Wednesday 9 May 2018

Yes Repeal the Eighth

On 25th of May, we-the-people are having another chance at Government By Referendum. The mechanics of it are quite simple: we are going to repeal the Eighth amendment to the Constitution by replacing Article 40.3.3. It's all on
The Present Article 40.3.3
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state. This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.
The Proposed Article 40.3.3
Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

The short answer is that I'll be voting Yes because that's what my daughters want. I got my relevant ethics from my PhD mentor "Your rights end where my nose begins". You can work away with your version of a life-well-lived so long as it doesn't impinge on mine.  Dau.I and Dau.II defend themselves with "Your rights end where my uterus begins".  It's not about abortion-on-demand, which will be a long long time coming in rear-window focussed Ireland, it's about choice.  Dau.I was caught protesting by Newstalk Radio and featured on the 6 o'clock news a few days ago "I feel really frustrated by the whole way the referendum is going. With the marriage referendum [3 years ago] the arguments from every side seemed to be much more fact-based than this referendum which seems to be entirely about feelings". Starting with John the Bastard, son of the Laird and the red-headed cook,  our family has a long tradition of  unexpected pregnancies, only a quarter of which ended up with a child raised by two parents of different sex. In one of the other three cases, The Man [well he was only a chap really, although his plumbing worked] fucked on, contributed his teaspoonful and then fucked off. That's about the level of support a women can expect from The State or any of those people who are talking large about the rights of the unborn. In fairness, incubators women get really good care, paid for by the state, during their pregnancy so long as they continue pregnant. But 48 hours after delivery, they are on their own for the 12 or 24 years it takes to raise a child.

In one of my remedial maths classes in March, I overheard a chap say that he was going to the polling station on 25th May 2018, because he believed in participation in the democratic process; but he was going to 'spoil his vote' because he didn't have enough information about either side. I thought that was commendable and rational: like Dau.I's deprecating this referendum which seems to be entirely about feelings. But one of his female classmates was having none of it: "You should @&*$ing well go and get yourself informed about the issues before the day, so". At which he started inarticulating about how He didn't think that a young woman should be able to easily shuck off the responsibility for falling pregnant. I tell ya, The Patriarchy starts before you leave your teens. His attitude - I won't dignify it as reasoning - is wrong on at least two counts.
  1. He, no more than I, doesn't have any standing on the matter. The goings on in someone else's uterus - a rather extreme example of parent-offspring conflict; about which I knew something when I was his age 40 years ago - is none of his, or my, business.
  2. He has entirely the wrong demographic image in mind when he's laying down the law. The most common class of  the 4,000 [almost certainly an underestimate] Irish women who travel to the UK each year because Ireland won't deal with its own pregnancy terminations is not young wans who get drunk, get lovin' and get unlucky in the lottery of their menstrual cycle. The majority [54%!] are rather women who already have a child or children; know from years of experience both the burden and the joy of the status of motherhood; and believe that the whole family will suffer financial, emotional and psychological loss if they bring another child into the world. There are many other burdens a woman and her family can suffer beyond drawing a fatal fetal abnormality card in the lottery.
If you ever bother to listen to the safety announcements as you prepare for take-off you'll remember the exhortation to put your own oxygen mask on before you start helping those dependent on you. Because if you-the-adult flake out from oxygen deprivation while you trick about with Little Jimmy's mask then you're both dead. In the natural world, where propagating your genes into another generation is one of the most powerful drives we know about, parents have to make conscious and unconscious decisions about whether continuing to invest in this particular offspring is the 'best' option at the current time. Humans too! - you may, with advantage, read Nisa by Marjorie Shostak: the eponymous hero falls pregnant too quickly after the birth of her first child and is told that extra burden will likely kill them all in the marginal desert land they inhabited. As an evolutionary biologist and a utilitarian, I have a particular take on matters of life and death: I cannot accept that the right to life is a black and white issue. You just have to engage with a bit of trolleyology or follow the ethical reasoning of Peter Singer to see where I'm coming from. Yes, you have to read the back story because Ethics Is Hard.

I put it to you that Pro-Lifers [vote No to the proposed change] are following Immanuel Kant with his belief in absolutes of Right and Wrong. For Kant telling a lie is wrong and therefore on the same floor as kicking a dog or setting fire to a church full of people. By showing small-but-perfectly-formed aborted foetuses on their campaign posters, they are trying to elicit a sense of human empathy with something that is about the size of a kidney bean [8 weeks on the fruit and veg comparison]. But the No-change position is that all humans of whatever size, shape or colour have a Right to Life even if that life has a disastrous effect on all around it/him/her. I loath Kant: smug, priggish and detached from the realities of life in his ideal Platonic cave. It's not perfect, but Utilitarian - greatest good for the greatest number - reasoning is practicable for many normal circumstances. There are so many of them that awkward crisis pregnancies are part of normal life and here too Utility works for me. I'm by no means Certain of my position, but women should have a choice about what happens down there.  Shipping the problem to England is just contemptible.

You and I are entitled to a position on either side of a debate. It's better if we think the consequences through. Better still if we listen with care and attention to what The Other has to say. But diversity rules apply: me, I'll have compassion for a poor woman in trouble. Too few of us give a €2 damn about a small black baby dying of infectious diarrhoea over there; too many of us affect to care for a small pink kidney bean over here that we have no intention of supporting.

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