All I know is that I don’t know nothin’. And that’s fine.
There’s a certain peace and restfulness that comes from admitting that the more you learn and more you know, the more aware you are of just how much you don’t know.
Each bit of knowledge and education only opens up a whole other area of knowledge and information about which you are ignorant.
At this point you could insert one of numerous Richard Feynman quotes on learning, life and everything like, “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”
He’s right, it doesn’t matter. It is much more interesting to have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned (Feynman again). Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but it isn’t as difficult a phrase as “I don’t know.”
All politics, all ideologies and all religions are all about easy answers. You can rest easy because we’ve done the difficult thinking for you and here are our answers. All we ask is your unconditional support and belief.
Except, it turns out that they don’t have the answers either.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDA) 2013 was supposed to be an answer. But what was the question? It wasn’t how do we protect unborn life and it wasn’t how do we protect the life of women after Savita Halappanavar.
The question was how we protect doctors when making a decision that might conflict with the Constitution. Doctors shouldn’t need the enactment of legislation in 2013 to help them make a judgement on what is best for the life of the patient. And yet they insisted they did.
But the Supreme Court insisted they didn’t.
In its decision on the X Case, the Supreme Court discussed at length the conditions that would permit abortion under the Constitution. For 22 years doctors had some clarity that where there was a real and imminent risk to the life of the mother, they could perform an abortion.
The death of Savita had nothing to do with lack of legislation and was all to do with doctors not wanting to make a decision.
The PLDA was bad law enacted in haste and yesterday we saw that doctors still won’t make a decision, even when the Supreme Court and the law says they can. Suicide is a risk to the life of the mother, PLDA allows for this and for an abortion.
Except if someone is suicidal and a genuine risk to themselves, then they should be committed to a mental institution. The former requires three medical opinions, the latter just one.
Oh, but not when you jump in a river and actually try and kill yourself. Then you’re grand. No risk there.
The problem with narratives is that when you have them, they become like a hammer and everything looks like a nail. It’s easy to read a lot into what the psychologist did in committing the girl to an institution. We’ll probably never know and so shouldn’t speculate.
But to repeat an old mantra, never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
The problem with narratives is that we can’t discuss abortion as we should. Not religion, not ideology, just ethics. Unfortunately, we’ve let ethics become synonymous with religion.
We’ve allowed a situation where one specific branch of one specific religion gets to be the dictator of ethics. We need a debate free from that. Unfortunately, no politician would be brave enough to have that discussion.
If you were to do a list of who has an abortion and why they have an abortion, the results of that list might be swayed by your views on abortions. Are the women old or young? Married or single? Is the abortion due to their health or the foetus’s?
Our only basis for answering this is to look to the statistics from those countries that do have legalised abortion. Great Britain (not UK as many in the UK have realised recently due to legislation not being enacted in Northern Ireland) is probably the best comparison.
Any legislation is likely to be the same where abortions require medical approval and a similar set up. From the statistics available, we know that in 2015 185,824 (3,451 from Ireland) abortions were performed.
· Based on 2015 births, approximately 20% of pregnancies were terminated in England and Wales.*
· 80% of abortions are performed in the first 9 weeks and 98% within the first 19 weeks (69% and 97% respectively for Irish women)
· 70% of women are in a relationship (65% for Irish women)
· 77% of women are white.
· 54% had been pregnant in the past through to delivery (47% Irish)
· 38% have had previous abortions (19% Irish)
· 98% have abortions on the grounds of Category C “risk to the physical or mental or mental health of the mother” (96% Irish)
· 86% of women are over 20 (52% aged 20-29, 34% 30+) (91% Irish, with 46% 20-29 and 45% over 30)
· 3% of abortions were for serious abnormalities or disabilities to the foetus (Category E) (4% Irish)
· 3 abortions (number, not percentage) were performed in emergency situations to save the mother’s life (due to mental or physical harm).
· 629 (0.3% of abortions) were because the foetus was diagnosed with downs syndrome (1.1% Irish)
*very rough approximation
How do we interpret this? I don’t know. Looking at the statistics above: it’s complicated. It isn’t, as Leo claims, like the lads popping off to Amsterdam.
This is mature, rational women, in a relationship, many who have seen a previous pregnancy through to birth.
They are 98% of 185,824 who have weighed up the pregnancy and its consequences and a doctor has agreed an abortion is necessary. Over 180,000 individuals like the population of County Limerick.
There is no single group mind behind their decisions. The only common feature is they live in a state that allows them to make that decision in consultation with a doctor.
In Ireland, we’ve legislated for the three abortions that were medical emergencies. But someone had to die before we even did that. We haven’t addressed the issue of suicide risk, but then we haven’t addressed the issue of suicide risk in general.
Under the PLDP, it isn’t enough to be diagnosed with cancer; it needs two doctors to confirm the cancer. With mental health, we want three doctors to confirm your state of mind before anyone will make a decision.
Twenty two years after the Supreme Court said it was permissible without legislation, that suicide risk was a risk to life, that you can take the threat of suicide at face value, you do not have to wait until they are pressing a knife to their wrists.
One doctor can do that. One doctor can believe the woman and act. The constitution does not prohibit that. Doctors did not need to wait 22 years, we didn’t need legislation. Doctors didn’t need to lobby our legislators so that it required three doctor’s opinions.
You can make of the statistics above whatever you want. You can use them to support pro-life or pro-choice. But they are what they are.
All I know is that I know nothin’. It’s complicated. Life is complicated. Somehow, we’ve managed to make complicated the bits that aren’t complicated when it comes to permissible abortions under the constitution..What hope do we have with the bigger issue of abortion in general?
The only thing I can say for sure is that it’s time to listen to those who have had experience here. Not those who want to insert an ideology into other people’s decisions.
There are over 180,000 of them in Britain, over 3000 in Ireland. Maybe listen to them, not me.
Listrade can be found on Twitter @listrade where he mainly steals jokes from Keith Chegwin.
Yesterday: Tony Groves on The Three Doctors