Today, Irish citizens will go to the polling booths to vote on repealing or keeping the Eighth amendment. The Eighth amendment gives unborn foetuses and pregnant women an equal right to life – and bans abortion. As of 2013, the only time an abortion is permitted is when the mother’s life is at immediate risk. Any termination that doesn’t meet this criteria means the woman and practitioners face up to 14 years in jail. Even in cases of rape, women cannot have an abortion.
Polls have shown mixed results. Some suggest that Yes voters will win by a landslide (and the Eighth will be repealed). Others are suggesting that it will be much tighter, and No voters could have a very marginal win. Should Ireland vote to repeal the Eighth amendment, the Irish government have stated they’ll pass legislation allowing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
It’s still restricted access, but it’s a start. Currently, around 9 Irish women a day travel to abortion clinics in the UK, just to access treatment, paying a substantial amount of money to do so. Abortion pills cannot be administered at home, but must be done at the clinic. Because of this, many women face the pregnancy terminating whilst on public transport (or the plane), on their way home. Women that discover their foetus will not be viable outside of the womb due to health issues, or have been raped by a family member, have to board a plane to a different country, just to exercise their right to bodily autonomy. How can that be acceptable, in the 21st century?
The campaigns for both sides have been controversial, but the Vote No campaign has been widely criticised for dishonesty. Recently, Vote No was denounced by Ed Sheeran for their use of his song “Small Bump”, a song written about a woman’s miscarriage – not about abortion as they claim. Adverts on social media conveying anti-repeal messages have also been found to be coming from outside of Ireland, funded by American pro-lifer groups, who view Ireland’s draconian abortion laws as the last bastion in their campaign against women’s reproductive rights. As well as this, the lack of respect for scientific fact employed by the group, who misrepresent the development of foetuses by suggesting they can feel pain in the first trimester, has been criticised.
One of the most common pro-life arguments I see banded around is that women who have abortions are just refusing to “take responsibility”. Not only is this completely incorrect, it doesn’t take into account the huge range of reasons why a woman may choose to have an abortion. Women in Ireland who have faced health issues tell how they were warned by consultants “I’m not going to prison” when they asked for a termination. The pro-life lobby in Ireland are so scared of giving women the right to choose, they censor any abortion-related information or support.
Other women discover mid-way through the pregnancy that the foetus has a fatal abnormality, and will die in the womb or minutes after birth. The woman is treated merely as a vessel and told she must carry it to term – despite the immense distress of having to give birth to a deceased child. These aren’t women terminating because it’s convenient.
As I said earlier in this piece, the only factor that legalises an abortion in Ireland is the woman’s life being in danger. But sadly that wasn’t in place in 2012, or Savita Halapannavar may still be here today. Savita asked for a termination, as she was in throes of a miscarriage, at 17 weeks into the pregnancy, and her health was suffering. She was refused and told “this is a Catholic country”. That evening, she developed sepsis and sadly died. The Doctors could not (and did not) take decisive action because they merely deemed her health to be at risk – not her life.
This isn’t the first time brutal control over a young woman’s body in Ireland has made the news. In 1991, a 14 year old girl only known as “X” became pregnant after she was raped by a neighbour, and as a result was suicidal and wanted an abortion. Her family planned for her to have a termination in the UK, but Ireland’s Attorney General intervened to prevent them leaving. Women receiving cancer treatment aren’t allowed an abortion, and some girls receiving strong medication for other conditions have to take a pregnancy a test before being given it – they will be denied treatment if it could adversely affect a foetus.
Life at any cost is the goal of many Vote No supporters, regardless of how pregnancy may harm the quality of life of women. One cannot escape from the sense that many of the anti-choice lobby wish to punish women. They use rhetoric like “women deserve better than abortion”. No. Women deserve better than being told what to do with their bodies. Women in Ireland deserve better than having to board a RyanAir flight, just so they can access the basic procedure that women all over the world have access to. The tagline “Love Both” being used by anti-choice groups is laughable. Usually when I love someone, I don’t embark on a campaign to restrict their rights to have control of their own body.
What the Vote No campaign seem unaware of is that banning abortion doesn’t reduce the number of abortions. It merely reduces the number of safe ones. Currently, Irish women are having to buy abortion pills online. Some have even spoken about throwing themselves down flights of stairs in desperation. Untruths and scaremongering from Vote No campaigners, such as suggesting voting to repeal would lead to ‘on-demand abortions up to birth’, when 92% happen in the first trimester, show their lack of education on the matter.
It’s really quite simple. The state has no right to mandate that a woman should go through with an unwanted pregnancy. Women should be trusted to make the right decision for themselves and their bodies, and they should be given access to the healthcare that makes doing so possible. In the 21st century, there is simply no excuse for women to be treated in this way. Ireland should vote to repeal the Eighth on the 25th of May.