Marianne Taylor: Time for men to stop mansplaining abortion to women

IN the week since Ireland voted to allow women access to abortion, many column inches have been written by commentators around what the decision means medically, socially, ethically. Indeed, I wrote one such piece myself, praising the result of the referendum and making the case for a similar vote to be held in Northern Ireland.

As one would expect, there were articles for and against the change in the law that will follow. But for me the most startling part of the response to this development has been the number of men given space to write columns admonishing women for the celebratory tone of their reaction. The pieces came thick and fast, including one in this newspaper over the weekend by my colleague (and friend) Kevin McKenna. I had a similar conversation with another male colleague who talked of the “bad taste in the mouth” he felt had been left by the upbeat tone of the Yes support. Social media was awash with this narrative, too.

Marianne Taylor: Now let Northern Ireland vote for abortion, too

What seemed to outrage – or “sadden” as they often preferred to say – all these men, regardless of whether they are pro-choice or anti-abortion, was the sight of thousands of women cheering and hugging one another, waving flags and openly celebrating abortion. According to them, the winning side should have been more “dignified” in victory. Why? Because cheering, as one after the other said gravely, was not only inappropriate and unedifying, but disrespectful to the serious and unpleasant nature of abortion and the debate around it.

The underlying message from their comments was clear: all these smiling, whooping women are not intelligent enough to understand the emotional and ethical complexities of abortion. They cannot be trusted to have the “right response” and thus need men to tell them how they should feel about it. And, make no mistake, shame is what they should be feeling: either about having an abortion in the first place or celebrating someone else’s right to have one.

In theory, especially around a subject we are forever being told is so emotive, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But surely with regard to abortion it’s pretty obvious that since it is primarily a matter for women to decide upon, men should probably think carefully about how they contribute to the debate. Surely they wouldn’t, for example, want to be condescending, patronising or paternalistic, or be seen to mansplain abortion to women, would they?

Well, if last week’s reaction is anything to go by, astonishingly some men still believe they know best. On the contrary, of course, it is they who do not understand the realities of abortion, who lack the ability to see the range of responses and complexities that surround it. But that’s hardly surprising considering it is something they will never have to go through and are shielded from the realities of throughout their lives.

Marianne Taylor: Now let Northern Ireland vote for abortion, too

Indeed, many of the articles written by men revealed a fundamental lack of understanding of the range of emotions women having an abortion may or may not feel. They assumed every termination is a devastating and life-changing event that will haunt a woman for the rest of her life.

For some women this may be the case. For others, however, it will be nothing of the sort. After making a decision not to continue with a pregnancy, many women just want to get on with it and are simply relieved when the procedure is over. Lest we forget that more than 70 per cent of abortions in Scotland take place when the woman is less than nine weeks pregnant. Some women having abortions are young, but this group has been gradually reducing over the years. Many seeking terminations are older, in relationships and likely to have children already. But age is ultimately irrelevant; the decision on whether to have a child should be down to every individual woman.

Indeed, I’d like to see the current debate around abortion – which was devolved to Holyrood in 2016 – be extended to where jurisdiction around decision-making lies. For me, it’s time to take the matter out of parliament and the courts and put it in the NHS, leaving the decision on whether and in what circumstances a pregnancy should be ended to a woman and her doctor.

Some of the those telling women to pipe down have talked of comforting women in their own lives who were distraught about having an abortion. I don’t doubt this made an impact on them. But how many of their mothers, sisters, cousins, friends and colleagues, I wonder, had terminations and felt relief rather than distress, then chose not to discuss it?

Marianne Taylor: Now let Northern Ireland vote for abortion, too

To be clear, what women in Ireland and elsewhere have been cheering about is getting control of their own health and bodies, being given the right to determine their own future. The fact that Irish women will not have to leave their own country to have a medical procedure is also important. It’s hard to underestimate the significance of these changes in a country that was, until recently, steered by churchmen. With this in mind I will continue to celebrate freedom for women wherever it happens.



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