or an equivalent authority to approve any transfer of data outside the EU. All non-EU countries would have to go through that adjudication.

The fact remains though, that this may not be enough. Felt, Ellsberg, Assange, Manning and now Snowden, are just names. What they have done for society is providing us with honesty. They have elected to give us truths we would otherwise not know. They have shown us, over and over again, the capacity of our governments to overreact, to go beyond the limits of the power we want them to have.

The main goal of terrorism has always been to inspire real fear. Terrorism, in the case of the United States, has been entirely successful. A country built on personal freedom, which has guaranteed personal rights and liberties, is tearing itself to pieces, corrupting its own basis as a state and alienating some of its largest allies, including those in Europe.

The United States government broke no laws- and that is possibly the most terrifying truth of all. Europe needs to be cautious and aware of the dangers. We do not want these outcomes for our states or for our international alliance in the European Union.