not a member? click here to sign up
There s no reason remaining for a ban on the abortion pill in Ireland.
Eamonn McCann, 12 Oct 2000
The most interesting exchange in the generally risible first television debate between US presidential candidates Bush and Gore concerned the approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration of the abortion pill RU-486. Bush was aghast, Gore at ease with the decision.
It was George W. Bush's father's administration which banned RU-486 in 1989.
The FDA sanction of the pill marked a major victory for pro-choice activists who had battled for 11 years to overturn the ban. By the same token, it was a serious set-back for anti-choice zealots and will have alarmed their associates here, too.
RU-486 blocks the hormone which gets the body ready for pregnancy. Within hours of taking two pills, one 24 hours after the other, the lining of the uterus thins so the embryo cannot remain implanted and is discharged. The FDA's tests show that RU-486 is 92 percent to 95 percent effective up to 49 days from conception.
In the course of the FDA tests involving 2,100 women, none suffered serious side-effects, although four bled to the extent that they needed a transfusion.
In France, elsewhere in Europe and in China, a total of around 750,000 RU-486 abortions have taken place without any reported cause for concern about safety.
The main reason for the anti-choice campaigners' alarm is that any simple, safe method of early abortion drains the credibility of the scare-mongering we can see on main streets and around shopping centres every weekend in garish displays of pictures of very late abortions. (It's lost on the "pro-lifers" that the most frequent factor in late abortions is precisely the difficulty which their own lobbying and intimidation puts in the way of the women concerned.)
RU-486 will ease the trauma the "pro-lifers" strive assiduously to induce in women who have had abortions. The US tests, and more extensive experience in France, shows that early abortion using the pill feels more natural and less invasive (which, of course, it is), and is commonly experienced not as ending but as preventing a pregnancy beginning.
In most RU-486 abortions, the cluster of cells discharged is no bigger than a grain of rice.
Since the pill can be dispensed in any doctor's surgery, the "pro-life" element won't know where next to take their repulsive posters, their plastic foetuses and, in the US and Northern Ireland, their fire-bombs.
Now that the US has given a lead, there's no reason remaining for a ban on RU-486 in Ireland, other than a perverse determination to deny women the right to make their own choices according to their own consciences. In the abortion referendum which will almost certainly take place in the Republic before the next general election almost certain because Bertie Ahern can be counted on to cave in, again, to the anti-choice lobby---the demand should be raised for an end to the necessity for needless travel and late abortions by making RU-486 freely available here.
What is this after all if not a safe, modern, medically-approved method of achieving what generations of Irish women have sought to achieve by lifting heavy weights, taking hot baths or availing of other, usually futile, folk-remedies for unwanted pregnancy?
In Dublin for the anti-capitalist carnival at the end of September, I chanced into conversation with my old acquaintance Adekunle Gomez of the African Cultural Project, who wanted to know if I'd read the latest communique from John-O'Shea-of-Goal.
"You should take him on", urged Adekunle, obviously angered.
I went home and checked the piece out. I have to say I was pleased that, this time, O'Shea wasn't advancing his once all-purpose solution to the problems of the "Third World" that white boys with guns should be brought in to run things.
But he was worried about corruption. "In the countries that GOAL has dealt with, I have seen little interest shown in the well-being of their own people by governments... The safest way that the Irish Government can make sure that development aid money gets to where it is intended, and nowhere else, is to... route their foreign aid budgets through NGOs, missionaries and international agencies with a proven track record."
We can, I think, take it for granted that among the channels through which O'Shea wants aid money re-routed would be Goal. (O'Shea wanted the Irish Government also to "take a leaf from the IMF book and tell these crooked administrations to clean up their act"... The IMF, eh?)
However, what had most irked Adekunle was O'Shea's assertion that corruption is "ingrained... in the African psyche".
"Is corruption ingrained in the psyche of Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kader Asmal", he asked, "or of Doris Lessing, Dennis Brutus, Wole Soyinka...?".
He might have reversed the argument and asked whether we could diagnose the entire Irish nation as inherently corrupt on the basis of the revelations at the Dublin Castle tribunals.
There had been a response to the O'Shea outburst, I discovered, from Justin Kilcullen of Trocaire, who wrote that, "If I did not have such a high regard for John O'Shea's sincerity and genuine outrage at the poverty of many in the so-called Third World, I would have dismissed his article as nothing more than a racist rant".
Some might feel less constrained by admiration than Mr. Kilcullen. What do all those idealistic young people John O'Shea speaks patronisingly of as "Goalies" make of these diatribes, usually against Africans, regularly uttered in their name?
"The United States today launches a diplomatic blitz to try to put a stop to the Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip".
So ran the opening sentence of The Irish Times' Middle East coverage on October 4th.
On the same day, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, suggested that the situation in the region was beginning to resemble all-out war.
At that point, the death toll comprised 50 mostly unarmed Arabs and two Israeli soldiers.
To most minds, what that resembles isn't war, but massacre.
But with the UN chief putting a neutral gloss on events, and the mainstream media presenting the US as an honest broker striving for peace between two warring factions, the Israelis can feel confident they won't be adjudged guilty of massacre.
The defining image was of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra, trembling in terror with his distraught father as they crouched behind a tin barrel for shelter from a hailstorm of bullets. The Israelis first said that the child had been killed in crossfire.
When the television footage exposed that as a lie, they changed the story. Newspapers on October 4th also carried the revised view of the Israeli commander in Gaza: This boy was not standing five metres from a source of Palestinian gunfire by accident.
I dare say nobody in the whole world accepted the implicit suggestion that the child had been deliberately put in the line of fire. But then, again, considering the coverage, the Israelis needn't worry about the plausibility of their propaganda. The bias in the Western media won t be shaken by the death of a 12-year-old Arab.
On The Last Word, Robert Fisk of the London Independent reminded us that the Israeli presence in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights is illegal. UN Resolution 242 requires the Israelis to withdraw from all territories forcibly occupied in 1967. The resolution has the same force and weight as the 1991 resolution which required Iraq to leave Kuwait.
It might be recalled that when Saddam thumbed his nose at the UN, the Western powers assembled an army half a million strong to drive him out. Sanctions which have led to the deaths in droves of Arab children have been in place ever since.
But when Israel treats the UN with contempt, the same powers respond by arming them to enable them to hold on to the stolen territory.
There's nothing new in it. The Israeli state was built on Arab blood and bones in the 1940s, when terror gangs which would make any of our home-grown guerrillas look like pussy cats, ethnically cleansed the land they craved of its indigenous people.
All this is allowed to happen because Israel is the West s main ally in the most oil-rich region of the earth. And because anyone who expresses outrage is guilt-tripped by Zionists with reference to the Holocaust.
This is the most obscene aspect of it all that Hitler s huge crime against humanity is used now to justify the racist slaughter of children.
We should remember these things when next we hear Clinton and Blair talk of their commitment to a just peace in our own country. We should remember the suffering children of Palestine. Remember Mohammed al-Durah.