Last week I was asked by a school to address its transition year and sixth year girls on the topic of abortion. Talking about abortion to a group of 120 17 and 18 year olds struck me as risky business. Would they react against what I had to say, or would they ‘merely’ be bored stiff? In fact, it went very well.
I didn’t give a talk as such. I led a discussion instead. I discussed with them the legal situation here vis a vis abortion. I spoke about what we know about the Savita Halappanavar case and I described what the Catholic Church really has to say about abortion. I spoke about our very low maternal death rate.
But I devoted a lot of my talk to the social context for abortion and got them to think about why it is that roughly 4,000 Irish women a year opt for abortion and 200,000 women in the UK.
A Panorama programme on BBC1 a couple of weeks ago estimated that one in three women in Britain has had an abortion. That would mean 40 out of the 120 young women I was speaking to if it was a British class. Here, statistically speaking, it will be more like 14 or 16. That’s still a lot.
The students accepted that whatever their position is on whether or not abortion should be legally available, or is morally permissible, no-one could ever want to face a situation in life where they feel they would have to contemplate having an abortion.
In what I thought was a key moment I asked them to consider what effect it would have on people’s sexual behaviour if abortion didn’t exist at all. Obviously this was only a thought experiment.
One girl said they would have to be more careful and become more ‘choosy ‘about the men they sleep with.
What would this do to men? They would have to be worth choosing. They would have to lift their game.
This would place young women in a win-win situation. First they would change their behaviour so as to minimise their chances of facing a crisis pregnancy.
Second, they would have a better pool of men to choose from, men who won’t let them down in a crisis.
Too much of the debate about abortion here and elsewhere concentrates on the legal side of the issue. We need to talk much more about the social side of it as well because the widespread availability of abortion has terrible consequences for women in that it has created norms of sexual behaviour that lands huge numbers of them in a crisis pregnancy situation year in and year out.
This has to change.