Men must come on board for women's rights

We still live in a society that would prefer if we just shut up and got on with reproducing, so says Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Men must come on board for women's rights
Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubberbandits gets together with actor Cillian Murphy to discuss the need for men to take responsibility and vote on 25 May, when Ireland goes to the polls to decide whether or not to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.

IF you’re of a conspiratorial disposition, you could be of the view that there is a vast apparatus aimed at keeping women subjugated, silenced and shamed. And you would probably be right. Look at the cervical cancer screening scandal, the barbarism of symphysiotomy and the awful side effects of vaginal mesh implants used for incontinence, sometimes arising from childbirth. Despite the great strides made by feminism and the assertiveness and honesty of a small number of mostly prominent Irish women, speaking publicly about their abortion experiences, we still live in a society that would prefer if we just shut up and got on with reproducing, so that there will be enough people to contribute towards pensions for our ageing population.

As we recoil from gruesome posters defacing our streets, asking if Repeal the 8th Amendment is “a licence to kill” and statistics such as “one in five pregnancies” in pagan England results in pregnancy (untrue) and a huge billboard ad that I spotted on Southern Road depicting a fat baby of about ten months with a thought bubble saying; “I had no idea..” followed by the statement “They want to legalise abortion up to six months”(untrue), women are being goaded to put their wombs to use as the Government is developing a ‘baby boom strategy.’

Get this: In order to encourage women to reproduce, there is going to be a rollout of ‘baby boxes’ for all new parents. The boxes, which will contain items such as blankets and nappies, can double up as cribs. Wow, what great housekeeping — a container of necessities for babies that can also be used in such a practical way. If only the baby-producing business was such a cosy scenario. But as we know all too well, being pregnant in this country isn’t always a happy affair. It can result in a grim trip to the UK to terminate a crisis pregnancy. Or, consider that three women in Ireland today will take illegal abortion pills to abort a foetus, alone and without medical supervision. We have abortion in this country. It’s just that it’s outsourced or precariously carried out in bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s an Irish thing — our hypocritical and inhumane solution to a problem, a problem that won’t go away.

Strolling along the Grand Parade the other night with a friend, a pro-life campaigning man and woman sidled up to us and offered us a leaflet. Out of curiosity, I took one while my friend delivered a mini-lecture on compassion, complaining that supposedly much valued babies are often left in dire circumstances once they’re born, because of economic hardship. The leaflet, pink and blue, contains sketches of a foetus at various stages. The sketches depict chubby-looking foetuses (unrealistic) and the theme of the message is of the ‘epic’ journey the foetus takes.

‘Epic’ is a good word to describe the whole baby business. Having a child is a life-changing event and one that shouldn’t be forced on teenagers, victims of rape and incest and women who are carrying foetuses that have a fatal abnormality.

The pro-lifers will tell you that Ireland is safe place in which to be carrying a child. Oh yeah? Savita Halappanavar anyone, who died as a result of the 8th Amendment? In the current issue of Hot Press magazine, Dr Peter Boylan, the former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, a key witness in the inquiry into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, has clearly identified at least three women whose lives have been lost directly as a result of the 8th Amendment.

In the interview, Dr Boylan says that as a young doctor, he used to be opposed to abortion. However, he changed his mind having witnessed first-hand, the pain and suffering many women are forced to endure with pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities, life threatening situations or crisis pregnancies.

The 8th Amendment equates the right to life of the foetus with that of the pregnant woman. Dr Boylan poses the question: “How close to death does a woman have to be before we can intervene?”

The truth is, no one can possibly know. How many more lives will be lost if the 8th Amendment isn’t repealed?

One welcome if rather belated development in the whole referendum debate is Irish male celebrities encouraging men to exercise their vote on May 25. Cork-born actor and Hollywood star, Cillian Murphy, in conversation with Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubberbandits, said last week: “Men and women are custodians of this society. We both decide what’s going to happen for our future.”

Dismissing the referendum as women’s business is not an option for any fully fledged thinking male. Join women on their epic journey, whatever route they choose to take.

It’s called participating in democracy. And after all, it takes two to tango.

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