This Saturday thousands of Irish women and men will take to the streets of Dublin to demand choice for Irish women and the fulfilment of our sexual and reproductive rights. The principal demand will be to repeal the 8th Amendment, a provision in our Constitution which equates the life of the unborn with the life of the mother, bestowing the same rights on the fetus as the woman who is carrying it. To break this law by performing or seeking an abortion in Ireland, except in the case of immediate death of the mother, could result in a 14 year prison sentence. Below are eight reasons why this situation can no longer be tolerated.
1. Because not all babies can survive pregnancy: Tragically not all pregnancies are viable. Some babies develop such extreme abnormalities that they do not survive the first few months of gestation and the mother may have a natural miscarriage. Or abnormalities may detected through ultra sound screenings. In other countries where parents discover that their eagerly awaited child has little or no chance of surviving to term or outside of the womb, they are offered a termination to prevent unnecessary grief and risk to the life or health of the mother by carrying the pregnancy to term. In Ireland women may not even be given a diagnosis, or it is given at a late stage, they are given no options, no support, no information. If they can travel, they do, sometimes having to bring their baby home in an ice box or via courier.
2. Because women get ill: Upon getting pregnant women don’t suddenly become super human and invulnerable to all the regular maladies to which the rest of the human race is prone. Sometimes they have accidents, they need treatment for cancer or they suffer from conditions incompatible with pregnancy. Illnesses that may not pose an immediate threat to the life of the mother, but for which going ahead with a pregnancy can have serious implications for a woman’s long-term physical and emotional health. Under our current laws, Irish women are expected to put all thought and care for themselves to one side and dutifully sacrifice their health for the sake of the fetus. Unless, of course, they have the means or possibility to travel or procure pills online.
3. Because sexual violence still plagues women’s lives: If we lived in a world where every sexual act was consensual and pleasurable than we would not have to worry about pregnancy resulting from nonconsensual sex. However, we live in a world where an estimated 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or physical violence at some point in their lives. A world in which women are raped by other family members, their husbands, boyfriends, friends and random strangers. A world in which the aggressors, even when caught red handed, may receive as little as 3 months in prison, but a woman or girl who aborts as a result of rape may receive up to 14 years in prison. A world in which survivors of rape are expected to carry the product of that violence in their uteruses for nine months and be grateful that ‘something good came of it’ regardless of the actual wishes of the survivor.
4. Because accidents happen: The condom breaks or the pill was ineffective or you couldn’t get emergency contraception in time. ‘Little accidents’ like these can happen to anyone, even to the most conscientious of us, over the course of an active sex life. However, if the little accident results in a missed period and an unwelcome surprise, not every woman will want to continue with the pregnancy. Maybe she is only 16 and not ready to become a mother, maybe she is in her final year of college, maybe her partner is unwilling to support her in raising a child, maybe she has three children already and cannot possibly afford to care for another. Maybe she does not even have to give you a reason as to why, at this point in time, she is not willing to become a mother. And what are her options if she finds herself in this situation? Go through with it, put the baby up for adoption, order pills online or book a flight to England.
5. Because mother’s are not valued: Even in 2016, motherhood is still considered to be women’s principal purpose on this planet. To remain childless is to invite pity or scorn. Yet motherhood, as it is lived in 2016, comes with a host of disadvantages. If you are lucky enough, and this largely depends on where you live both in Ireland and globally, you might receive quality maternal care, that will not put your life, your health or the life of your baby at risk. Once you have popped that baby out you will be faced with poor maternity and child benefits, high cost childcare, the principal burden of caring for children and doing house work, lower pay and less chances of promotion. These factors contribute to a situation where motherhood is venerated but the acts of birthing/mothering or parenting are not valued. And ironically, in a country where abortion is illegal, single mothers are still stigmatised as irresponsible, welfare sponges.
6. Because we cannot abide another Anne Lovette, another Miss C, Miss X, Miss Y, another Kerry Babies case, or another Savita Halappanavar: How many more pregnant, suicidal rape victims will it take? How many more women with an unviable pregnancy? How many more women kept on life-support because the 18 week old fetus still has a heart beat? How many mis-carrying women left to die because the fetus has a heart beat? The criminalization of abortion causes thousands of women’s deaths every year. In Ireland it led to the death of Savita. Globally it is a leading cause of maternal mortality, accounting for 13% of all maternal deaths, or 47,000 deaths each year due to unsafe abortion. How many more heartbreaking cases need to be heard in front of the Supreme Court before Ireland starts taking women’s rights, our lives and our health seriously?
7. Because 12 women a day travel to the UK from Ireland to obtain an abortion: Their reasons are multiple but the situation the same: In the UK they can safely and legally attain a simple obstetric procedure to terminate their pregnancy. If carried out in Ireland this could land them in prison for 14 years. They make the journey in silence, shrouded in shame and stigma, unable to share their stories even with their closest friends and families. Yet, in some ways these women are the ‘lucky ones’. They can afford to travel and they do not have to worry about getting a visa. Women living in poverty, migrant and refugee women often do not have the option to travel due to financial or visa constraints. Girls below the age of 18 may also not have the means or the parental consent to travel. Many more order pills online as their only alternative, taking them alone or accompanied and risking possible imprisonment if someone decides to blow the whistle.
8. Because women have a right to bodily autonomy: Women are human beings, we are not incubators, we are not destined to procreate and we should not be forced to become mothers due to our State’s draconian and misogynistic laws. Ireland’s abortion regime is a reflection of a long legacy of state and religious misogyny. The need to control Irish women’s sexuality has resulted in thousands of women imprisoned in Magdalen Laundries until the 1990’s, the denial of access to contraception until 1980, permitting marital rape until 1990, restricting our access to information on abortion and our right to travel, denying us legal divorce until 1997, denying us comprehensive and impartial sex education and continues to deny us access to the full range of reproductive rights, putting our health and our lives at risk. The needs of Irish women have for too long been silenced and the rights of Irish women for too long denied. It is time to recognise our right to bodily integrity and the full range of reproductive choice. For this to happen the 8th Amendment must be repealed.