Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 17 October, 2021

From pro-life to pro-choice: When compassion becomes the root of your response

‘It’s 2004 and I am 16-years-old.’

IT’S 2004. I am 16-years-old and I am in my final year of secondary school.

State Exams are mere weeks away and with tension heightening and talk of points gathering pace with every passing day, this particular class was considered sweet respite.

classroom Source: Shutterstock

Eamon’s F*ck It (I Don’t Want You Back) is No.1, Big Brother 5 is kicking off any day now, and this afternoon we are offering our opinion on abortion in the case of rape.

‘You wouldn’t punish a child if his father robbed a bank, so why would you punish the child in this case?’ I carefully wrote, weeks shy of my 17th birthday.

Adoption, not abortion, I reasoned.

The father should be brought to justice, and his offspring should be adopted.

On and on, I went.

Talk of fathers, talk of children, even talk of individuals incidental to the hypothetical case, but not so much as a cursory mention of the woman.

Not an acknowledgement. Not a passing reference. Nothing.

Task done, the clock is slowly inching its way towards lunchtime, but we’re not finished yet, so if everyone could just settle for a moment.

Settle now, settle.

choice Source: Shutterstock

Talk turns to suicide. We’re discussing people who choose to end their own lives.

Just like before, I get to work, diligently scribbling away with a pen covered in miniature smiley faces.

I am sympathetic, I am understanding and above all, I am cognisant that this is a decision which is never ever taken lightly.

Muffled words including ‘selfish’ and ‘self-centered’ meet my ears, and I feel myself gritting my teeth.

Who were they to say? Who were we to comment and pontificate? Where was the compassion?

At 16, the irony in that moment was, unfortunately, lost on me.

pro chpice Source: Shutterstock

I don’t know when I realised that being pro-choice in the case of every unwanted pregnancy is the most compassionate stance you can take on the issue.

I can’t say for certain when my attitude shifted nor can I pinpoint an incident that helped reshape my understanding of the issue.

But with the culmination of exams, the strengthening of female friendships, the development of adult relationships and the gradual exposure to literature which highlighted the appalling lack of trust the State has in women, I could no longer stand by a response which failed to give even a passing mention to the woman.

woman Source: Shutterstock

By my very omission in that short paragraph, I had silenced her even further, and the realisation in the years that followed hung heavy.

Adult life and its realities eliminated the philosophical response I had honed throughout adolescence.

The woman I willfully ignored in that handwritten paragraph was the same woman I went to school with, grew up with, laughed with, fought with, heard mention of or simply passed on the street.

The woman I failed to mention was a classmate, a colleague, a sister, a friend, or an aunt, whose silence I was complicit in creating.

In my response, I further stifled a woman, who would find herself isolated and criminalised for daring to take control of her body.

I hushed a woman, who was brave enough to admit that a pregnancy may cripple her mentally, emotionally or financially.

I showed no compassion for her.

And in all of it, I was denying myself a basic human right.

Being pro-choice is to be neutral. Being pro-choice is to be non-judgmental. And being pro-choice is to be trusting, empathetic and understanding.

To choose the pro-choice stance is to embody every trait an adolescent would have been taught is paramount.

At 16, I wish I had been told what pro-choice meant in its simplest terms.

I needed to know that you can be pro-choice and a mother, that you can be pro choice and support adoption, and you can be pro choice and know, in no uncertain terms, that you would not opt for an abortion yourself.

It’s 2018. I am 30-years-old and we’re in a society that has yet to grant women bodily autonomy.

The referendum on the 8th Amendment is mere weeks away and with tension heightening and campaigns gathering pace with every passing day, the thought of a Yes majority is sweet respite.

About the author:

Niamh McClelland

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