One of the most banal and tedious topics that stalks every contentious issue in Ireland is that of tone. We are witnessing it again in the abortion debate with several newspaper articles and radio discussions on the topic. It is not that tone is unimportant, but it is how the conversation is approached that makes it so tiresome. It is trotted out to deflect from the meat of the debate. Instead of focusing on what is being said, how it is being said becomes the focal point.
It is also almost exclusively the pro-choice side which is being admonished for its tone. Some claiming that the aggressive tone is alienating “the middle ground”. What is conspicuously lacking in these critiques is any examples of this aggressive tone or evidence to support the notion that the “middle ground” is being ignored. In fact, the pro repeal campaign is an extremely inclusive campaign. It consists of people, groups and opinions ranging from wanting full abortion rights to abortion on limited grounds. Groups which focus on abortion on limited grounds, such as Termination For Medical Reasons, play an important part of the campaign. The only people excluded from the campaign are those who want no change to Ireland’s current abortion regime.
A recent Irish Times poll also dismisses the notion of an alienated middle ground, with only 8% undecided. A majority 74% want Ireland’s abortion laws to change, this is whom the pro repeal crowd represent.
With the pro-choice campaign being the main focus of this “tone policing” it gives the false impression that it is overtly abusive. It was the same during the marriage referendum. The Yes campaign’s tone was frequently put under the spotlight while the No camp’s tenor was left unscrutinised. This is even more pronounced now as it marries with the misogynistic trope of the “shrill”, “strident” woman.
Why is the tone of the pro-life camp ignored? Especially since their “tone” is much worse and can be more aptly described as abusive. I have seen pro-choice campaigners be called murderers, baby killers, and Nazis. People have hoped ISIS would kill pro-choicers, and that the IRA would bomb a Mary Stopes clinic. Women have been harassed and denigrated outside abortion clinics.
And this abuse does not just emanate from anonymous “trolls”. Paddy Manning, formerly of Mothers and Fathers Matters, called the group Termination For Medical Reasons “murderesses”. Leo Sherlock, founder of theliberal.ie and brother to Cora Sherlock of the ProLife Campaign, tweeted to a mother “I’m embarrassed for your children having a mother who advocates the murder of an innocent unborn child”. Senator Ronan Mullen disgustingly attacked those who have received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality by suggesting they do not grieve for their wanted child and that they treat them like debris simply because they chose to terminate.
The website LifeNews.com wrote an article about Annie Roche, a woman who received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. The article claimed Annie said she should have been able to abort her child. She said no such thing and received a torrent of abuse due the article, with one commenter saying she should be sterilised, and others commenting on her emotional and mental state. LifeNews.com were contacted by Annie to correct their “untruths”, but they refused to do so, citing “free speech”.
Disseminating fabrications is a tool frequently used by the pro-life campaign. Recently it was exposed that a pro-life pregnancy counselling centre was giving false information to women in crisis pregnancies: saying abortion cause cancer and can increase the likelihood of becoming a child abuser.
Sinead Slattery incorrectly claimed on Tonight With Alison O’Connor that women with fatal foetal abnormalities who choose to abort suffer more emotional distress than if they carried through with the pregnancy. Cora Sherlock also claimed a study found that there was increased risk of psychological harm from having an abortion. The author of the paper Sherlock cited, Professor Mika Gessler, rejected her claim, saying his work was “misused”.
False information isn’t the only deceitful tactic employed by the pro-life camp. Fatima Gunning of Youth Defence/Life Institute posed in a Repeal jumper and marched during the recent pro-choice rally in Dublin holding the sign “abortion for terminally ill babies”.
The rhetoric put forth by the pro-life campaign is also emotionally abusive. By saying that abortion kills a baby they are de-facto calling any woman who’s had an abortion a baby killer. To suggest any woman is a baby killer for having an abortion is insensitive and cruel. Yet this is what the pro-life camp have based their campaign around.
This rhetoric is deeply dishonest and is only used to attack women and pro-choicers. They do not truly believe that a baby and a foetus are the same. If I believed that killing a baby and having an abortion were the same then I would stop at nothing from preventing women from travelling to England to access abortion. I would also want any woman who’s had an abortion arrested for murder. The fact the pro-life campaign does not want women arrested nor do they want to stop women travelling to England betrays the fact they do make a distinction between a foetus and a baby.
But calling a foetus an “unborn baby” is useful propaganda. It pulls at the heart strings of the Irish populace and also aims to stigmatise abortion and the women who had them. But it is also emotionally damaging to the women who’ve had abortions to suggest what they have in fact done was kill a baby.
I could go on. And I have not even touched on the negative effects that the 8th Amendment has had on Irish women: X case, D case, Ms Y, Savita Halappanavar, PP vs HSE, and the 4000 a year that are forced to travel to England.
All of this is ignored by those who claim to be concerned by tone. Excessive abuse from the pro-life campaign is overlooked while any undesirable inflection from pro repeal camp is scrutinised. Unfortunately the issue of tone never seems to disappear and as it propagates a false impression of the debate, then groups such as Abortion Rights Campaign must take the time to challenge the myths.
“When women tell their abortion stories they break down the silence and stigma that has surrounded abortion in Ireland. It’s not easy, these women have sacrificed their anonymity to ensure that people see the reality of abortion in Ireland. To then be told, by supposed allies, that their voices are shrill, or they are not campaigning in a way that will appeal to people is incredibly damaging. this ‘tone policing’ is more damaging than the abuse and aggression from some on the anti choice side. The anti choice side do not couch their words, they accuse those who have been given a fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) diagnosis and have chosen to terminate of being murderers. They tell lies to women in crisis pregnancy situations about possible risks of cancer and depression. But at least we know what to expect from them. Women who have spoken out about their abortion receive abuse, death threats and are harassed daily, they do not need to hear criticisms on their tone by those who are supposed to be on their side.
A false binary has been created in the media, which purports that there are extremes on both sides.
Comparing those who campaign for choice, including many who have told their own abortion stories, to those who have called women murderers, and are even opposed to abortion where the pregnant person’s life is at risk, is not only hurtful, it is incredibly misleading.”
Can you find pro-choicers being abusive, sure. But it is a tiny minority and doesn’t involve anybody from the campaign itself. And for every example that can be provided of pro-choice a similar example can be easily found from the pro-life side. However, you will not find similar abuse to that listed above from any pro-choice person, and definitely not from somebody involved in the campaign.
Yet there is article after article being published on pro-choice “tone” while the rampant abuse from the pro-life side is ignored.