Bigots! Annoyed that you can’t get away with paying to paste anti-choice propaganda on the side of London bus? Pissed off that in Britain citizens are entitled to contest the presence of misleading billboards in public space? Sick of standing around outside of abortion clinics with placards of late-term foetuses? Want to shove your opinions down the throats of thousands, but cruelly deprived of an effective platform?
Move to Ireland! It’s less than an hour away on a 40 quid Ryanair flight, yet in Ireland you can conduct any non-commercial advertising campaign you like with impunity. Irish citizens have absolutely no avenue through which to complain about misleading or misogynistic content in non-commercial advertising. That’s right bigots! If you have sufficient capital you can erect as many judgey anti-choice billboards as you like in Dublin’s fair city. No capital? Why not ask your local Catholic priest to help you fund-raise? You don’t have to worry about all the distress that you’ll undoubtedly cause to women who’ve had abortions being reported to relevant authorities – because there are no relevant authorities.
At the moment, Dublin’s billboards, buses and trams are being used to shame women who’ve had abortions and to demonise the choice to terminate a pregnancy, but why stop there? Niamh Uí Bhriain of Ireland’s Youth Defence group says her organisation is getting ‘great value’ on the JC Decaux hosted advertising campaign. For a figure that experts estimate at between £150,000 and £250,000, Youth Defence have plastered Dublin in pictures of crying young women and 18 week old foetuses, accompanied by the slogans ‘Abortion tears her life apart’ and ‘Abortion: there’s always a better answer.’ Lucky Dubliners can see women shamed on their way to work, their way to school (Mummy? Daddy? What’s an abortion?), and even, thanks to a cruelly placed airport poster, on their way to the UK to terminate a pregnancy.
Want to complain that, as 87% of Irish women who’ve had abortions believe their decision to be the right one (PDF), a billboard proclaiming that there is always a better answer is partial and misleading? Tough titty mister – the Advertising Standards Association of Ireland only deals with commercial campaigns. If a non-commerical advert incites people to hatred on grounds of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation the ASAI might consider handling your complaint, but inciting people to hate women who’ve had abortions is just fine. We all know that misogyny isn’t a real prejudice.
Want to complain that the advertising is likely to cause significant emotional distress to women who have been through the experience of a crisis pregnancy? Hard cheese sister – the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources only deals with television, radio and internet broadcasts. Want to point to the twelfty million other ways that the campaign fails to comply with the ASAI’s self-regulatory code? Sucks to you! There’s no public body in Ireland willing to take any responsibility for handling your complaint.
It’s a financially powerful misogynist’s dream. Just imagine: ‘Women working outside the home: there’s always a better answer.’ What? It’s not illegal – in fact, a woman’s domestic function is enshrined in the Irish constitution. ‘Maternity tears the economy apart: there’s always a better answer.’ Or ‘Emergency contraception is evil: there’s always a better answer.’ What? Blastocysts is people too. If you wanted, you could add some small print. For example: ‘Abortion: There’s always a better answer – and it’s my answer. Because my answers are always better than your answers and you are clearly ill-equipped to make moral decisions for yourself you filthy filthy little Jezebel.’
The Youth Defence facebook page claims that the organisation is educating women about the effects of abortion. And what an excellent job it is doing too. I particularly like the educational picture of a 9 week old foetus next to a picture of a 12 month old baby with the caption ‘I’m still me!’ Or the one with a cute kid saying ‘Abortion: that’s not cool!’ I mean, what a stupendous grasp of human subjectivity and biology women are likely to glean from consumption of this educational material. Here in the UK, the government has been considering re-vamping the GCSE system. I wonder if anyone has though of asking the team at Youth Defence to do some consultancy work?
Breathe. I must remember to breathe. I must not be consumed by blind rage. But it’s hard. Because I am angry. I have a good friend living in Dublin who chose to have an abortion in her teens. It’s amazing that she was capable of making the decision at all, considering the anti-choice brainwashing most of us underwent at secondary school (95% of Ireland’s schools are Catholic schools). Like the vast majority of Irish women who choose to travel overseas to terminate pregnancies, my friend does not regret her decision. This doesn’t mean that’s it’s fair for her to be told that the choice she made is morally wrong every freaking time she leaves the house. Ireland’s draconian abortion laws already forced her to travel to the UK at a stressful and emotionally difficult time in her life – does she really have to go through this too?
Abortion is not a black and white issue. To quote playwright Susan Lori Parks, it’s ‘bad. And good. And bad and good and good and bad. There’s no easy way to look at it.’ But to claim that your moral stance on abortion is always the right one, to refuse to admit the moral capacity of the 4,000 Irish women who go abroad to terminate pregnancies each year, and to intentionally embark on a course of action guaranteed to cause severe distress to thousands, well that’s just bad. And bad. And bad and bad and bad and bad.
If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, Wednesday 11th, there’s a protest you can attend outside the Dáil at 6.30pm. Details here. If you’re not in Ireland, there’s a petition you can sign. Details here.