May 5, 2010

Leo Varadkar - sexism and abortion

Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael was in the Sindo (h/t FMC) and shared his wisdom with the plain people of Ireland. Most of it was standard pandering to the electorate but there were two sections that set my teeth on edge.

Firstly, Leo declares that he's not sexist and then he undermines his own arguments.

Even though he dishes out stinging criticism in the Dail, he finds some of the criticism of himself hard to take, particularly Mary Coughlan's allegations of sexism. "I thought it was very unfair. If anything I went easier on her because she was a woman. She's accused everyone of sexism! Nobody that I know would ever say that I'm sexist. Most people would accept it was the last line of defence for Mary Coughlan."

 Now I am no fan of Coughlan. I think she is incompetent and out of her depth but the thing about feminism is that I will call out attacking someone based on gender (or sexuality, gender-identity, skin colour etc...). What Leo said was

You are unable to talk to business people and when you do the language you use is often inappropriate and vulgar

Ah, inappropriate language. Vulgarity. A classic attack leveled at women as soon as they started getting uppity and wanting to be treated equally. Attacking Coughlan for the language she uses would be comical if taken in context with other leaders.

My most cringeworthy moment upon hearing a politican was Bertie Ahern giving a speech at the opening of the 58th General Assembly in the UN in New York. In front of the leaders of the world, he said

...If we did not have already have such an organisation, we would surely have to invent it...let us ask not what the United Nations can do for us, but what we can do for the United Nations...He has not shrunk from grasping the nettle of reform, and in his address to this Assembly he called on the members of this organisation to grasp it with him

Now that was cringeworthy - stealing and paraphrasing lines from Voltaire; using the tired phraseology from JFK; and ridiculous similes. I would have fired the speechwriter. In one fifteen minute speech, Ahern told the whole world that Ireland has no originality.

As for Coughlan, personal attacks on her clothes and personality are sexist. Also, it's not like Leo attacked Cowen for missing two press conferences in Japan because he was too drunk to attend. Or Cowen's "ring those fuckers...". O'Dea's brothel remarks passed unnoticed except for a wink wink nudge nudge until it was revealed he lied under oath.

And then we come to the abortion part of Leo's beliefs.

Despite his medical background, his views on some controversial medical issues are quite black and white -- such as abortion. "I would accept a lot of Catholic social teaching. I'm not a practising religious person, but I would accept that. I wouldn't be in favour of abortion. The only thing that would be a grey area is if there's a genuine threat or risk to the life of the mother."

So even though he has a considerable experience with medicine, and knowing that one third of pregnancies  spontaneously abort in the first trimester, he resorts to the teachings of a patriarchal institution (that covered up rape, torture and emotional violence) that cannot maintain consistency in its own teachings. Remember Thomas Aquinas, Albertus, Giles of Rome and Pope John XXI, their teachings on the nature of soul and their de facto acceptance of first trimester abortions.

What about the provision of abortion services for rape victims? "I wouldn't be in favour of it in that case, and, you know, first of all, it isn't the child's fault that they're the child of rape. You can say the same thing about disabled children. You know, some people would make that argument in favour of abortion. It's not their fault they're disabled. I wouldn't be in favour of it in those circumstances either.

As an almost doctor Leo should know that in the first trimester, the result of fertilisation is an embryo not a child.

As Thinking Girl says

“Pro-choice” does not mean “pro-abortion”; it means supporting women’s rights to self-determination over their bodies. “Fetuses” are not “babies”; fetuses exist in the womb, babies exist outside of the womb. “Human” does not equal “person”; human is the biological name of our species, personhood involves moral agency.

A child does not need the life of another to survive. A person cannot be forced to surrender their freedom to another. Forced pregnancy is a human rights violation banned by the UN. 

"Even, how would that work practically? Would someone have to prove that they've been raped? I think where that's been brought in in countries it has more or less led to abortion on demand," he adds.

Ah, ignorance again. How to prove someone was raped? Well generally considering the level of rape in this country, the rape culture and the blackening of a survivor's character and sexual history, you could believe the person.

There's nothing wrong with abortion on demand. That's how it should be. I suspect Leo means that them silly womans will use abortion as contraception and will think that they actually should have control of their bodies.

Is it not double standards to have more than 5,000 women a year travelling to the UK and elsewhere for abortions? "I don't think that's double standards. People travel overseas to do things overseas that aren't legal in Ireland all the time. You know, are we going to stop people going to Las Vegas? Are we going to stop people going to Amsterdam? There are things that are illegal in Ireland and we don't prevent people from travelling overseas to avail of them."

Fatmammycat makes the ever relevant point that Leo could never get pregnant anyway. It's all academic to him. If Leo  really believes that abortion is murder than he should be legislating against it. How about imprisoning women who have abortions. Stand up in Dail and say that then. Have the courage of your convictions Leo. Instead of allowing women basic human rights, he is fine with just ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away. Meanwhile, women are travelling for abortions are in a legal grey area, without support, getting into debt.

The thing is that abortions have always happened. Women always have the knowledge of how to terminate pregnancies. Now there are safe ways to do so and legally Irish women are blocking from accessing medical care. The thing about governing is that you have to recognise the society you have and not the society you think you should have. Dev thought that comely maidens should dance at crossroads but now we know that, had they done so, they would have been enslaved in laundries by society and the all powerful, ever controlling Catholic church.

When it comes to abortion, Ireland is hypocritical. As I have written before:

What about the cost of condoms? They are prohibitively expensive for teenagers and young adults. Even adults might have difficulty paying these prices. According to, a package of 12 durex varies from €10.49 to €16.45. €16.45 is a ridiculous price to pay for 12 pieces of latex. The equivalent in France is €6.80 but condoms are distributed in schools free of charge on AIDS awareness day.

The pragmatic approach would be to have cheap contraception and a comprehensive sex ed programme in schools. But that hasn't happened because of the mentality of ban, ban, ban when you don't or want to understand.

Ultimately it's an issue of control. Well you don't get to control our bodies.

Listen to Sonya Renee and then get back to me

What We Deserve

| MySpace Video

It's time to talk about the reality. These vids were made by the The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign. Watch them.




nahbios said...

First time reader here.

With regard to Varadkar's acceptance of Church's teachings on abortion: can we not recognise that, despite the abuse scandals (which themselves did not permeate the entire Church), these teachings are based on science and reason? Your argument against their teachings based on the actions of a minority is an ad hominem.

Likewise, the argument that Varadkar's convictions are invalid and irrelevent because he is incapable of conceiving is an ad hominem. The fact that the zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or foetus has 100% human DNA remains. Hence, the pendantic usage of 'personhood' in the pro-choice argument is also irrelevent since the life of which we speak is undoubtedly a human life, not that of a cow, a dog, a mayfly, or any other creature. Again, the use of 'personhood' to distinguish, for example, between a newborn infant and a new zygote is merely playing with words rather than dealing with the science which recognises only 'human', not 'person'.

Aquinas, Albertus, Giles of Rome, and John XXI lived over half a millenium ago and did not know the science which now shows that a new human life begins at fertilisation. Therefore, their opinions on when life begins are dated and not to be relied on as scientific.

(As an aside, spontaneous abortion is quite a different matter to the deliberate abortion performed by persons outside the womb. We can do nothing about spontaneous abortion, but deliberate abortion is an action which we choose to take.)

Mór Rígan said...

Thanks for your comment nahbios. However, I do not accept that the church's teachings on abortion are scientifically based. Science and the church have never been particularly close and the facts are that for many women abortion is a literal lifesaver.

The church's attitude to abortion is not only highly dangerous but it is completely irrational. Only an organisation buried in the dark ages would excommunicate a doctor and a mother for saving the life of a nine year old girl. Abused by her stepfather, the girl became pregnant with twins. She would not have survived delivery. The church excommunicated the doctor who saved her life but the rapist is still welcome in the church.

Women can get pregnant and women can have abortions. But the church is only capable of seeing two women - the Madonna and the whore. How can any teachings on reproductive health be rational?

The church argues that condoms don't prevent HIV transmission against all scientific evidence to the contrary.

The argument that men do not conceive is not ad hominem. For millennia women have not had control of their reproductive health, whether it was to terminate or continue a pregnancy. Today in the US, murder is the leading cause of death in pregnant women and forced pregnancy is finally been recognised as abuse. 12% of pregnant women is developing countries will be killed by their partners.

I think that the "pro life" position is misogynistic and irrational but people take those kinds of positions all the time. Arguing that it is scientific is an attempt to validate the position without appearing misogynistic, as if science is a get out of jail free card.

If Aquinas' etc attitudes on abortion are out of date, then presumably so is their philosophy, misogyny and relevance.

Scandal Central said...

I think I agree with what Varadkar said. It's not an embryos fault on which way it was brought into this world. A lot of doctors I know agree that they find abortion a horrific thing. Perhaps this is an area that the Catholic Church got it right?

Nevertheless, I don't believe its the place of Government to show moral authority to its people. While they should discourage abortion, I still feel its an individual thing.