We lost the vote on legal abortion in Ireland. In fact, we lost by a landslide. The vote was more than 2 to 1 to legalize abortion.
I don’t know anything about the inner workings of how the vote shaped up. To know that, you must be on the ground with that intuitive understanding of the people who are voting which some people call “political instinct.” Polls won’t tell you what really happened.
I also don’t know anything about Irish politics or governance. However, I will say that the pundits’ analyses of this vote are probably way wide of the mark. I’m basing that statement on the fact that pundits very seldom “get” the forces driving voters here in America, and even when they do “get” it, they usually twist their punditry to exploit events in support of their pre-conceived ideas.
Polls can’t tell you what really drives big votes like this. That’s because you are never dealing with “likely” voters or the kind of people whose motivations fit into the standard questions of polling.
Big votes are driven by people who don’t fit inside polling parameters created for smaller elections. These are people who may not have voted in decades, who don’t care to give opinions to pollsters, even if the pollsters ask them, which they do not. These voters also tend to be implacable and focused in their beliefs. Most of them have opinions that are formed outside the zeitgeist, and as such don’t fit into questions designed for that zeitgeist.
I would guess that the Irish abortion vote was driven by something far more visceral than pro life people want to admit or face. In fact, the pro life reaction I’ve seen so far has revolved around denial and we-wuz-robbed fantasy. There has also been the usual nasty finger-pointing at and blaming of other pro-life people. That’s almost a given when pro life frustrations come out. We form a circular firing squad and go at one another.
In my opinion, pro life advocates need to accept reality on reality’s terms and move forward from there. Here are 10 reality-based facts that we should accept.
1. We didn’t just lose this vote. We got hammered. A landslide of this proportion is an emphatic statement of the public will. In a big vote like this, it is also an emphatic statement of the will of bedrock, apolitical people who are not particularly persuadable.
What this means in real-life terms is that we failed to convince the Irish people of the rightness of the pro life position. Worse, they appear to be emphatically convinced of the belief that abortion should be legal.
2. Pro life people spend far too much time and energy attacking other pro life people.
The vote was hardly finished in Ireland before I was reading that the absolute failure of the pro life position was the Irish Catholic Bishops’ fault. Then, I read stories about how the news media was all against us and this and that and whatnot, all designed to say that we wuz robbed.
But the truth is, we weren’t robbed. We didn’t make our case in the court of ideas, and we got beat.
The reason it’s important to accept that is that we can do something about a failure to make our case. The “evil has triumphed” circular firing squad stuff is not only destructive fantastical confabulation, it has no solution and excuses us from finding a solution.
3. The people who voted for this were not motivated by a blood-thirsty desire to kill. It’s an easy and self-comforting act to demonize those who disagree with us and flatter ourselves that we are the only moral people on earth. But it ain’t so.
There are reasons why people voted to legalize abortion in Ireland, and I’m betting that very few of them are based on a desire to kill babies. I would imagine that many, if not most, of the people who voted for this did so out of a desire to never see their daughter/sister/friend’s life sacrificed to a bad law the way that Savita Halappanavar was in 2012, which leads me to my next point.
4. One of the ways we lost this vote was probably due to blind support for a bad law. When I wrote about Ms Halappanavar’s tragic death, I said that bad laws kill people. I felt then and I feel now that the Irish Constitution’s ban on abortion was not a law at all. It was a rehash of Catholic theology. It was, at best, a statement of intent. As such, it had no legs. It was a bad law, and, as bad laws usually do, it hurt and killed people.
This need for well-written pro life laws applies to American pro life legislation, as well as pro life legislation in Ireland. We cannot hope to protect the lives of unborn children unless we also make workable provision in the law to protect the lives of pregnant girls and women. The public will revolt if we don’t, as it has in Ireland.
As we consider how we conduct the fight for the sanctity of human life, we need to remember that no citizenry is going to support a return to the carnage that illegal abortion once was. I am well aware that pro life people try to gloss over this fact by saying that the number of deaths under illegal abortion were exaggerated. That is probably true.
But I was alive then, and I can tell you that young women were mutilated and sometimes died as a result of illegal abortion. I personally knew girls this happened to.
5. We need to clean up our movement. There is no place in any human rights movement for misogyny and racism.
Pro life people need to dump the nuts among us who engage in insults to women and support any Republican candidate, even if they are child molesters, neo Nazis, or serial sexual predators. I know that not all pro life people are Christians, but many of the most vocal make a pretty big deal out of what fine Christians they are; all the while supporting, abetting and backing some of the most vile characters I’ve ever seen in public life.
6. Our work is conversion, not condemnation. We claim that we speak for the Sanctity of Human Life. That is a noble cause, if there ever was one. It is also the most inclusive cause there is. We are talking about all human life; not just unborn humans, but all of us, at every age, sex, race, sexual preference, or degree of righteousness.
That includes people we would love to despise. Our job is to convert them.
I do not mean go all namby-pamby and weak and pretend to agree with them when we don’t agree. I don’t mean to accept nonsense as truth. I mean to speak the truth without apology or condemnation; to be willing to say it over and over again, even when we are attacked and reviled for doing so, until we are heard, and then to keep on until we are believed and ultimately, followed.
Ranting and raving, screaming and insulting outshouts consistent persistence in the short term. But consistent persistence based in noble ideas always prevails in the long run.
7. Whatever happened in Ireland, it is clear that the Irish people have spoken for now, and what they said is that they want abortion legalized in their nation. We got whupped bad.
The way back from this defeat is simple and obvious. The decent pro life people need to step up and take our movement back from the foul-mouthed jerks. We need desperately to separate the cause of the unborn from the woman-hatred that has marked so much of the noise coming from our nastier alt-right faux pro life spokesmen.
8. If pro lifers in Ireland had taken up the cause that there would never be another death like Savita Halappanavar’s, that they would re-write the law to protect both the mother and the baby, this vote might have gone differently.
You cannot convince half the population that you don’t care if they live or die and expect either them or the people who love them to support your ideas. I’ve read that over 70% of Irish women supported legalizing abortion. If we don’t want to see the same thing happen here in America, we need to distance ourselves from the foul-mouthed misogynists of the alt-right who are out-shouting true pro-life people.
9. We should not pretend that this vote is a meaningless aberration. Abortion, euthanasia and an overall disrespect for the sanctity of human life is advancing, not retreating, around the globe. Those of us who want to change this dynamic need to face this fact. We cannot reverse this trend unless and until we accept that it exists.
10. Pro Life, Pro Woman must be more than a slogan. Bad laws wreck lives and kill people. We need to craft laws that are well-written and that consider the needs and lives of both the babies and their mothers. Anything less will backfire on us, our movement, and ultimately, the babies.