Belfast Telegraph

Why should male politicians dictate on abortion laws?

By Fionola Meredith

It would be absurdly funny, if it wasn't so painful and outrageous, that so many of our male leaders believe they have the God-given right to control women's bodies. I'm thinking, in particular, about the so-called "pro-life" cross-party group at Stormont.

It has 10 members in total. And every single one of them is a man. Bitterly opposed political enemies – Jim Wells, Jim Allister, Alban Maginess, Mervyn Storey, Mark H Durkan, Danny Kennedy and several others – find harmony and common cause in the promotion of "the sanctity of life".

So, what is this sanctity? Well, it's a nebulous idea which, in practical terms, translates as the imposition of compulsory childbirth on women with crisis pregnancies.

We are not talking about warm, misty-eyed contemplation of the glories of procreation. We are talking about blinkered men, with hardline religious beliefs, wishing to use acquired power to force women to have children they do not want; even, in some cases, if their pregnancy is the result of rape, or incest.

Their complacency and arrogance is truly breathtaking. And so is their sanctimoniousness, because they know that desperate women will travel to England – with all the cost and upheaval that inevitably causes – to get a termination.

So they aren't stopping abortions, much as they would like to. They're merely delaying them, making them happen later, which makes the whole enterprise even more distasteful and distressing and, sometimes, even dangerous.

Next time the cross-party group gets together in a brotherly huddle, they should offer up a prayer of contrition for the shame and suffering they have caused in pursuit of their obscure ideal.

Of course, none of these male zealots in suits – whether at Stormont, or elsewhere – will ever have to face the reality of finding themselves in such an impossible situation.

Yet they still think it legitimate to seek to impose their own beliefs on those of us who do, or have done, or might do in the future.

At the heart of their implacable opposition to abortion is not care for the unborn child and certainly not care for the mother. It is a thoroughgoing suspicion of the female, passed down through centuries of misogynist theology, philosophy and science. Age-old beliefs that women are dangerously sexual, morally defective and in need of authoritarian control, for their own good and that of society.

They will never admit it, but that's what's behind it all these scare stories about the consequences of altering the law in Northern Ireland – as Justice Minister David Ford is now exploring – to allow women carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities to have a termination.

Their need for control is so great that these men (and the women who collude with them) cannot countenance any slippage, as they would see it.

That's why they see such humane procedures, which any compassionate society should offer, as the inevitable gateway to abortion on demand: hordes of promiscuous hussies skipping off to the clinic in their lunch-hours, with never a care in the world.

Of course, the vast majority of women who do have terminations approach them with appropriate thought and gravity and sometimes with a great deal of sadness.

But this hysterical response happens because these pious men simply do not trust women. They fear us; they fear our reproductive agency. Most of all, they fear allowing us power over our own bodies.

Men are, of course, entitled to their own thoughts on abortion, whatever they may be. Nobody is denying that. I'm not saying that they should be written out of the argument entirely; that would be facile and offensive, especially when they are directly involved in a crisis pregnancy. They deserve to be listened to and their opinions taken into account.

But their views must never be allowed to take precedence over those of the woman who will carry the child.

It is her body and it must be her final choice.

That's why I was delighted to hear Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt  – who supports a change in the law in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest – say that he hopes David Ford's consultation on abortion legislation will "give due weight to the voices of women".

Finally, a politician who realises that men can longer sit up on their complacent backsides at Stormont, dictating the terms and conditions of women's reproductive destinies. Will anyone else have the guts to join him?

Belfast Telegraph


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