This Irish podcaster dives into the abortion debate

The World
Participants in the "Rally for Life" demonstration marched through Dublin, Ireland on March 10, 2018. They called for voters to say 'No' in a national referendum set for May 25, asking if Ireland should repeal the constitutional amendment banning abortion

Participants in the "Rally for Life" demonstration marched through Dublin on March 10, 2018. They called for voters to say "no" in a national referendum set for May 25 asking if Ireland should repeal the constitutional amendment banning abortion known as the Eighth Amendment.

Sam Boal

It’s never been a tough question for her.

Irish podcaster Ciara O’Connor Walsh, 37, says she has always been a supporter of abortion rights. But as she was parking her car one day, O’Connor Walsh was suddenly confronted by one of her own prejudices.

There was a bumper sticker on the car next to hers with a picture of a smiling fetus on it saying, “When I grow up, I’m going to play for Ireland.” The sticker also said, “Love both,” a motto used by anti-abortion activists in Ireland.

Related: Ireland's strict ban on abortion could soon be a thing of the past

“The first thought I had was, ‘That is disgusting,’” O’Connor Walsh explains in the introduction of her podcast called, The Eighth.

But then, she stopped herself.

“I didn’t even see this person. I only saw the car, and I saw the sticker,” she said. “Wait a minute ... the easiest thing in the world to do is to imagine the other side are all complete psychos.”

She went on to say, “I thought, ‘Not everyone who refers to themselves as pro-life is a troll or a bully.’”

That line of thinking led O’Connor Walsh to create The Eighth, a podcast series she hosts that aims to hear from all sides in Ireland’s divisive abortion debate.

On Friday, voters in Ireland head to the polls to take part in a national referendum on abortion. It’s a straightforward "yes" or "no" choice: Should Ireland repeal its constitutional ban on abortion, also known as the Eighth Amendment, which was put in place in 1983?

Again, O’Connor Walsh knows where she stands. And she has been clear about her support for abortion rights in the podcast. But what she really hoped to do with The Eighth is learn something, especially from people on the anti-abortion side of the issue.

If there was such a thing as a middle ground in Ireland’s abortion debate, O’Connor Walsh wanted to know about it.

“I felt that what was really missing from the conversation about abortion in Ireland is women’s stories,” she said. 

In much of the media coverage about abortion, “It ends up being talking heads, where two people are really just speaking past one another,” she said. “And what you don’t tend to get is any of the humanity.”

O’Connor Walsh had a surprising encounter with one of her podcast guests on the anti-abortion side of the debate when a woman named Muireann shared her own experience about having a miscarriage.

Related: For some Christians, being 'pro-life' isn’t just about being against abortion

“I just remember sitting on the toilet, holding my head in my hands and I said, ‘Oh my God,’” Muireann told O’Connor Walsh in one podcast episode. “For the first time, I could see where someone facing an unplanned pregnancy was coming from. My body was betraying me. My body was doing something that I had no control over. My body was doing something natural, but something that I just absolutely, I’d have done anything to stop it.”

O’Connor Walsh said Muireann’s account described her own feelings during an unplanned pregnancy. 

“We had this moment together where we were looking at each other from different sides of the same issue, and where we’d share our almost identical experience, except for mine was in the case of a termination of a pregnancy,” O’Connor Walsh said.

“But the feelings were identical. And we just had this big hug at the end where we were like, ‘Wow. We shared something very special.’”

A surprising challenge came from another person in that same episode — a 19-year-old college student named Gavin, who would describe himself as "pro-life." He tells the story of his mother, who got pregnant at the age of 15. Her parents sent her to England to get an abortion but they called her back at the last minute.

“And I’m here today because of that,” Gavin told O’Connor Walsh in the interview. Then he asked her if she looks at him and sees a “choice” or does she see “Gavin.”

“That was probably the hardest interview and one of the ones that had the most impact on me,” O’Connor Walsh explained.

“For me, obviously, that was quite a confronting moment, because of course, I see him as a human being and a person with a life and friends and family,” she said.

“But I did have to say to him, you know, would I have respected his mother’s right to terminate that pregnancy? Yes, I would have.”

“I’m coming from a point of view of having had to travel for a termination of pregnancy and the trauma that comes along with that. So, that’s why I’m campaigning so hard. And that’s why it matters so much to me.”

But O’Connor Walsh added that she hopes the podcast will help get Irish voters talking about abortion and women’s health and better inform people, even if they ultimately decide not to vote for repeal.

Has she changed any minds with the podcast? "My sister," she said. After listening to the episode with people arguing against repeal, O'Connor Walsh said her sister thought she might change her mind and vote "no" on Friday.

After further reflection though, her sister told her she came back around and decided she would still vote for repeal.    

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