[Disclaimer: I tried to write this as factually and objectively as possible; it proved difficult. The first section is factual; the second is opinion and entirely my own (so skip if you wish!). I am conscious as I write this that I am a woman who has always had access to reproductive rights, and who has never had an abortion, and thus I am writing from a particular angle. I am always open to and hoping to learn from others’ experiences and views, so if you have any quibbles with the opinion section, please direct them to me, Sophie, rather than to Sanya or A Bloody Good Cause in general.]
REPEAL THE EIGHTH
This Friday (May 20th) sees a historic referendum take place in the Republic of Ireland, in which voters will cast their ballot as to whether to repeal the eighth amendment of the national constitution.
- What is the eighth amendment?
In 1983, a vote was taken to add an amendment to the country’s existing constitution, asserting that the right of an unborn child was equal to that of the mother carrying it.
- What is the impact of the eighth amendment on women’s health in Ireland?
As such, a doctor is obliged to take as much action to save the life of a foetus as to save the life of a mother. As a result, if a woman is pregnant with a child with a fatal foetal abnormality, she cannot terminate the pregnancy in Ireland, but must carry it full term, and give birth to it, for it to die. Likewise, if the baby had a life-limiting illness, the mother would not be offered a termination in Ireland.
- Can women in Ireland ever access abortion?
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 decreed that a woman may be offered a legal termination of her pregnancy if the pregnancy meant she were likely to die due to physical or mental illness.
Women are also permitted to travel abroad for a termination. However, this of course comes with a caveat: having the money to be able to afford travel, accommodation and procedure, and having the ability to take time off work for the trip.
- What would repealing the eighth amendment mean for women in Ireland?
Effectively, abortion would be legalised – although still controlled more restrictively than many other European countries: “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.” As a consequence, a woman would be able to legally have an abortion up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy (as opposed to 24 weeks in the UK), or, if the foetus had a fatal abnormality, up to 6 months into the pregnancy.
- Who supports the repeal and why?
The Together For Yes campaign, made up of over 70 organisations and co-led by the National Women’s Council, the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the Abortion Rights Campaign, is campaigning for a ‘more compassionate Ireland’ whose laws ‘reflect the reality of people’s lives’ and are ‘rooted in the experiences of women and their families’.
- Who opposes the repeal and why?
The Protect the 8th campaign’s arguments for voting no to repealing the 8th include finding ‘solutions’ to provide ‘real, authentic choices for women faced with unplanned pregnancies’. Their Plan4Life includes better medical care and financial support for expectant mothers, more pregnancy centres around Ireland and establishing a State Adoption Agency for Irish couples to adopt Irish babies.
THE AWKWARD OPINION BIT
Abortion is an incredibly sensitive and difficult topic, and still very much taboo. When I was younger, I used to believe I would never be able to have an abortion, such as would be the psychological trauma down the line. I learnt about abortion at my ex-Catholic school as part of our GCSE on Christian Ethics, so learnt the ‘Some Christians believe…’ and ‘Some non-Christians believe’ exam-sentence-starter patter. I learnt about the Biblical sanctity of life as well as the medical reasons for abortion.
When I was in my late teens, I went to an exhibition at the Natural History Museum, which showed you the different stages of foetal development. I could not believe the sheer tininess of the thing; it reassured me that having an abortion did not necessarily mean killing a baby, but essentially flushing a co-existent bunch of cells out the way.
When I was in my early 20s, I read Caitlin Moran’s sardonic and (for want of a better word) ballsy How to Be a Woman. In it, she talks candidly about having an abortion early on in a pregnancy, without telling her husband – not for fear of telling him, but for sheer practicality and timing. At this stage, she and her husband already had a young family and were established in their careers and lifestyle, and she simply felt no need to alter the good thing they had going. Reading a woman I admired write so honestly and unemotionally about abortion again rationalised my perspective on how I might feel should I find myself in that situation.
On a righteous level, it makes me so angry to hear of emotively-driven PR campaigns that shame women away from choosing what is right for them, for their bodies, for their relationships, for their futures; that ‘compassion’ is lacking that the Together for Yes campaign is pushing for. For a woman to feel societal guilt and sadness, and to bear the emotional weight of implied murder, is cruel and vindictive, and indicative of a society that prioritises a woman’s baby-bearing capacities over every other thing she has to give, even at the expense of her own socioeconomic freedom (as Ireland’s current system penalises poorer women, unable to travel overseas for a termination).
On an emotional level, carrying a baby with a fatal foetal condition, knowing that it will die, is a traumatic experience for all involved. Giving birth to a baby which will grow up with a life-long illness can be an act of extreme love and learning, but also an act of suffering upon mother and child. I remember my own mother saying to me with her usual candid honesty and quiet emotional strength, that if she had found out that either I or my brother had had a debilitating illness, she would most likely not have continued the pregnancy. Far from being affronted, I fully respect that. How much is it fair to ask us to sacrifice for an unknown future?
Aside from medical issues, the expectation that every woman should have a maternal instinct, and should bear any and every seed that lands upon her fruitful womb, is not only outdated, but unrealistic. Accidents happen; contraception fails; circumstances are not always conducive. To claim in publicity campaigns that every foetus is a bouncy, bonny baby is not just incorrect (1 in 10 pregnancies in the UK end in miscarriage), but is cruel: Protect the 8th’s website has a section ‘See Who I Protect’, in which one of the images shows a yawning newborn in a knitted hat with the caption ‘I protect babies. The majority of abortions in countries where abortion is legal are committed against perfectly healthy babies.’ A masterclass in propaganda.
Denying a woman the right to choose denies her agency to say that she cannot be freed from something that she does not want; that that which creates life should not also have the power to take it away. For Plan4Life to suggest that instead of aborting, a woman should see the pregnancy full-term and have the baby adopted, misses the point.
Surely what we need in the world in its current state is less judgment, more acceptance and greater support for the choices we make that our wholly ours to make? Before we are mothers, we are women, and before we are women, we are people. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act states that we have the right to live our lives privately without government interference. I cannot see any way in which repealing the 8th would do anything other than support that.
Until next month,