Ahead of the referendum, Roisin Guyett-Nicholson argues that repeal is the only choice.
Earlier this week, some Love Both canvassers knocked on my door to ask me to vote no in May. They asked me if I wanted any information on the upcoming referendum. I don’t think I was quite what they were expecting.
I have been pro-choice and pro-repeal since I was in secondary school, and since coming to college my views have only strengthened. I am currently doing a Masters in History, which I also studied for my undergrad. I have spent a lot of time studying the history of welfare in Ireland, particularly the history of maternal welfare.
The 8th amendment is only the latest in a long line of issues relating to the control of women in this state. Reading sources from the early 20th Century to now, it is clear that what women wanted and needed was not a primary concern for those in charge of hospitals, churches, or schools. What was a concern however, was controlling people. If you lose the mother you lose the family.
“Our society has comparatively been one of the most conservative in Europe, particularly in relation to the way we treat women.”
It was not solely a Catholic Church effort either. Ireland, as an island, is a relatively conservative place. Our society has comparatively been one of the most conservative in Europe, particularly in relation to the way we treat women.
That is why it makes no sense to me when pro-life people argue that repeal is a ‘radical’ move. It is not. Ireland is the only country in Western Europe that does not allow women to access abortion for any reason the woman deems necessary. By repealing the 8th, we would only be coming in line with wider European practice and standards.
Furthermore, access to abortion is already possible in Ireland. If I were to have a crisis pregnancy tomorrow, I would be easily able to travel to England. Both my partner and I could comfortably afford it, and I have plenty of family in London.
Travelling to access abortion services is a realistic choice for me, but it is not for so many others, the hard cases that the pro-life side refuse to acknowledge.
What about Sheila Hodgers, who died in agony in 1983 because she was refused cancer treatment? Refused treatment because she had breast cancer. Both she and her unborn baby died. How is that loving both?
What about Ms Y? The refugee who was refused an abortion in the state but was unable to travel outside Ireland to access the service she so desperately needed. She had been raped in her home country and did not wish to carry on the pregnancy. She refused food and fluids, as she would rather die than carry on with the pregnancy. Eventually she had a C-section at 26 weeks. How was she supported?
What about the countless women, who are forced to carry pregnancies to term, knowing that the baby will not survive outside of the womb? Everyone in Ireland knows that woman. Maybe she has not said anything to you, but you know her.
Recently someone I know lost a baby. Is it right that my first thought was ‘thankfully the baby doesn’t have a heartbeat, so the mother won’t be refused the care she needs’?
“Abortions for Irish women are already happening. We just need to provide better support.”
For a lot of women, they can already access abortion services by travelling, but it is the hard cases that suffer the most. They might be the minority of abortions sought by Irish women but they are the ones that need it most.
This is something that the pro-life lobby fails to deal with appropriately. Abortion is available to people with the money to travel or to buy pills online. The 8th amendment doesn’t stop people accessing the service. It only stops people accessing it safely.
An argument often put forward by the Love Both group is that the time it takes to book a trip to England is the time they needed to decide not to opt for an abortion. For many women, the extra time needed to book travel and accommodation forces them to make a decision before they are ready.
What we need is better counselling services for women in crisis pregnancies. For doctors to be able to give better, more appropriate advice, rather than directing people to Well Women centres. We can only get this with the removal of the 8th amendment so medical professionals are not afraid of giving women all the options. Abortions for Irish women are already happening. We just need to provide better support.
Ultimately, this debate comes down to consent. Many pro-life people accept that a woman has bodily autonomy, which is violated in rape. However, they do not extend this autonomy when a woman becomes pregnant. Before the 12 weeks limit being proposed by the government, the fetus/baby is not able to survive outside the body of the mother. It needs the permission of the mother to continue to grow.
If the mother declines to consent to that permission, it is her right to terminate the pregnancy, and nobody has the right to tell her not to.
If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one. Don’t stop me, or my family, my friends, or Ms Y or Sheila Hodgers from accessing what we need. If you want to support Irish women, then vote yes to repealing the 8th amendment on May 25th.