I was gazing around the room during a quiet spell at work yesterday when I was startled to see Jesus Christ pop up on O’Connell Street. He’d appeared on one of the display screens featuring rival TV stations. The channel was Al Jazeera.
The Qatar-based news channel was reporting on how the economic crisis in Ireland is affecting women seeking to travel abroad to have an abortion. The piece is 2 minutes and 57 seconds long. It begins with some black and white shots of Jesus in his plastic display case on O’Connell Street, then cuts to a church and a lady with a pram. Finally it turns colour to reveal the reporter, Laurence Lee, formerly of the BBC, standing in a park.
It is an embarrassing watch. Ireland is painted as backward and its society described as “conformist.” We’re mentioned in the same breath as Iran and Afghanistan.
Travelling for an abortion from Ireland works on the same principle of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which used to apply to gay members of the American military.
Nobody I know has told me they’ve had an abortion. Conversely, I’ve never asked if they’ve had one. But according to Lee’s report, the number of requests to a UK-based charity offering financial aid to women travelling to get an abortion has tripled in the last three years.
While I strongly support a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion, the report left me feeling slightly defensive. Do we really live in a culture of silence? Is abortion really taboo?
Sadly, yes. But things are changing. The Irish Times ran a series on abortion a few months ago which invited women to tell their own stories. It got a huge response. Scores of women who had never before shared their experience finally elected to, spurred on by the sudden knowledge that they were not alone.
I do have one concrete objection to the report. Lee says that in Ireland a woman cannot have an abortion even if the fact of her pregnancy is putting her life at risk. Following the X case ruling, that isn’t quite accurate. However, so far there has been no legislation to support that judgement. The European Court of Human Rights is on our back about that too and it’s deeply embarrassing.
On the same day that the Al Jazeera report ran, at least 2000 people turned up in Castlebar in Mayo to demand Fine Gael live up to their pre-election “pro-life” promise.
Mostly the report left me dissatisfied because I thought, “What an unfortunate and reductionist view of Ireland to beam throughout the world, one which ignores the enlightened existences of my liberal-minded friends and me.”
Then I remembered that simplification and exaggeration are the hallmarks of a 3-minute news report. And that in a way, a piece like this might actually give me more of an insight into my country than my restricted and evidently unrepresentative social circle does.
I got back to writing my own three-minute international report, a little wiser about how little I know about everything.