Legalising abortion will inevitably create a general malaise in Irish society, at every level, in every family, between neighbours, in medical facilities, everywhere
My colleague is there, alone in the operating theatre. All is clean. Organised. A sanitised façade, once again. She raises her head, smiles sadly and asks : ‘Do you want to see her?’ I answer with a very weak ‘yes’ and move forward . . .”
This quote comes from a poignant testimonial on conservative website objectiondelaconscience.org. It’s by a nurse who had just accompanied a couple through the termination of their Down Syndrome child and relates a daily occurrence in French hospitals.
There is no anger, no judgment in her tone, just immense sadness at the couple’s loss, and at the baby’s death. If they’d followed their hearts, they said, they’d have kept her, but they must be reasonable . . . In 2014, 1,959 unborn babies were diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and 1552 of those were aborted by surgical abortion, which can legally be performed right up to birth.
Abortions happen relentlessly, on average 580 times a day, every day of the year, every year. In 2016, there were 211,900 abortions, for 785,000 births. Bluntly put, one in five babies are aborted. The National Institute for Demographic Studies reports that 33 per cent of women in France have recourse to abortion once in their lifetime, 9.5 per cent twice in their lifetime, and 4.1 per cent have 3 abortions. The 18-25 year olds are the most affected (90,000 in 2012). Abortion is a sad, repetitive and violent reality. It is so first of all for French women.
In 2012, Prof Israël Nisand, who is now president of France’s National College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, and a proponent of access to abortion, unambiguously stated that abortion caused psychological damage to women who had recourse to it. The matter became a national scandal, because the official truth is that abortion does not bear long-lasting consequences. The French government website on abortion (ivg.gouv.fr) states that the only pain is physical, during and shortly after the procedure. And yet, a simple Google or YouTube search will show hundreds of messages left by women mentally distressed after their abortions. Beyond the anecdotal evidence, the majority of serious medical studies show significant mental health issues after an abortion. One study (Coleman, 2011), sampled 877,181 women, of whom 163,831 had an abortion. The author concluded that women having had abortions had an 81 per cent increased risk of mental health troubles.
No public discourse or debate is possible in France about abortion. Since 1993, it is a criminal offence to try to dissuade a woman from having an abortion. In February 2017, the offence was extended to providing information, including online, which could have the same effect of convincing a woman to keep her baby. This applies to teachers, healthcare workers, media, to everyone. For the French government, providing online information on abortion, but also on pregnancy, on carrying a baby to term, on accessing social and financial services to support expectant mothers and after the birth, is considered misleading to women.
The Irish Government is proposing abortion on demand at least up to 12 weeks, and that is exactly what we have in France. It will not take long before the sad French reality will come to these shores. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Teenage girls and young women will be most affected. Mothers will take their daughters, sometimes forcing them, to have abortions. Secretaries in GP practices will see women coming in at the early stages of pregnancy, and leaving the premises having taken pills for a medically induced abortion. Doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists and other hospital workers will struggle to keep their right to conscientious objection, as it is the case in France.
It is harder and harder to find doctors willing to perform surgical abortions at a later stage in the pregnancy. The enthusiasm of the early days has worn off
The debate is not about maternal healthcare in Ireland, do not be fooled. It is an ideological question: do you really want abortion on demand at least up to 12 weeks? Do you really want to give carte blanche to your Government for abortions up to 6 months’ gestation? Legalising abortion will inevitably and inexorably create a general malaise in Irish society, at every level, in every family, between neighbours, in medical facilities, everywhere.
In France, since 2016, midwives are entitled to prescribe abortive pills to women up to five weeks’ gestation. Why this move? Because it is harder and harder to find doctors willing to perform surgical abortions at a later stage in the pregnancy. The enthusiasm of the early days has worn off, the abortion militants have retired, and the younger generations of doctors would rather save lives than end them. But the fabric of French society is altered forever. We are not allowed to talk about abortion, we are told lies about abortion, and one in five pregnancies is terminated. Unlike French people, you have a voice. On May 25th, think about the harsh reality of abortion in France when you exercise your right to vote.
Dr Bénédicte Sage-Fuller lectures at the School of Law in University College Cork