If your opinion of Ireland was formed solely by its newspapers, TV channels and radio stations, you could be forgiven for thinking that what is at stake, when it comes to the country’s abortion laws is an anomalous anachronism, a vestige of more oppressive and stone-hearted times that is proving curiously and inexplicably stubborn to shift. You certainly wouldn’t come away with the impression that the draconian provisions of Ireland’s abortion laws remain in place on account of institutionalised misogyny, or a political establishment convinced that the State has the right to treat women’s bodies as its property, and to do with them as it sees fit.
Indeed, the merest suggestion of such things can produce indignation, and in no small measure. Like the other day, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny tersely accused Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald of “playing politics with the lives of women”, for suggesting that delays in bringing forward the heads of what is now known as ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy’ Bill 2013 might be on account of posturing from Fine Gael. A week previous, Kenny had accused Clare Daly of making a “disgraceful comment” for accusing Kenny of treating women’s lives as less valuable than men’s.
The plain fact of the matter, however, is that Enda Kenny, along with the rest of the male-dominated political establishment, do indeed view women’s lives as less valuable than men’s. They demonstrate this with their continued commitment to Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which treats the right to life of a pregnant woman (classified as a ‘mother’, whether the woman likes it or not) as equal to the right to life of the unborn, and with their commitment to the fundamental legitimacy of the State exercising jurisdiction over a woman’s internal organs.
Men’s bodies, their internal organs, are not codified in law as de facto property of the State. What is more, it is largely unimaginable that they might be treated as such. The content of their scrota does not result in them being designated as fathers. Consider a law that included sperm under its definition of the unborn, since it is a substance that may result in the birth of a child once it comes into contact with other substances, after a long gestation process that lasts for months. The law determined that sperm could not be used for any purposes other than reproduction. Now, imagine Enda Kenny learned that he had been diagnosed with a medical condition that caused his sperm count to grow exponentially, such that his testes would swell in size until they weighed 13 or 14kg, the size of two basketballs, until they burst apart after a period of nine months. And imagine he was legally obliged to do nothing that would interfere with this process, or face a prison sentence, since the law held that his sperm had the same right to life as him, even if the prospects for his sperm resulting in the birth of a child were dim in the extreme.
The example may be grotesque, but it is not ridiculous. The law in Ireland codifies the bodies of women who fall pregnant -even as the result of rape- as ‘mothers’. It thereby organ-ises women socially in terms of their potential to bear children, regardless of whether they have any intention or wish to do so, and exercises a claim over that potential. It does no such thing with men. The reason is clear enough: under the law, women exist for the purposes of men. Hence they cannot be trusted, in case they put their own purposes first, and that is why they must be subjected to psychiatric inquisition to prove they are suicidal, since an act of suicide would kill a mother, and that is tantamount to the destruction of State property.