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As the 8th amendment remains the primary topic of discussion in the run up to the general election, Gavin Tracey examines the ongoing debate in the Irish media. 

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In the run up to the next general election, one issue above all others is proving to be hugely divisive, and is receiving a large amount of media attention. That issue is abortion, and more specifically, the campaign to appeal the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution. In a recent poll carried out by the Claire Byrne Live show, over a quarter of people said that this issue would sway the way they would vote.

What exactly is the 8th amendment? It was adopted after a referendum in 1983 after a concerted effort from the pro life lobby, and to put it in simple terms, it equates the life of a foetus with that of a fully grown woman. It lends them equal protection under the law, which has in the past led to some gruesome consequences.

Take the case from 2014, in which an asylum seeker was legally forced to undergo a caesarean section to give birth to a child conceived after she was brutally raped. She requested a termination after 8 weeks, claiming she was suicidal. After being refused, she threatened to go on hunger strike. After this a court order was obtained and she was forced to deliver the baby prematurely.

When talking about the case, the Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said “I don’t think that anybody has established the right of a mother to terminate the pregnancy because she feels that she’s at risk of suicide”. Unfortunately this is the prevailing mindset amongst those who seek to inhibit the rights of women to choose for themselves what is best for them. It is at once both spectacularly demeaning and quasi-authoritarian, a sinister “we know what’s best for you” mindset.

The unquestionable reality is this: Irish women have abortions.

Savita Halappanavar was another victim of the 8th amendment. In 2012, after being refused a termination on the grounds of Ireland being a “Catholic Country”, she died of septicaemia, a fate that could have been prevented with a procedure that is commonplace in nearly every other European country.

The unquestionable reality is this: Irish women have abortions. Many travel to England and The Netherlands, some purchase abortion pills online. Between January 1980 and December 2014, at least 163,514 women and girls travelled from the Republic of Ireland to access safe abortion services in another country. Perhaps what is most deplorable about the pro-life stance is their total unwillingness to face up to these facts. If one can ever get them to address the issue head on, the answer is usually a variation of the old “not in my back yard” argument. The current system does nothing to prevent Irish women having abortions, rather it just exports the problem.

Having an abortion is an extremely traumatic and difficult ordeal to undertake. No woman takes the decision lightly, and it is deeply insulting to suggest that women somehow need protection from themselves. Just read the moving accounts written by women like Róisín Ingle and Tara Flynn, and you will see just how difficult it really is. But are we really to pretend that we are helping these women by forcing them to travel, often by themselves, to terminate their pregnancies?

The current system does nothing to prevent Irish women having abortions, rather it just exports the problem.

On Tuesday 15th September, The Vincent Browne show held a debate on whether or not the 8th amendment should be repealed, or if it should be the subject of a referendum. TD Clare Daly and Dr Peadar O’Grady argued the pro-choice position, Ms. Daly calling the amendment “a monument to our hypocrisy”. Cora Sherlock from the Pro Life Campaign was part of the debate, and stated categorically that she does not believe that the issue should be the subject of a referendum. Sherlock can at least be credited for being consistent: apparently neither women nor the electorate know how to decide for themselves, and we should all look to Cora Sherlock for guidance. She spoke a lot about the stories of women who regret having abortions, and frequently uses the hashtag “#womenhurt” on twitter.

However, it was the very voices of ordinary women whom Cora claims to represent that were excluded from the debate at the last minute, ostensibly on the grounds of gender balance. A representative from the group Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland (TFMR) and the blogger Jan Ní Shuilleabháin were prevented from sharing their abortion stories on air.

In one sense, Ms. Sherlock does have a point. Women do hurt. Women hurt when they are forced to leave the country to procure an abortion. Women hurt when they are at risk of being criminalised for making a decision they feel is best for them. Women hurt when they are villified and called murderers by pro-life moral crusaders. Women hurt, but they would hurt an awful lot less if Cora would maybe dismount from her high horse and stand with them in their call for a repeal of the 8th amendment.