Hoping for change in Ireland

By Laura O’Conner

Ireland has failed when it comes to women’s healthcare. On May 25th it ‘s time for a change.

As you read this, around 10 women will travel from Ireland today to the UK and other countries to seek a termination. Some will have family support. Some will be completely alone. Some will have the money to ensure they can stay overnight in the UK in case anything goes wrong. Others will have to fly back home on the same day hoping airport security won’t notice they are in agony and stop them from flying. At the same time, 3 women in Ireland will take abortion pills sourced from the internet -alone and unsupervised. Unable to seek medical treatment when the pain and bleeding get too much for fear they will be prosecuted. This is the reality for women living in the Republic of Ireland in 2018. But this coming Friday, there is a chance to shape the future for the better. Irish voters will be asked whether they want to legalise abortion for up to 12 weeks. And I for one, hope it will be a resounding yes.

Currently, the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution states that the unborn child has an equal right to life to that of the mother. In the Republic of Ireland, abortion is only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, which includes suicide.  This, however, is not an easily applicable law. As we saw with the 2014 case of a young suicidal refugee woman seeking asylum in Ireland, raped in her home country and ordered by an Irish court to continue with her pregnancy to 25 weeks and then forced to undergo a c-section. This young woman, who had come to Ireland to find sanctuary, is said to have asked for a termination when she found out she was 8 weeks pregnant with her rapist’s child.  Instead of protecting her, the law failed this young woman. Her life, health and well-being were not a priority under the 8th amendment.  This has to change.

The 8th amendment has not prevented Irish women from accessing abortions. It has made them unsafe. The 8th amendment pushes abortion underground or exports it to the UK or other European countries. The 8th amendment means medical staff cannot take care of women. They too face jail for up to 14 years if they contravene the 8th. The 8th amendment leaves women isolated, traumatised and often without access to post-abortion health care. Legalising abortion in Ireland will not see women using abortion as a form of contraception as the anti-choice and forced pregnancy campaign so regularly claim.  Abortion is a very difficult and personal choice. Each case is different. Abortion isn’t something women and girls have on their bucket lists. Women have terminations for so many difficult and personal reasons. Women should be able to access this basic right to health care for their own bodies at home without fear of going to jail.

This Friday’s vote is about equality of bodily autonomy, compassion and human decency. The underlining questions facing Irish citizens on Friday are do you trust women to make decisions about their own health and well-being. Or do you want to continue to force women to seek illegal and unsafe abortions?

I have been living outside of Ireland for longer than the 18 month limit and therefore am ineligible to vote. So, to the Irish people who still can, please vote with compassion. For your sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives, daughters and the women in your lives- please vote yes. Please vote to repeal the 8th amendment.