The Problem With Abortion Polling, and Ireland’s Abortion Law

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On this episode of Reality Cast, Tara Culp-Ressler will explain what’s so messed up about most polling data on abortion, and how to fix it. Ireland’s new abortion law flunks its first major test and a clash over a strip club is a reminder of what really motivates the anti-choice movement.

This was an amusing moment in a recent debate. Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is running for re-election in Colorado and was asked about his stance on reproductive rights. He had a brain fart.

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I wouldn’t read too much into this. We all blank out at times. But that this story got flagged shows that politicians are being watched very carefully on this issue, and I suspect we’ll see some real scandals before the midterms are over.


After the death of Savita Halappanavar from sepsis in an Irish hospital, Ireland promised that they would do better. Halappanavar presented at the hospital with a miscarrying pregnancy that had gone septic, and asked for an abortion, but even though there was no way the fetus would survive, the hospital refused until the fetal heartbeat ended on its own. By then, it was too late for Halappanavar, who died of infection. In response, the government caved and passed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which supposedly allows for women who have life-threatening conditions to have access to abortions. So how’s it working out? Not well, it seems, according to RTE News.

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Let’s be clear that this woman was 24 weeks along, almost 25, and the word “woman” is stretching it a little: She has just turned 18 and had been 17 when she first discovered the pregnancy. She is also claiming to be a rape victim. And, by the panel’s own findings, she qualifies for an abortion under Irish law, because her suicidal thoughts are chronic and serious, but they decided instead to exploit a loophole and argue that forcing her to give birth through a much more intrusive surgery counts as terminating the pregnancy and meets the law’s requirements. This is particularly upsetting because while the young woman is in her second trimester, it’s not because she blew off trying to get an abortion earlier in her pregnancy.

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So what it sounds like was this woman first tried to get an abortion she is legally entitled to in Ireland when she was really early in her pregnancy. It was reported that she doesn’t speak English well and that one reason she couldn’t travel is that she’s an immigrant under travel restrictions. Basically, it seems that she was stalled by bureaucratic nonsense until she was far enough along that they could claim that the fetus was “viable” and force her into a c-section instead of an abortion. The same thing happened to a woman called Beatriz in El Salvador who had a legal right to a medical exemption to abort a pregnancy where the fetus was developing without a brain, and she was stalled and stalled by the government until it was far enough along that they could force her to get her abdomen cut open, instead of a less invasive abortion, and so that’s what they forced her to do. In this case, I repeat, the panel findings show that she was eligible for a termination, and by what we’re apparently supposed to believe is pure coincidence, she finally got a chance to plead her case right when she was far enough along that they could say they met their legal obligations through a c-section instead of an abortion.

The young woman did make a show of rebellion to what definitely feels like persecution.

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She agreed. Kind of. I mean, they made her an offer that she couldn’t refuse, it sounds like, which is forcing her to stay in the hospital and forcing hydration on her. At least, so far, it doesn’t sound like force-feeding, which is torture. But this woman was being bullied and abused by a system that’s supposed to be helping her. What makes this doubly frustrating is that stuff like this happens for no other reason than to “make an example” out of someone. This young woman is a target because she’s easy to target: Young, an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well, confused about her rights. But women with more privilege in Ireland, who are older or who can afford to travel, just go to England to get abortions.




Regular listeners of this podcast know that one of the ongoing struggles between the pro-choice and anti-choice movements is the question of arguing in good faith and specifically the problem of how anti-choicers refuse to do it. They like to style themselves as “pro-life” and suggest that it’s just a deep love of human life that motivates them, instead of a deep hostility to female independence and a fear and loathing of female sexuality. But that’s a story that only works if you pointedly ignore everything else that anti-choice activists do when they aren’t screaming about abortion. With that in mind, I’d like to look at a case study that’s arisen in Ohio. The director of Personhood Ohio, a group that wants to define fertilized eggs as persons in order to ban abortion and undermine access to contraception, is a man named Patrick Johnston. But wanting to empower the government to treat every tampon like a crime scene is not the only thing that gets Johnston riled up. He’s also deeply, deeply upset about breasts.

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I love how it’s children and married men, like single men aren’t a factor here. And what’s his definition of children? Is he worried that women who are breast-feeding are somehow molesting children? So many questions. But obviously the big issue here is that he’s openly and aggressively defining women’s bodies as public property. While I think there’s some value in laws that keep both men and women from flashing genitals in public, the idea that women’s bodies need to be kept under wraps because men might feel some kind of sexual temptation is just full-blown hooey nonsense. Her body shouldn’t be regulated because you can’t control yourself. You regulate you. It’s particularly insidious to claim that a woman who is a complete stranger to you is more responsible for caring for your marriage than you are. We all know how that kind of thinking really is a slippery slope. Maybe the next guy says that seeing women’s hair makes him a little less faithful in his heart to his wife, so what do we do then, force women to cover their hair? Same logic, as evidenced by places like Iran, where they really do have that rule.

So what brought on this entire new anti-breast agenda? Ironically, it was a church protesting women who bare their breasts in a place that you actually have to pay to get into and which people under 18 are not allowed.

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Anyone who was listening last week to the podcast will immediately recognize these tactics as ones borrowed from anti-choicers, in no small part because the people protesting the strip club are the same fundamentalist Christians that protest abortion clinics. Which goes to show how much these tactics are not about trying to help people but about trying to control them by shaming them. Anti-choicers say they’re just trying to reach out and help and all that, but if that was true, then how is it that there’s literally no difference in how they approach men going into a strip club and women trying to get abortions? Anyway, the strippers have started to retaliate by going to the church to protest, leading the leader of Personhood Ohio to demand strict laws that would ban all breast-baring in public, which would absolutely create major problems for women who are breast-feeding, amongst other things. But more to the point, the common thread here is female sexuality, which he openly argues is a threat to society and therefore needs to be stifled. This isn’t about “life,” but about sex. And just in case that wasn’t clear, his other argument for criminalizing breast-baring in public is a doozy.

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He sure does find excuses to go to a lot of gay pride parades to carefully count the breasts he sees on display there. For someone who thinks a mere glimpse at a nipple is enough to devastate a man’s marriage, he sure seems eager to get many, many glimpses. You know, to protect other people.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, anti-choicers have theories about what sex is all about edition. The Alliance Defending Freedom has a video out warning parents about the dangers of a sex education course apparently endorsed by Planned Parenthood, because, as usual, they seem to believe that if you don’t talk to kids about sex , they’ll never have any interest in it.

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It’s always so enlightening when antis talk to each other. They swear up and down that they aren’t against sex when speaking to outsiders, but amongst themselves, they freely discuss sex like it’s a dangerous and addictive drug. That metaphor falls apart upon any examination, but persists amongst anti-choicers for the simple reason that they really do think sex is wrong and want to stomp out the vast majority of healthy expressions of sexuality.