11 May 2018
What’s so illiberal about debating abortion?
I’m with Julie Bindel in fighting disgusting practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and in standing up to the trans mob, but I part company with her over the abortion debate in Ireland, about which she is so impatient.
I abandoned misogynistic and sex-obsessed Irish Roman Catholicism at the age of 16, and Dublin five years later, because I couldn’t bear living in a country dominated by a repressive church and a pernicious reverence for a tradition of political violence.
In schools, children were taught that the pope was infallible and the greatest man in Irish history was Patrick Pearse, frontman for a revolution in 1916 that was without any democratic or moral justification but which the Catholic church had blessed retrospectively. Questioning either shibboleth publicly was a fast track to career ruin, so criticism was confined to private whisperings and public hypocrisy.
So I emigrated to a country where debate was encouraged and I could speak my mind. But although I don’t believe in any god, nowadays I find myself frequently defending Ireland, north and south, and Christianity, against aggressive secularists who regard social progressivism as the new religion. On TV with the Guardian’s Dawn Foster, I found myself siding with the DUP, whom she dismissed as “backward” , a term I wager she would never use about non-whites and non-Christians – whom I believe have a perfect right to be social conservatives. Something has happened to debate in the UK and I regret having to abandon feminism since it was overtaken by ignorant, bigoted and intolerant social warriors.
When I grew out of being a practising anti-Catholic and opened my mind, I ceased thinking of the Republic of Ireland as simply having been oppressed by the church. It suited the state and society to shuffle off on to the clergy all the social problems it couldn’t export. At a time when there was no free secondary education, Christian Brothers taught the poor, nuns ran the hospitals and they took in the pregnant women whose families wanted them out of sight.
True, many of them were tunnel-visioned and some of them were cruel, but many more were selfless. And in Northern Ireland, although there were quite a few mad bigots on the fringes, it was Protestant ministers who played a vital role in persuading flocks bereaved and persecuted by the IRA that it was wrong for victims to take revenge and that they should be prepared to forgive the repentant.
When the sex abuse scandal and various others broke, the clergy were turned against, and many blameless old people who had served society all their lives found themselves recast as historic monsters. The Irish brand moved with bewildering speed from faith and fatherland to remorseless and fashionable modernity.
True, it took until 1993, and a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, for homosexuality to be decriminalised. Yet within a few years, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was open about his marital break-down, had his mistress by his side in public, and was happy to be launching a Wilde pub and Bosie Bistro.
And now Ireland has a gay prime minister. There was huge enthusiasm for gay marriage, which was legalised in 2015 after a referendum with a campaign largely driven by the young – and embraced with hysterical zeal by that new found progressive, the apologist for mass murder, Gerry Adams. The clergy were subdued and Catholics who followed the teachings of their church found themselves pariahs. They largely shut up about it in public; some made common cause with Ms Foster’s “backward” Protestants in Northern Ireland, who mostly have gay friends or relations but think marriage is for men and women and the procreation of children.
So Christian Ireland is still struggling with these issues. And yes, some reforms are still needed. But it’s inertia, not misogyny – as Julie insisted – that hold them up. The Republic, after all, has had two elected female presidents and the DUP has a female leader.
Now, with the abortion debate, traditional Catholics and the DUP find themselves once more on the same side. I, too, have wrestled with this moral issue since my teens. I hate abortion, but I know I wouldn’t think a raped child should have to give birth, so I clearly don’t see it as in the same bracket as murder. I have no truck, however, with the “women’s-right-to-choose” champions who think a foetus has no rights, however far on the pregnancy. If forced, to choose, I think I’d vote against repeal of Section 8, as the government is now promising abortion on demand for the first trimester.
Yes, that amendment is hypocritical because it leaves the medical profession rather than politicians with the difficult choices, and it should be reconsidered or replaced. But there is nothing illiberal in having an honest debate about abortion, and giving a lot of weight to the rights of the foetus. If not, we risk lurching blindly down a path that is even more anti the unborn than Britain’s.
I am proud of my little island for the way it pays such attention to moral issues. It wrestles with the implications of separating church and state, and hasn’t rushed to embrace as dogma the secular values recommended by evangelists like Julie Bindel and bigots like Dawn Foster. It gives me hope that it will take just as seriously the looming threats of assisted suicide and euthanasia which secularists would have us rubber stamp in a heartbeat.
There are worse things than being old-fashioned and an impatience with anyone swimming against the tide of fashion is one of them.
Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.
Ruth Dudley Edwards