Noun. Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.
I looked up the definition of compassion recently and found myself a little surprised at its mention of sympathetic pity. Not empathy, the word I had expected to see. To my mind, sympathy is something we do at a distance without really seeking to understand or help others.
A little more digging, however, revealed the origins of the word and satisfied my understanding of the word:
Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’.
Putting aside the irony of the ecclesiastical origins of a word that is now far removed from the actions of the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond, the word “compati” stood out.
Empathy is not a skill we’re born with. We develop it in late childhood when we learn that people around us feel differently that we do, and that that’s ok. It removes us from our focus on our own ego, and helps to make us more social individuals. It helps us to put ourselves in the position of others, to understand their point of view, to recognize that differences are not a bad thing.
Compassion goes one step further. It asks us to feel the negative emotions and experiences of others. It challenges us to accept that their lives are different to ours and to understand the depths of their pain and experience.
This is why the movement to repeal the 8th has arisen from a point of compassion.
Yes for compassion
I look around at campaigners for Together for Yes and I see compassion writ large upon their souls. They are able to recognize the pain that women (and men) have found themselves in as a result of the 8th Amendment.
They, like me, have read and heard stories of utter pain and horror of people trapped in pregnancy in a country that sought to offer them no help but spit them across the water for our neighbours to deal with.
We have heard stories of women whose pregnancies were changed beyond reason because the 8th prohibited them full control of their bodies – think coerced inductions, C-sections, episiotomies.
We have seen women meeting in dark places to trade packages of illicit drugs, not taken for pleasure but for pain. Gut wrenching, awful, unsupervised, secret pain.
And what we hear from the No side?
There’s not even a hint of compassion in those words. No attempt to understand whether the person (or child) they are addressed to has suffered a loss, had to travel to protect her health or deliver a much-wanted child who wouldn’t live, has suffered a traumatic birth as a result of forced intervention.
This week we had a newly consecrated Bishop declare that abortion was worse than rape. Where was his compassion? His attempt to understand what he, as a man, could not possibly understand… the feeling of carrying a foetus you do not want as a result of violation that had been forced on you? Where was his willingness to try to suffer with that woman? Is this not an expectation of representatives of the Church? I’ve long since lost my faith in the Church or God, but I do remember the kind, non-judgemental image of a Christ who washed the feet of prostitutes. This doesn’t seem like the type of thing He would say.
From the No side, I’ve seen videos of men shouting at women half their size, of blonde Irish women declaring that non-white Irish women did not matter, of spokespeople again and again and again and again ignoring the plight of the sentient, breathing, living woman pleading for compassion from society. I’ve seen that woman reduced to a soundbite, a number, a hypothetical person who doesn’t deserve our support because they deem her decisions are wrong. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s forced to travel, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to buy illegal pills, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to ship her child home in a coffin or by courier, it doesn’t matter that she may be forced to carry for month after long month a foetus she never wanted to give her body to because she couldn’t afford to take any other options.
The Yes side has listened. For too long, we have listened to the stories and the pain. For too long, we have begged for compassion, for understanding, for help.
Do you show compassion?
If you intend to vote No, ask yourself this: how would I respond if it was my wife, my daughter, my cousin, my friend, my neighbour asking for access to compassionate abortion care in Ireland? Yes, you’ve been asked this before. Think about it again. Please.
Be honest in your response – if you don’t show compassion here, then at least you’re consistent. (The worst stories I’ve read on In Her Shoes were those where family as well as society let the woman down at her darkest hour.)
But if you find yourself unsure, then let me ask you this, what if she’d been raped? Would you say yes then?
Or what if the foetus had no hope of life? What then?
And if those situations are permissible, then what about if she might lose her home or be unable to feed her other kids? Is that ok?
And if that’s ok, then what if she just doesn’t feel ready or she made a mistake? Will you punish her for that?
If you think compassionate abortion care should be provided as an option in any of those cases, then you should vote Yes, because without a Yes, she will always need to seek care from overseas. She will always be a pariah in our society. And you don’t want that for YOUR loved ones, or any of the other women and pregnant people of Ireland.
Thank you for trying for a moment to suffer with those women. For showing compassion.
Please vote Yes.