A Conscientious Objection


From top: Minister for Health Simon Harris flanked by Master of Holles Street Rhona Mahoney (left) and Master of the Rotunda Fergal Malone during the Eight Amendment referendum campaign last May; Terry McMahon

Have to ask this question. Not trying to offend anyone, though precedent suggests this will likely inspire that strange rage that seems to be our national language these days. Or that other reaction. Silence. Followed by censorship. But, in good conscience, it has to be asked.

Abortion, for a woman, or a couple, is a profoundly private decision. In advance of the ‘Repeal’ referendum, many people were asked to put their personal morality aside and use democracy to give those women or couples the right to make that profound decision in their own country, rather than be shamed into travelling overseas to terminate.

Repeal proved to be a divisive campaign. As both sides carved out their positions decades of inarticulate rage also spewed out. New names were given to old words and language lost all meaning. Anything that didn’t fit into the new narrative was cut out like a gangrene memory.

Yet, when it came to the ballot box, people believed their final decision was done for noble reasons. Both sides believed they were doing the right thing.

And the democratic outcome decided that the right to life of the unborn was no longer constitutionally equal to the right to life of the mother.

At least it was now clear. Easy to comprehend. Regardless of which way you voted. Regardless of the moral complexities.

But now we have politicians defining the consequence of that outcome. We are trusting them with the most profound issue of our time, even if many of them have a verifiable history of implementing policies that have destroyed people’s lives.

We are allowing them to define the reality of abortion, even if many of these men and women have already proven themselves to be psychopaths.

These trusted politicians are now questioning if our nation’s remarkable hospital staff, many of whom are legitimate conscientious objectors, should be forced to participate in abortions. Or face being struck off.

These trusted politicians are now questioning if race, gender, and physical or mental disability are valid reasons for late-term abortion. Including the termination of someone with Downs Syndrome.

These trusted politicians are now questioning if we should refuse to administer pain relief to the soon-to-be-terminated foetus on the grounds that it is just another attempt to shame the mother. Yes, you read that correctly.

Have we really gone from legitimately attempting to address the stigma of shaming a woman seeking an abortion by repealing the 8th, to insisting that a late-term foetus, who feels everything with every nerve ending in its body, should be granted no pain relief in case we cause that mother some shame?

No matter which side you were on, is there anyone out there – literally anyone – who supports the assertion that granting pain relief to an unborn child in advance of its painful death is somehow wrong?

Amid all the noise of Repeal, is this really what we voted ‘Yes’ for? If it’s not, then why in hell are we all so suddenly silent?

Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69

Previously: Terry McMahon on Broadsheet


56 thoughts on “A Conscientious Objection

    1. Dub Spot

      Graham Linehan syndrome. FOMO.

      “Have to ask this question. Not trying to offend anyone, …”


  1. Spaghetti Hoop

    While I understand the gist of the article, what intrigues me is which of our politicians “have already proven themselves to be psychopaths”?

    1. f_lawless

      I’m guessing he means that our government ministers are showing a lack of emotional empathy by letting the homeless crisis continue as it has – although technically not all those who lack emotional empathy are psychopaths

  2. missred

    I’ve been following most of the legislative talks and I am puzzled as to which bit of it mentions what Terry is talking about and by whom. This piece would have more clout if these details were mentioned. Also, the limit agreed for fatal anomalies (not disability) was 20 weeks, how late term does he mean? This needs to be clarified please.

    1. Starina

      Yeah, can we have some links to instances where this has been discussed in the legislative process over the last couple of weeks, please?

        1. millie st murderlark

          Engage your brain there Kev. She gave a definition, thereby answering the question.

          And while your comment might have seemed dreadfully clever in your head, it doesn’t transfer to reality quite so well. Nice try though.

  3. Nigel

    ‘These trusted politicians are now questioning if we should refuse to administer pain relief to the soon-to-be-terminated foetus on the grounds that it is just another attempt to shame the mother. Yes, you read that correctly.’

    I’m sure I did read that correct;y. Shocking, if true.

    1. millie st murderlark

      Is it true?

      Where is he getting this from? Really. I would be very concerned by these issues but honestly he needs to provide some sources for this.

      Right now, with nothing to back it up it reads like just another impassioned Tumblr post.

      1. Nigel

        I presume it’s some sort of anti-choice bare-faced lie. Terry seems to be a sort of snarling populist but very grudging about supporting progressive causes and positively loathes anyone actively progressive such that the success of a progressive movement is a cause for sinister handwaving intimating the burgeoning of a new progressive Orwellian dystopia.

        1. Steph Pinker

          I take it you’ve never been denied a development grant by the Irish Film Board?

          Believe me, it hurts.*

          * I’m not married to a former Irish rugby player – obviously – that’s why it hurts.

          1. Nigel

            Of course it hurts, If it does”t hurt you’re not alive. If you’re not holding back the raw scream of talent thwarted by faceless bureaucracy with the gritted cage of your teeth and the psychopaths heedlessly slaughter truth and justice and art, then your bleeding heart has flowed in a clotted lump down into the dark rat-infested gutter as the neon-shot rain coldly courses off the broken drains and seeping brickwork of this city that holds me tight like the cold alcoholic love of an indifferent woman.

  4. Dub Spot

    I can’t make head nor tail of this stuff.

    “But now we have politicians defining the consequence of that outcome.”

    We knew there would have to be legislation enacted if the amendment was repealed. Did Terry McMahon even vote?

  5. Sham Bob

    This is all way too vague – ‘Have we really gone from’ blah to blah? I don’t bloody know, have we? How about some links or even just context? Which politicians? And which ones are psychopaths? All of them? I assume the ones overseeing austerity. I got past the ‘all politicians are bastards’ mentality in my teens. Just shrugging your shoulders and labelling them psychopaths is even more delusional and useless. I thought the writer was jacking in broadsheet anyway?

  6. realPolithicks

    I don’t know this guy from a hole in the wall but he comes across as someone who was opposed to the repeal of the eight and now (while trying to appear as though he is cool with the outcome) is trying to place impediments in the way of passage of the bill. I could of course be completely wrong but thats the tone I take from his piece.

  7. rotide

    After reading this , I for one am astonished Terry somehow can’t catch a cold when it comes to funding for his art in Ireland.


  8. Daisy Chainsaw

    Does Terry know what “pain relief” is given to preemies when the woman goes into early labour, say at about 26 weeks? Proper scientists state that a foetus is incapable of feeling pain before the third trimester.

    When a woman is miscarrying, has Terry found out if fetal pain relief is offered during the miscarriage?

    What scenario does Terry envisage where a woman would go through several months of pregnancy and then in the 3rd trimester decide she wants an abortion?

    If you ask the parents involved in TFMR, their babies were delivered early, held and loved. There was none of the codswallop about dismemberment and whatever gore porn antichoice, so called “prolife” get off on.

  9. Niamh

    You still can’t write for poo. Or make a reasonable, non-hysterical argument for anything. You are pulling out niche pieces of whataboutery (where is the foetal pain relief thing coming from? No link) and throwing around meaningless emotive terms (‘psychopaths’) to obscure what is really just bog-standard misogynist hand-wringing.

    Do you want answers about abortion, Terry? Have some conversations with women who have experienced it. Listen. And while you’re at it, ask us about our experiences of being sexually harassed in our school uniforms, assaulted in bars, abused by boyfriends, abandoned by baby-daddies, humiliated by doctors, forced to walk past gory foetus porn during the referendum, kept in the dark about our cervical smear results, and blamed for rape because of our knickers.Ask us what a miscarriage feels like. Ask us how we feel about the cost of childcare, the lack of subsidizing of childcare, and the fact that we do most of the grunt work in raising children and keeping homes. Ask how it feels for us to have to defend our decisions and experiences to people like you, who perform a burlesque of macho concern, but are actually as thick as two planks.

    Also, you said you weren’t going to write here again. We upset you by disagreeing with you. You seem to be unable to tolerate disagreement, or to countenance the fact that, in this case, you don’t really know poo and you make yourself look arrogant, ignorant, and self-regarding.

  10. Brian O'Flynn

    Quite interesting to read the comments above…very cool, very articulate, quite slick and some quite imaginative and even creative….
    But nothing coming remotely near the creativity of a child’s conception… nothing as astonishing as it’s nurture in its own mother’s womb or as awe inspiring as the love an exhausted mother or father showers on their child. I completely understand the conflicted ideas that he expressed and his questions to himself and others. I don’t agree with all of what he writes.
    In reading the comments I get a strong impression of anger disappointment and hurt with the human race as the writers seem to have experienced it in their lives.
    Is this anger to be directed at the innocent child as if it were a human sacrifice…this complex; unique; beautiful; helpless little girl or boy growing away quietly in the peace and calm of its mother’s womb… completely oblivious and innocent of how it came to be… but there it is…in all its glory… another human being at the very start of its timeline.
    Did I once read the word baby or human being in the comments above? Yet everyone surely knows by now that we have everything on board the spaceship for our voyage in life, right from the lift off, that is conception…one and only one sperm makes it through, the trap door closes and it shuts out all the others who arrived too late…that is what makes you the unique person you are … right from the start. When you turn in for the night have a look at your own navel and reflect on the mother that said yes to you , no one was ever going to cut that chord until you were good and ready to join the party!
    The savagery and the unyielding rejection of the mildest amendments bespeaks a very hardened world of which this nasty abortion business is but a symptom…and the baby is to be sacrificed for what ? A vast lie promoted by politicians, the inconsolable mothers will discover the awful impact of that lie and wring their hands in anguish for a choice that cannot be reversed no matter how much they regret it …ask poor Kitty Holland…who said it openly.
    No… look again at the dysfunction of our lives and each life and ask how have we come to this barbarity where the State with all its power says to a woman ” I’ll give you a solution to your problem, I’ll kill the child in your womb” the father …he won’t even have to know!…
    When you “get” how sick and cruel this is for the baby …yes the baby… and also for its mother and it’s father, who would both be prepared to die for their child in a normal society; you will have moved your heart towards real compassion and be abhorred by the weird notion that the child must die for its parents….
    Life is not without pain or death…but please, please let’s not bring death to the young, no matter how angry or hurt you may be !

    1. CM

      Refusal to ban sex selective abortions on the basis of sex, race or disability in this article below:


      There was concern that in Germany where there is no ground for abortion of disabled babies after 12 weeks, but 90% of those babies diagnosed in utero with Down s syndrome are aborted on mental health grounds/inability to cope, because there is no actual disability ban ,that the same loophole could well happen here. The proposed ban was to ensure that doesnt happen.


      The extension after May 25th of the definition of viability, (other than fatal fetal abnormalities which already are to term), from a cut off of 24 weeks on mental and physical health risk grounds as adjudicated by two doctors, to a new definition of those babies not forseen medically to require extraordinary treatment for up to 28 days after birth, also is a cause for concern, as that includes congenital abnormalities potentially but with no gestational limit specified.

      Read further down in above article re refusal to ensure pain relief
      It was decided to leave it to the discretion of medics. Some do, some don’t provide it elsewhere. Though its oft said 20 weeks is the point that the nerve endings are developed enough to feel.pain, there s also concern that its more complicated than that with deeper parts of the brain potentially producing pain at earlier stages. There s no way of proving or disproving but to avoid the possibility of pain it was proposed to have it as an amendment

      1. ReproButina

        Read your own links. The amendments are a delay tactic and nothing more.

        From the link about race, gender and disability: ‘Health Minister Simon Harris stressed that the legislation to allow for abortion services in this country would never allow a woman to seek a termination on disability or other grounds mentioned in the amendment. He said the amendment was “unnecessary”’

        The campaign is over. Find something constructive to do with your time.

      2. Daisy Chainsaw

        It’s a pity the people behind these ridiculous amendments didn’t care enough about the unborn to fight for more ultrasounds to be widely available so women could be scanned early, same with their sudden obsession with foetal pain. How great would it have been for them to fight for pain relief for miscarrying foetuses too.

        I wonder why they don’t care about the foetal health and wellbeing of wanted pregnancies as much?

    2. ReproButina

      “Life is not without pain or death…but please, please let’s not bring death to the young, no matter how angry or hurt you may be !”

      This is exactly the sort of crap I expect to see you shouting at women when they go seeking abortions because you don’t see them as people who had to make an incredibly tough decision. Only the “young”, the “baby”, the “spaceship” matters, right? Strange that the people shouting and pleading before hand are never there with support afterwards.

      The campaign is over and, thankfully, you lost.

  11. Caoimhe Doyle

    Harris ‘ premise is that abortions on grounds of sex race or disability wont happen coz there are no grounds for them in the legislation.
    Absence of grounds in other countries have not stopped them happening under mental health /inability to cope as in my previous link to Germany s experience where the law is similar to what is proposed here.
    Or is it that none of you care that Down syndrome abortions can potentially happen here up to term?
    Is that really whats going on with your posts?

    Two years ago it was discovered that almost half of all Down syndrome abortions in the UK were not being reported even though they actually do have a ground for disability by comparison with the national Downs syndrome cytogenetics register. Either they were being lumped in with mental health, like the German ones, or not being reported.

    Earlier posts here disputed that these amendments were shot down to prevent this kind of thing either coz what i am referring to was not factually based, or because there was no necessity for such amendments. I ve refuted both those claims with these links but no acknowledgement of that or concern….

    If it can happen in other countries with no grounds but with no bans and even in those with grounds that Down syndrome abortions including last trimester outside their own laws are freely practised then if Harris was serious about reassuring those who voted to repeal on the basis that abortions on disability grounds would not happen, he should have banned them. He does know about Germany and the UK experience. But he refised to copperfasten that not happening here. Says a lot about how people were hoodwinked.
    To those saying move along, it z over, the amendments and voting are not over. It s still not to late for repealers to stop this by contacting your TDs and demanding a ban on sex selective disabled and racially based abortions
    Re the comment:
    ‘I wonder why they don’t care about the foetal health and wellbeing of wanted pregnancies as much?’
    Obviously their mothers are not aborting them. Those developing babies that are unwanted only have the law to determine how their demise plays out.
    So will you all please contact your TD s and urge them to get a ban in place as there is a gaping loophole?

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      What actual statistics are there from the UK for sex selective abortions? How many Irish women have travelled to have a sex selective abortion?

    2. ReproButina

      You lost the referendum and now you want to delay the legislation with a nuisance campaign of hassling TDs for amendments that are not necessary.

  12. Brian

    No, the innocent babies are the losers.The inconsolable mothers fathers and families are also losers…and the society that voted for the killing of innocent human beings by pretending that they are something less are losers …washing of hands that will never be clean again … because our existence in its fullness of time is balanced with justice always and it’s inescapable…

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