Friday, 29 August 2014

The Squishy Middle

Down with this sort of thing:

Also this, in the same vein, from Noel Whelan:

In order to advance their view on the abortion issue the campaigners on both sides seem determined not only to take side swipes at politicians opposed to them but to denigrate the entire political class. Inevitably, they each view the political process around this most sensitive of issues through a subjective lens. As a consequence, each side asserts that the failure of politicians to do what they would like them to do arises from indifference to women or unborn children and/or cowardice in dealing with a difficult issue and/or reluctance to oppose powerful conservative/liberal forces.

If Conor O'Mahony were merely saying that future Irish abortion law will inevitably reflect centrist thinking I could hardly argue with that. It is almost a tautology to say that the median voter calls the shots in a democracy. But with his reference to "moderate views" he clearly implies that those in the centre exhibit wisdom not shown by the activists. In the best of cases this "Golden Mean" style of argument is a bit of a crock, but if you're looking for somewhere to walk the Via Media the Irish abortion debate is about the worst terrain you could possibly choose. William Binchy and Ivana Bacik cannot both be right, but both of them can present a case for change which is compelling if you accept their respective premisses. Who could possibly argue for the status quo, from any premisses at all? The following, I submit, is an entirely fair summary of existing law:

(a) Except where a woman's life is at risk, abortions must be outsourced.

(b) No impediment may be placed in the way of a woman who has the means to obtain an abortion (offshore).

That is the monstrosity which our political class has created - the class which Noel Whelan sees as being unfairly denigrated. They had better get used to it. Even if they hadn't made a pig's ear of macroeconomic policy and the banking industry, they would deserve all the brickbats they get for their handling of the abortion issue.

I stress the outsourcing aspect in order to highlight the hypocrisy inherent in the centrist position. William Binchy, in contrast, has been pretty forthright on this issue. From the very outset, back in 1981, he made it clear that he would put all the obstacles he could in the way of women seeking abortions, regardless of where the procedure might be performed. If legislation proscribing foreign abortions could not be passed, injunctions might be employed. I find that proposal grotesque, but it does at least have the merit of treating well-to-do women just as badly as their poorer sisters, so I suppose there's a kind of rough justice to it. The median voter closed off that line of attack by passing the 13th Amendment, although it wasn't clear (to me at least) that the Binchy Dream was truly dead until the case of Miss D was heard in 2007.

When I draw attention to the fact that Ireland's supposed anti-abortion policy is in reality nothing more than an outsourcing policy, people tend to respond: "But no state can be held responsible for other states' laws!" Sorry, that's not the point. The Irish courts could have taken that line but in fact they didn't. In the X Case the majority held that the right to life of the unborn, enshrined in the 8th Amendment, trumped the mother's right to travel. The 13th Amendment reversed that ranking of rights. If the 8th expressed Ireland's abhorrence of abortion, the 13th drastically qualified that abhorrence. As the complete Article 40.3.3 stands now, it is just NIMBY-ism applied to abortion clinics, nothing more: abortion is icky, do it elsewhere.

Messrs O'Mahony and Whelan can call for the moderates to be heard, but they have as much chance of a response as Glendower and Hotspur calling spirits from the vasty deep. The spokespersons for the squishy middle aren't being prevented from making their case. Rather, they are absenting themselves from the conversation because they know that their case is a crock of shit.