Time we had a debate on fornication?

FR BRIAN WHELAN

MICHELE MULHERIN, the Mayo Fine Gael TD caused a bit of a furore last week when she spoke in the Dail on the Private Members Bill which sought to create a legal framework for abortion in Ireland where a woman's life was at risk. She used the word 'fornication' saying it was 'probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country'.

Since she made those remarks during her contribution on the debate, there has been much discussion in the print media and on television, about them. The 'Late Late Show' on Friday night hosted a discussion with some women who had themselves, through unfortunate circumstances, travelled to the UK for abortions, and on the ' Saturday Night Show' Ms Mulherin was interviewed by Brendan O'connor and asked to explain what she meant, and what her position was on the issue.

The Today FM radio host, Ray D'arcy, had great fun with her comments during his review of the morning newspapers on the day after the debate. He has since landed himself in hot water for offensive remarks he made during the segment on his radio show, but there's nothing new in that. There has been a lot of other derision about her remarks, and I think the Labour TD Joanna Tuffy summed it up quite well when she said ' I think there is a ' thought police' out there now who deride anyone they don't agree with'. She said that Ms Mulherin was entitled to express her views, and that anybody who read her entire speech would find her core argument was actually 'progressive'.

So what did she actually say in the debate: 'Abortion as murder, therefore sin, which is the religious argument, is no more sinful, from a scriptural point of view, than all other sins we don't legislate against, like greed, hate and fornication. The latter, being fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.'

Aside from the abortion issue, which is of course a very emotive subject, and one which people on both sides of the debate have very strong feeling on, the other issue a lot of commentators had, was with Ms Mulherin's use of the word 'fornication'. As she said herself, she didn't invent the word, yet it seems that people who disagree with her viewpoint are trying to make out that she did, and that her use of such an archaic term is farcical.

She described 'fornication', or consensual sex between an unmarried couple, as the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancy - not the only cause, just the single most likely cause. Most unwanted pregnancies do occur between couples who are unmarried. And for the most part, these couples have had consensual sex. So, in the cold light of day, can anyone really disagree with her on that statement?

Really I think what's happening here, is that she has used a traditionally religious term to make her argument, and the ' thought police' that Joanna Tuffy spoke about, are not happy with this. Meanwhile, the census reported recently that 84% of people in this country describe themselves as catholic, and when you add in other religious groupings, the number of people who describe themselves as religious goes well over the 90% mark.

So in fairness to Ms Mulherin, when she uttered the word 'fornication', she was using a term that the vast majority of people in this country should be familiar with, and a term which is part and parcel of their religious vocabulary! But she was also drawing attention to the underlying issue in some, not all, of those unwanted pregnancies. Fornication has resulted in many people finding themselves pregnant without wanting to be. Is abortion merely treating the symptom of fornication, rather than treating the problem itself ?

Michele Mulherin says she isn't a prude, she doesn't seem to be a person who is out of touch with the reality that many people, rightly or wrongly, are having consensual sex outside of marriage. And I don't think she's out of touch with the reality that therein lies the 'elephant in the room'.

Every so often we have a HSE campaign to try to decrease the numbers of teenage pregnancies. Maybe it is time we had an open and honest debate about fornication?

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