I reread “Praxis” by Fay Weldon recently. I didn’t realise I was rereading until I got to nearly the end and it came flooding back. I read a lot of Fay Weldon in my 20s and was inspired by the injustices she identified. But this time I found it dated. I feel that the battles have moved on. No one in the Western world would seriously suggest to a college student that she would be better off dropping out of college and getting married. Plenty of people, however, would suggest to a college educated woman that she would be better off dropping out of the workforce and staying home minding her children. I suppose that this is progress.
Then the latest Mavis Cheek is also about 70s feminists and consciousness raising and I’m tired of having my consciousness raised in this particular way. Maybe I need some new books.
If you haven’t read Praxis, let me ruin it for you. Praxis is jailed for suffocating a new baby with Down’s syndrome. Her (let us say, so that I can spare you the tortuous details of the plot) daughter refuses to have the relevant tests and this child is born very badly handicapped and with, Praxis believes, every prospect of blighting the daughter’s life, so Praxis takes matters into her own hands and suffocates the new born baby. Is this worse than having an abortion at four months? The geepeemama has this to say about abortion and down’s syndrome:
“It brings back what is probably my most poignant memory to date – the time when, as a junior obstetrician, I had to take away the 22-week-old baby with Down’s after a medical termination. After I’d fished him out of the bedpan (parents refusing to look) I held him in the sluice and cried and cried and told him “I would have had you”.
Does aborting foetuses with disabilities say something about our attitude to people with disabilities?
I see that the British are approaching the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act with 200,000 terminations a year, 6,000 of them from Ireland. I am from a country that has no legislation on abortion. Following much tortuous discussion and angry debate, no political party has had the nerve to produce anything like legislation. There is a constitutional protection to the right to life. The pro-life groups who were many and vociferous insisted that this was not sufficient to prevent abortion in Ireland. In retrospect this was foolish of them. In 1983 the Constitution was amended to acknowledge the right to life of the unborn, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother. And there the matter rested to the chagrin of the, then smallish, pro-choice lobby and to the delight of the pro-lifers. Then, there was a particularly unpleasant case. A young girl was raped by a family friend and she became pregnant. Her parents notified the police. Because of the constitutional right to life of the unborn child, there was a doubt as to whether this girl could travel to England for an abortion (a very common Irish solution to an Irish problem). There followed a court case which convulsed the nation and, in due course, in 1992, the constitution was amended to provide that the right to life of the unborn would not limit freedom to travel between Ireland and another state and nor would it limit freedom to obtain or make available information relating to services lawfully available in another state. That is our entire legislative provision. It would appear that the 1983 amendment gives the right to an abortion when the life of the mother is at risk, including, where she threatens suicide. Even, in these extreme conditions, our politicians have been reluctant to put a toe in these particularly stormy waters (if I may mix my metaphors): abortion is not available in Ireland and we continue to export this problem abroad, largely to godless England. The problem has resurfaced recently in the Miss D case. As one commentator pointed out, we have a whole alphabet to cover the abortion issue.
I live in a country which allows abortion. I know this because the then, very catholic, king abdicated for a day for the law to go through. They have a very robust attitude to abortion in Belgium – if something is wrong, have an abortion and try again. Who am I to condemn other people’s choices in heartbreaking situations? But yet, the older I get, the more I worry about abortion.
Would I want to force anyone to stay pregnant? No, I don’t think so. When I see a 24 week old baby surviving, clinging on to life, do I believe that terminations at 24 weeks are a problem? I think I’m beginning to. Where do you draw the line? Is every sperm sacred? Is the morning after pill alright? Is eight weeks fine? Oh to enjoy the certainty of the pro-life movement. No matter how extreme the case, whatever the crime, whatever the health of the foetus, whatever the age of the mother, even the morning after pill is absolutely forbidden. Or indeed the certainty of the pro-choice movement. I just don’t know what’s right. Trumping the rights of a bunch of cells over those of a vulnerable abused teenager must be wrong. Musn’t it? When do cells become a baby? Is viability a valid cut off point? They say hard cases make bad law, do they make bad morals also?