Whether pro-choice or pro-life, I think we can all agree that generally speaking, the fewer abortions the better. When a woman becomes pregnant, the ideal situation is that she feels sufficiently supported – emotionally, financially and practically – that she wants to and feels totally capable of raising a child. But that’s not always the case.
We also know that banning abortion in Ireland isn’t working. Women who can afford it have the option of travelling to the UK or various different parts of Europe, while women who can’t afford that option are increasingly choosing to order abortion pills online. I’m sure we can also agree that getting an abortion is not a pleasant experience, so forcing women to take an international flight to get one, or to take abortion pills without medical supervision, is simply making the process of having an abortion more traumatic.
Given that the Catholic Church’s influence has waned dramatically in the last 30 years, and that with the plague of scandals the church is facing around their treatment of women (the Magdalene Laundries, the abusive environments and unexplained deaths in Mother and Baby Homes, the trafficking of women’s babies without their knowledge to the US for profit, denouncing unmarried mothers from the pulpit) the church might choose to stay silent on the issue of the Eighth Amendment.
Out of respect for the women they failed again and again over the course of generations, the church could choose to sit out of this debate.
But as they won’t, let me offer some practical tips to the Catholic Church on preventing abortion in Ireland.
1. Subsidise childcare for single parents
One reason why women choose abortion is that they simply cannot afford to have a child. With no Dad on the scene to help out with childcare, going back to work can be problematic. The Bon Secours Health Systems has a very healthy balance sheet, with accumulated profits of €70 million. If they would like to simultaneously make amends for the wrongs done in the Mother and Baby Homes and contribute to the prevention of abortion, they should immediately establish a multi-million euro childcare bursary for single mothers who want to go back to work or education.
These bursaries should be open to women of any religion or none, and should be independently run with no religious ideology promoted among them.
2. Offer financial support at Catholic-run schools
Around 90% of primary schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church. Single mothers often come from low-income backgrounds and are at risk of poverty. A pregnant women, who may already be struggling with the cost of putting children through school, might feel that she simply cannot afford to have another child.
The Catholic Church can make an impact here. Each parish should have a budget to support single parents with buying school books, uniforms, paying for school buses, providing free places in homework clubs and taking part in extracurricular activities. As well as contributing to a reduction in abortions, this will serve as an act of contrition from a church that for so long ostracised the children of unmarried parents.
3. Support the criminal prosecution of any member of clergy guilty of sexual assault
A small proportion of Irish women who choose to have abortions do so because they became pregnant as a result of rape. How can the church make an impact there?
The Catholic Church has, in the recent past, actively colluded in the cover up of sexual assault of boys and girls. This makes the church’s position on rape and sexual assault ambiguous. As recently as 2016, the Vatican has told newly ordained bishops that they are not obligated to report sexual abuse cases. Instead, they claimed, that should be left to the victims.
That leaves victims of sexual assault by perpetrators outside of the clergy in no uncertain terms about the level of support the church has to offer them. As part of this roadmap to fewer abortions, the church should make it clear that it will report all suspected cases of abuse to the authorities and support the criminal prosecution and jailing of anyone found guilty of sexual assault.
To be clear – I’m not saying the Catholic Church is responsible for the pregnancies as a result of rape. I’m saying that they need to act as the moral leaders they so desperately want to be again and treat rape as the horrific crime that it is rather than covering it up.
If the Catholic Church’s aim is to prevent as many abortions as possible, I’m 100% onboard. I’m just calling for a change in strategy. Instead of trying to control women’s bodies through societal pressure and the rule of law, simply convince pregnant women that they have the support they need.
The Catholic Church has deep pockets, and instead of funding anti-abortion campaigns, that money can be used in any number of ways to prove to pregnant women that the support is out there for them.
Oh, and if after all of that is done, some women choose to have abortions anyway, don’t stand in their way. The Catholic Church’s approach to unwanted pregnancies resulted in a living hell for both the mothers and children involved; you have no moral high ground here.
All you’ve got is the opportunity to make amends.
Over to you…
Should the Catholic Church have a voice in the Repeal the 8th debate, given its past failures in supporting unmarried women? Would you back the ideas above, or do you have others to add? Leave a comment.
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