Doublethink is a phrase coined by Eric Arthur Blair – more commonly known as George Orwell – in his timeless classic, and my favourite novel, 1984. The Collins English Dictionary defines the phrase thus:
doublethink [ˈdʌbəlˌθɪŋk] noun: deliberate, perverse, or unconscious acceptance or promulgation of conflicting facts, principles, etc.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language holds this definition:
dou·ble·think(dbl-thngk) noun: Thought marked by the acceptance of gross contradictions and falsehoods, especially when used as a technique of self-indoctrination: “Doublethink . . . is a vast system of mental cheating” (George Orwell).
I have touched on doublethink as exercised by Youth Defence (and by the greater pro-life/anti-choice movement) in previous articles in this series, but for a risk of repeating myself in a few cases, this is something of a direct follow-on to my last piece (Twisted Logic) and I’d like to focus on how Youth Defence seem to be able to believe in and say two contradictory things at once, and ignore the reality of the situation.
At the weekend I went to Merrion Square to take part in a silent counter-demonstration to the anti-choice Vigil for Life, along with a few hundred other fellow pro-choicers who braved the biting cold weather. In the few days running up to the event I’d been keeping track of various posts and comments on Facebook and in the media and came up against several people making contradictory assertions about abortion. When it was pointed out to these people that their arguments didn’t hold up with the facts, they would squirm their way into some other unrelated avenue (a very recent one I saw was someone whose latest point involved “finding love” as an argument against legislating for abortion). But anyway, let’s take a look at some of these doublethinking contradictions.
It’s Abortion, But Not if it’s Saving the Mother’s Life
This is a common one, and one I’ve touched on before. Anti-choicers will say that a life-saving medical procedure that requires the “unintentional termination of a pregnancy” is not abortion, but a “necessary medical procedure to save the woman’s life”. They apply this logic to cases where a therapeutic abortion is required in cases of preeclampsia and ectopic pregnancies: apparently, it’s not abortion.
But it is an abortion. That’s what the termination of a pregnancy is.
I was challenged on this point last week, and here’s what happened:
This anti-choicer (from Catholic Comment with Rónán Mullen, TD) said he is not confused by the terms “abortion” and “life-saving procedure” and asked me to check the Irish Medical Council Guidelines for clarification. So I did just that!
Section 21 in the document covers abortion, and it says that abortion is permitted to save the life a mother. The document says nothing about the termination of the pregnancy being unintentional or not. As we can see, this is an example of the anti-choice movement using doublethink to make up reasons to call an abortion something other than abortion. Why don’t they just call it what it is? Because they’d be seen to agree with the procedure, and their system would fall flat on its face.
While not in legislation (yet) and very unclear, the Medical Council Guidelines on abortion follow the current, vague legal situation in Ireland. And that brings us to legislation.
We Don’t Want Legislation for Abortion, but We’re Happy for Legislation for Abortion
This is a new one I saw today. In an article on TheJournal.ie:
The pro-life spokesperson said they had “no problem” with the government providing legislation for “clarity purposes” for doctors but did not support any legislation that would pave the way for abortion.
The “clarity purposes” the spokesperson is speaking of is, in fact, legislation to allow for abortion. This legislation will give a legal framework and clarity to the Medical Council Guidelines I mentioned above.
That article on TheJournal.ie was one about the Vigil for Life. If Youth Defence and their related groups are happy for legislation to be introduced, then why on Earth were they on Merrion Street protesting against it at their Vigil for Life? And why are they trying to stop something that’s already happening? Two referenda (1992 and 2002) showed that the Irish people do want the X Case legislated for (that is, abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, including from suicide). These groups are demanding that the government ignore democracy and impose their opinions on everyone: these groups are pushing for fascism.
Ireland is the Safest Place to Have A Baby… And Sometimes Only One of the Safest Places
Earlier this week Youth Defence posted this status update on their Facebook page:
The United Nations/WHO report on maternal mortality shows that Ireland, without recourse to abortion, is the safest place in the world for a mother to have a baby. #VigilforLife
However, if you read the UN/WHO report on maternal mortality, you’ll find that Ireland is not the safest place for mothers. In fact, Italy, Greece, Poland, Japan, Estonia, Austria, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland, Singapore, and Sweden all have lower maternal mortality rates than Ireland, making them safer places for mothers to have babies.
When this was pointed out by someone who checked the report, he was swiftly told that “that’s not the point”.
Previously, when commenters in the blogosphere caught onto the actual statistics about maternal and perinatal mortality rates, Youth Defence suddenly changed to saying that Ireland is “one of the safest places” to have a baby, conveniently ignoring and contradicting what they’ve been saying before. Now it seems they’re gone back to their original stance, even though the report they’re talking about says different. My diagnosis? Doublethink.
Abortion Is Never Needed to Save a Woman’s Life
Now, aside from already saying that a termination of a pregnancy, i.e. a therapeutic abortion, can be used to save a pregnant woman’s life, Youth Defence have repeatedly promoted a video via Facebook and their website that “proves” that abortion is never needed to save a life.
Recently, during the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee Hearings on legislating for the A, B, and C cases, the masters of both the Rotunda Hospital and Holles Street said that life-saving abortions do take place each year. Dr Sam Coulter Smith said that six such therapeutic abortions took place in the Rotunda in 2012, and Dr Rhona Mahony said that three took place in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street in 2012.
Dr Mahony also stated that some women are referred to doctors abroad for abortion when it was believed that their lives may be in danger. A couple of days later, at the same hearings, Youth Defence stated that women do not travel abroad for abortion when their lives are in danger. You can read about that on the Youth Defence website, where Dr Eoghan de Faoite submitted evidence stating that:
“A review of this evidence – easily undertaken – has therefore revealed that Irish women are not traveling to the UK because they are being denied life-saving treatment in Ireland. The truth remains that Irish women are safe in Ireland and are receiving whatever life-saving treatments they need.”
So, according to Youth Defence, abortion does take place to save the mother’s life, but such a procedure is never needed to save the life; and women do not travel abroad for life-saving abortions, even though they do. I can’t fathom how this group and its supporters manage to hold two contradictory statements, and believe entirely in both at the same time.
Abortion is Murder, and You Have No Right to “Kill a Child”
It’s not murder. In Irish law, murder is the intentional taking of one person’s life by another. However, a zygote or a foetus is not a person, as a person is defined as a human being regarded as an individual. A zygote or embryo cannot supply its own nutrition or oxygen, and must depend on the mother’s body for these needs: it, therefore, cannot be an individual.
Nobody has a right to kill a child, but let’s take a away the emotive language and assume what’s meant is: “you have no right to abort an embryo, as it is a person”. Apart from the obvious person bit, which I’ve already mentioned, this is self-defeating.
Let’s say the embryo (or zygote) is a person, and ask a somewhat absurd question to make a point: if a mother has no right to “kill the child”, then what right does that person have to inhabit the body of another without consent?
Rights for persons work both ways. If it is allowed to remain inside the body of another without consent even coming into the equation, then it cannot be considered a person. The anti-choice movement cannot have it both ways.
The term “pro-life” is a misnomer. The Vigil for Life on Saturday was an attempt to prevent the government implementing legislation that would protect a mother’s life. As we’ve seen, all sorts of mental gymnastics and doublethinking takes place in order to come up with reasons as to why the woman’s life would never be in danger in the first place, but it’s clear that Youth Defence care only for the zygote/embryo/foetus between conception and birth. There is little to no mention of born children in their material, and they clearly hold the life of a foetus in higher regard than the life of the mother carrying it. This is most definitely not pro-life.
What I Can’t Understand…
I can’t understand why Youth Defence and other anti-choice groups don’t just be honest with their members and supporters and give them the correct facts and figures, instead of using emotive language and contradictory information to stir up a storm of zeal. The inner workings of the group and others at 60A Capel Street is muddy enough without muddying the reality of abortion.
Sure, in an ideal world both a mother and foetus would never come to any harm whatsoever, and a woman would only become pregnant when she wanted a baby. But we’re far from an ideal world. Maybe it’s just easier to ignore reality and believe that women find themselves in unwanted pregnancies for lots of reasons, many we probably wouldn’t even think of ourselves. Maybe it’s easier to believe that a whole host of medical complications can never occur that require a termination. Or maybe people with religious convictions want to ignore these realities out of fear of judgement from their gods, so they feel they can say “I protected your creations” and avoid whatever eternal doom and foreboding their religion promises.
I would have more respect for Youth Defence if they engaged in a real discussion and lobbied public opinion based on fact. Instead, myself and other bloggers feel pushed into a situation where we have to point out fallacies and misinformation that can – and do – be taken up as fact by many people who might otherwise not have an opinion on abortion.
Abortion is a real thing, no matter how much doublethink you employ to try to ignore it. But it’s a very normal thing and not something we need to be scared of or avoid.