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Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien, clickbait and being devoid of empathy

Breda O’Brien has a regular, offensive clickbait column in the Irish Times where she gets paid actual money to peddle her narrow, bigoted view of the world that doesn’t tally in any way with actual evidence of what happens in real life. She goes to great lengths to portray women who’ve had abortions as being at best cold and indifferent about their experiences and at worst, callous, unless they are members of Women Hurt. For Breda, the only time it’s acceptable for a woman to talk about her experience of abortion, is if it is in the context of being a negative experience in your life. Ideally, the more torment connected to it, the better – because it will be the only time that your experience has any value at all. It doesn’t matter for her or even the Irish Times, that her stories are possibly not actually true, it just matters that some people will believe them. If you throw enough stones, eventually you’ll hit something.  Today’s offering is no different.

O’Brien opens today’s drivel by saying that Irish women talk about their abortions all the time with her. Maybe there are women who talk to O’Brien about their experiences but she is hardly the most likely of people you would confide in;

“Breda, you are a well known anti-abortion activist so I need to tell you, I was raped at 14 and had an abortion at 6 weeks.”

“That choice was morally wrong and is exactly the same as drowning a three year old child. ”

“Um, thanks Breda. I’m glad I got that off my chest by talking to you.”  

Given the exposure Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle’s stories got in the Irish Times last week, it’s hard not to read O’Brien’s piece as a direct retaliation towards these courageous women. It’s basically an eight hundred word fuck-you to Roisin and Tara.

She also says that women have told her of going for post-abortion counselling in a pro-choice organisation only to be told, “you did what was right for you at the time. Put it behind you and move on.” But I find it a stretch that any pro-choice organisation would simply tell a woman “move on” after she said she found her experience difficult to deal with or that she had regrets. Because that is not how pro-choice people or organisations operate. That is a fiction. Unlike O’Brien, we recognise that women have different experiences while noting that the vast majority of women who have terminations do not regret them.

O’Brien says that these women feel dismissed and diminished, while not for a second noticing the irony that women who do *not* regret their decision are dismissed and diminished by O’Brien and her Iona cronies who are given a national media platform on which to do so. No person’s experience should be diminished, but the women who allegedly seek comfort from O’Brien should not be taken as representative of the sum total of women who have had terminations – just as the women who do not regret them are not the sum total, we merely note that they are the overwhelming majority. O’Brien goes to great lengths to couch her language in terms of pseudo comfort and “common humanity” and then denies to other women the capacity to make decisions for themselves believing that she knows better.

She  decries those of us who speak of cells and the right to choose and implies that we are the same as Roman men who left babies to die on the side of a hill as we dehumanise the “victim.” At no point does it register with her how she dehumanises women who make the decision to abort without regret; women who terminated because of the suffering that continuing the pregnancy might bring, or the risk to their health or wellbeing, or because they were in a violent relationship, or because they simply did not want to be pregnant.  If pro-choice feminists who advocate a woman’s right to choose are for O’Brien, like the Roman men who leave babies to die of exposure on the hillside then what does that make the women who actually choose to abort? This of course is the woman who is a spokesperson for the people that carry signs at their rallies saying “Abortion is Witchcraft” (forward to 2:52 of this video). Does that sound like empathy to you?  

Anti-choice ideology ignores that fact that legal and medical structures that deprive a woman of full control over her own reproductive system condemn women to being second class citizens. O’Brien attempts to portray herself as being understanding, attempting to make us believe she empathises with women in crisis pregnancies by saying if she had become pregnant as a teenager, she is “not sure what (she) would have done.” Perhaps that’s true. She wouldn’t be the first woman to be against abortion until faced with a crisis pregnancy and had she accessed a termination, she certainly wouldn’t even be the first anti-choice woman to terminate and subsequently stand outside that very same clinic and denounce the women who enter it.

But you are not empathising with a woman in a crisis pregnancy when you actively campaign in favour of laws that compel women to endure a forced pregnancy, a court ordered c-section, and then tell us that she should have been made to carry that pregnancy to term. Being empathetic does not mean heaping judgment on women who had abortions and telling them their decisions was morally wrong. Since when did empathy extend to stigmatising and criminalising women and advocating that they go to jail? You cannot attest to empathise with women in crisis pregnancies when you deny them a choice in their medical care that will literally result in their death.

O’Brien also carefully adds a sentence about Aylan Kurdi so that there is to be no misunderstanding as to where she stands –  comparing the drowned three year old to the terminated weeks old foetus. She could have written a column about how Europe should open its borders to the refugees, or about how Hungary is treating the thousands walking through their land, tired, cold, and hungry, searching for a better life. She could have even spoken about the reasons why women choose abortion and acknowledged that if you want less abortions, you need to make it easier for women to have children. That would be the logical thing, but this is not about logic, this is about curtailing women’s choices because Breda O’Brien views them as vessels and nothing more.

The majority of people in this state are pro-choice despite all of us of child-bearing age having never had our say on the Eighth Amendment. My own mother wasn’t even old enough to vote when the Eighth Amendment was passed. Prochoice activists acknowledge that abortion can often be a difficult decision for a woman. We also acknowledge that the decision to terminate can be a source of great relief to many. The difficulty for anti-choice activists is that they cannot contemplate, due to being completely devoid of empathy, why it would be a relief  for many women and why not every woman struggles with it, so in order for them to understand it they must portray these women as uncaring monsters like the Roman patriarchs or of course, witches.

Anti-choice activists do not understand, much less care, that when a woman is pregnant, she is more than a receptacle to carry a foetus to term, with thoughts, feelings, financial pressures and very often, other children to take care of. Just as it would be wrong for a woman to be compelled to terminate against her wishes, it is wrong to compel her to carry a pregnancy against her wishes. Women are more than the contents of their wombs and their existence has more reason than bearing children, and if we want to talk about moral value, then we must acknowledge that an embryo does not have the same moral value as a living, breathing woman who bears it, simply because it has the potential to become a human being. The inability to empathise at the very core of anti-choice beliefs is the reason why there is a woman on trial in Belfast for supplying her daughter with abortion pills, and it is the reason that a woman who has an illegal abortion in this state will get 14 years in prison. Reducing a woman’s humanity and placing it on a par with a week old embryo is not empathy, it is stomach-churning fanaticism. Perhaps had O’Brien actually been faced with a crisis teenage pregnancy, she may believe that had she taken certain decisions that she should have faced 14 years in prison, although at that time it would have been a life sentence (presumably for her own good), but that is not empathy.

Believing that because you never had an abortion that nobody else should have one either is about as far away from empathy as you can possibly get.



7 responses »

  1. “The difficulty for anti-choice activists is that they cannot contemplate, due to being completely devoid of empathy, why it would be a relief for many women and why not every woman struggles with it, so in order for them to understand it they must portray these women as uncaring monsters like the Roman patriarchs or of course, witches.” Are you a mind reader or something? 🙂 Are you suggesting that all anti-choicers/pro-lifers are devoid of empathy? Are they psychopaths? What about Feminists for Life (, many of their key members/speakers are women who have had unwanted pregancies (e.g. Have you looked into them or Feminists for Nonviolent choices? ( You should! They’re hardly devoid of empathy.

    • From your links:

      “Joyce Ann McCauley-Benner was raped at 20 while working her way through college and chose not to abort” … and now goes around the country calling for other women to be denied the choice whether or not to abort.

      “FFNVC was an official partner of all WB rallies to defund Planned Parenthood”, the only option many low-income American women have for reproductive and sexual health care.

      Oh yeah. Dripping with empathy.

    • Well said Ciara. FFL are a fantastic organisation!

  2. Pingback: #allelse: social control, antichoice, suffragettes, Damon, and trekkies (feimineach)

  3. I wonder do pro lifers consider male masturbation genocide ?

  4. A few points:
    •what evidence is being used to illustrate that most women do not regret their abortion?
    •a woman who is in a violent relationship and has a termination is still in a violent relationship after the termination. She is still in danger. Wouldn’t helping her leave the relationship be a more logical solution?
    •if both the life of mother and baby are st risk and the baby dies as a result of necessary medical treatment to save the mother’s life, that is not an abortion. Abortion is never necessary to save the mother’s life
    •sperm and ovum have the potential to become human beings. Embryos do not have that potential because they already are human beings. Scientifically speaking, life begins at conception. (Jerome Lejeune, 1982). Unless the author gas another suggestion as to the point when life begins?
    •I’m “anti – choice “, though I describe myself as “pro-life” and I am not devoid of empathy. I can contemplate why it would be a relief for a pregnancy to be terminated . I can contemplate why not every woman struggles with having an abortion. In order to understand why women feel this way I do not need to, nor do I, portray any women who have had an abortion or agree with abortion, as uncaring monsters. I do understand, and I do care, that a woman is more than a receptacle to carry a foetus to term, with thoughts, feelings, financial pressures and often other children to take care of. I am not unable to empathise.

  5. Niamh – Life and a human being with the same rights to be weighed equal to the mother are not necessarily the same thing. There are living cells before conception, self-replicating cells after conception, a heart at 5 or 6 weeks, a brain and consciousness a fair bit later… this boils down to where one sees a human being with the same rights as any other.

    I generally have been wary of the idea of abortion to date, but I find inconsistencies in the harder line ‘pro-life’ movement the more I read.

    For example, if people believe a fertilised egg is a human being worthy of the same care and rights as a born human, why are pro life lobbyists not lobbying for and funding research to prevent the deaths of these humans on massive scale through natural causes? For every one baby born – I’m told – perhaps hundreds of fertilised eggs do not make it. In fact, if we view these fertilised eggs as human beings, this is the biggest cause of human death going – but no one seems to care? If we’re weighing this life the same as a born person’s, surely we’d care just as much about preventing the huge number of very early ‘natural’ terminations. But the extent of the healthcare effort here appears to be vitamins on supermarket shelves. No one is out waving placards about this – why not? A tempting answer is that people don’t care except when they can blame and shame someone, which if the case, would raise questions about how much care people really have for the lives lost.

    Second, assuming someone would support forcing a child to carry a baby to term – as Breda has said she’d do in the case of her own daughter – if we view this through the lens of other human rights, things start to look difficult IMO. For example, let’s say an adult knocks over your kid, who in the process of the accident, injures a second child. Let’s say the second child requires organ donations and blood transfusions in order to survive as a result of the direct impact of child A caused by this accident. Let’s say child A is the only compatible matches here. Should child A be forced to offer up her body to maintain the life of child B, in a way that could cause child A significant suffering over an extended period and possible health complications or even death? We do not legally enforce this. No one is obligated to offer organs or blood donations to support the life of another.In my opinion this situation differs little from a situation where a child is raped by a man and then forced to sacrifice her body for another life. But the pro-life lobby seems to advocate she do just that in this kind of situation, but it seems incompatible with our approach to human rights and agency over their own body in other life-and-death situations outside of pregnancy.


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