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Abortion: not just a women’s issue

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Helen and Graham Linehan, men and abortion, But men rarely publically acknowledge ever having been party to an abortion.

Writer Graham Linehan has joined the campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland, highlighting the value of a male voice in what is often a woman-only conversation.

Earlier this month the Irish writer and director Graham Linehan joined forces with Amnesty International in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment – the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland.

Linehan produced a short campaign film called Chains, voiced by Liam Neeson for the latest of Amnesty International’s efforts to decriminalise abortion in Ireland.

In addition, Linehan and his wife Helen have recorded a short interview for Amnesty International, talking about their own personal experience of abortion.

When Helen Linehan was pregnant with the couple’s first child they discovered a fatal foetal abnormality which would mean their child would not survive much longer than an hour, and would experience great pain upon birth.

At the time the couple lived in England and were recommended by doctors to have a termination. Both Helen and Graham describe the experience as difficult, but ultimately necessary.

The Linehans have chosen to share their story now following their unsettling realisation that had they been living in Ireland at the time, Helen would have been forced to carry the baby to term.

The interview ends with Linehan calling upon Ireland’s politicians to treat the current abortion law ‘as the emergency it is’.

It is incredibly rare to hear a man speaking publicly about his experience of abortion, which is why Graham Linehan’s decision to speak openly about what happened to him and his wife is so poignant.

In total, approximately 200,000 women undergo an abortion in the UK each year. That means that approximately 200,000 men have helped their partner to an unwanted pregnancy.

Some of these women will be experiencing tragic situations similar to the Linehan’s. But for many of these women it is simply not the right time in their lives to have a baby.

While not all of these 200,000 women’s sexual partners may be aware of the situation, and many women deal with it alone, thousands of women will go through the experience with a man by their side.

Men can provide moral support; accompany their partner to clinics or hospitals; and look after them while they are recovering, both physically and emotionally. For many women, this can be invaluable.

But these men are invisible; men rarely publically acknowledge ever having been party to an abortion.

Although women rarely admit to it either.

Last month, in an effort to tackle the silence around abortion, American activists Lyndy West and Amelia Bonow created the #ShoutYourAbortion hashtag on Twitter – asking people to talk about how their lives had been impacted by having an abortion.

In total over 88,000 people joined the conversation, and the campaign made widespread international news.

West and Bonow were acting in response to efforts to defund Planned Parenthood (PP), the US organisation that provides a number of services, one of which is access to abortion.

In Bonow’s words “The campaign to defund PP relies on the assumption that abortion is to be whispered about”.

In an article in The Guardian Bonow acknowledged that even amongst her pro-choice friends people do not talk about abortion: ” I live in a progressive city, I have a fiercely pro-choice social circle and family, I write confessionally about myself for a living – so why is it that I never speak about abortion in anything beyond an abstract way, even with my closest friends?”

This is common.

Indeed silence on abortion is very much the status quo.

Which is the reason Graham Linehan’s entry into the debate, now, is important.

Because for things to change – both in Ireland and the UK – men need to recognise that abortion rights are relevant to them as well.

Men should not want their girlfriends, wives, sisters, or female friends to suffer harassment when they walk into a clinic or hospital where terminations are practiced.

In the case of Ireland there are undoubtedly thousands of Irish men who do not wish the women they care about to undergo the traumatic experience of travelling to England for a termination they deem is necessary. Or, even worse, be forced to carry on with a pregnancy knowing full well the baby is not going to survive. Or dying themselves.

Ultimately, a woman’s choice to have an abortion lies entirely with her. But that doesn’t mean she has to do it alone. She didn’t get pregnant by herself.

On average about 10 women a day travel from Ireland to the UK to have an abortion. An experience that is gruelling, financially and emotionally difficult and ultimately something they should not have to go through.

If more men follow in Graham Linehan’s footsteps and talk freely about their personal experience of abortion it too will help to reduce the unnecessary stigma which surrounds the topic.

It will also help to increase pressure on the Irish Government to enact the changes it so desperately needs to.

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