Down Syndrome, reproductive choices and the need for a social welfare state

On January 2nd, the Irish Times reported that Irish women have been advised to start having babies younger. The contextual hypocrisy aside (think housing crisis, sky-high childcare costs, poorly paid graduate jobs – the list goes on), one aspect of the story jumped out: Dr. Fishel, of a Dublin IVF fertility clinic, said that Down Syndrome occurs in one of 700 pregnancies in women aged 32, while the same figure for women ten years older is one in 67, and 70-80% of a 40-year-old woman’s eggs have a chromosomal abnormality. Why it’s important? Because Irish women aren’t having enough babies to keep society going with our ageing population. We need to keep producing healthy, productive sprogs. Last weekend, Down Syndrome appeared in...

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On reproductive justice, the failures of neoliberalism, and why ‘choice’ is complicated

It’s a funny one, the word ‘choice’. I spend so much of my time promoting it, explaining it, demanding it – yet whenever I stop to really think about it, I realise that it’s a word I’d much prefer not to have to embrace. For as long as laissez-faire or economic liberalism has existed, ‘choice’ has been one of its most important buzzwords, second only to ‘freedom’. In fact, the Swedes, keen on optimising language to become its most functional and least wasteful, would talk about a combination of the two: ‘valfrihet’ – freedom of choice. In the name of freedom of choice, neoliberalism has torn down many a welfare state in the hope that the free market, as an invisible hand, would bring us all greater utility by way...

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Why politics needs passion: on tone policing, Repeal jumpers and rational reasoning

Is tone policing the new master suppression technique? What is a master suppression technique? you ask. It is a way to suppress and humiliate an opponent, according to Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen, who articulated the framework of such techniques in 1945. And tone policing? A tone argument is one which isn’t strictly concerned with what is being said, but rather with the tone in which it is expressed. Tone policing, consequently, is a strategy of dismissing arguments irrespective of their legitimacy or accuracy. It’s a derailing tactic and, I would suggest, a master suppression technique on the rise. Ireland boasts an impressive selection of recent examples of the latter, thanks to a series of articles...

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Rule of the people, anyone? On democracy and the system being broken

Look, I don’t mean to be patronising. If you’ve been to school, you know this; you’ll know it like the back of your hand. But today, it feels like perhaps we need to go back to basics. The word democracy means ‘rule by the people’, derived from the Greek ‘demos’, for ‘common people’, and ‘kratos’, for ‘rule’ or ‘strength’. Democracy, in other words, is a form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through elected representatives. Ireland is a parliamentary, representative democratic republic. Scrap the ‘directly’ bit from the definition above: representative democracy is a form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised indirectly...

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Free, safe, legal: on the importance of compassion, and why I won’t be playing strategic games

I’m going to come out and say it: I’m for abortion on demand, if that’s what you insist on calling it. Without restrictions. Time and time again we’re being told to tone it down. Again and again, newspapers insist on publishing opinion pieces telling us to be more strategic and less extreme. Not only are we too angry and shrill; our arguments are simply too much for middle Ireland to take. But I feel sick every time I think about playing the strategy game, and I can’t help but think that it’s them and not us who are doing it wrong. It is clear as day that volume and persistence works. 30,000+ people don’t turn up to march for choice in the rain during an ongoing bus strike for nothing. Moreover, I’m convinced that it’s...

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Why I’m marching: for real care and real respect, without judgement

I remember vividly the feeling the first time I found out I was pregnant: the magic of it all, trying to comprehend that what was there inside me was the beginnings of a new life, the beginnings of what could become our firstborn, half me and half him. One loss and two unfathomably amazing children later, I sit here trying to imagine the feeling of finding out now: the panic of it all, knowing full well what that teeny, tiny thing inside would be the beginnings of and how life-changing it would be. We hear the anti-choice campaign talk about the right to life. I’m marching on Saturday because I don’t think ‘life’ is that simple. I remember vividly the moment everything changed – a sonographer’s silence as she turned the screen...

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A word on choice and tone-policing – or, why balance is a sham

We’re used to being told that we’re doing it wrong. We’re used to being told that we’re too aggressive, too angry, too shrill. But when, all of a sudden, we start hearing it from people supposedly on our side, alarm bells start ringing. These alleged pro-choice supporters with the vocabulary of anti-choicers started voicing their concerns in national newspapers recently, airing their fears that the repeal campaign may be failing and revealing that they wouldn’t be joining the March for Choice after all. Why? First we were told that we were failing to take the debate about the unborn’s right to life, and that we’d need to do so in order to win over Ireland’s ‘mushy middle’. It’s a debate campaigners are taking every...

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Take your privilege and shut up

So today started out well. What better way to start your day than with a nice cup of coffee, a bit of sunshine and a good dose of privilege spread across the opinion pages of the Independent? Now, before you go looking for the article – don’t. Don’t give them the honour; don’t feed their advertisers. Lovely woman as I am, I have summarised Barbara McCarthy’s privileged views below along with some rage-fuelled commentary. Hurray! McCarthy introduces her tribute to privilege with a brief anecdote of a man revealing himself to her at an airport, exemplifying the many situations that would justify her feeling offended. She was even called a tranny once – what an insult, eh? Her point is this: feminists these days take offence...

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Termination or abortion – it’s all about choice

There’s a lot of talk, yet again, in Ireland about TFMR – termination for medical reasons. People who have had the misfortune of having to go through this experience are writing blog posts and articles campaigning for new, proper legislation in Ireland to make the procedure legal, and opinion writers are producing powerful pieces in response to Ireland’s human rights record review in Geneva, begging for abortion to become a choice for all women, or if not that, at least in the case of TFMR. There is no limit to my sympathy for those who have had to travel to another country in order to give birth to a baby that would never survive outside the womb, told by the powers that be that said horrifying experience would make them a criminal...

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We need to talk about choice

I don’t quite know what to say about Savita’s death. I’m lost for words, but I have to say something, because silence is acceptance, and acceptance is condonation. I wrote, fuelled by anger and frustration, about the Irish abortion laws a while ago, and I think that post explains pretty well how pathetic I think any excuse not to legislate in the wake of Savita’s death would be. I don’t need to write that post again. I need to add, though, that I’ve been uncomfortable with some of the debate that’s taken place since that post was written. Some pretty powerful campaigns were carried out, and some very admirable efforts were taken to bring this debate back onto a mainstream media platform – and quite successfully so – but...

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