Repeal The 8th is the recent campaign in Ireland which has called for a change to the Irish constitution in relation to abortion. If you didn’t know, abortion is illegal in Ireland. It is not permitted in cases of rape, incest or where a woman’s health is affected and is only permitted in cases where there is an immediate risk of danger to the life of the pregnant woman. To understand the impact of this law on the women of Ireland, one must reflect back on some history.
The 1937 Irish Constitution refers to women only as ‘mothers’, and that has been the basis for the misogynistic views that have consistently repressed the choices a woman can make about her own health in the country. Abortion has been against the law in Ireland since the foundation of the State. The 8th Amendment (or Article 40.3.3) was written into the constitution following a campaign by the PLAC (Pro-life Amendment Campaign) with the help of the Catholic Church, due to their fears that court rulings in 1973 in the U.S (about abortion) and in Ireland (about contraception), would lead to abortion being legalised in the country. The amendment itself is wordy and full of the usual legal jargon that is intended to confuse people. What it did, was create an equal right to life of both the pregnant woman and the foetus.
What’s the big deal one might ask?
Well it effectively means that at some stage, a choice must be made between the mother and the unborn.
In real terms, this amendment means that of the 12 women and girls from Ireland who have an abortion every day – 9 travel to the UK and at least 3 risk a 14-year prison sentence to take safe but illegal abortion pills, usually purchased online. These are the women we know about.
The repression of choice does not stop at abortion, however. Condoms could not be purchased by over 18s (without a prescription) until 1985 and then only in 1992 were they made available to purchase by those over 17. The morning after pill was not legalised until 2003 and was not available to purchase without a prescription until 2011. And even with that, a pharmacist in Ireland can refuse to sell the morning after pill to a woman who requests it.
The Eighth Amendment has forced many of us to travel to a different country to be allowed to make a choice about our healthcare, our bodies and our futures. Many of us did so in silence. It was never spoken about again. We became another statistic. But there are also the women who have suffered as a result of the constitution interfering with decisions made about their healthcare.
In 2010, Michelle Harte was being treated for cancer and found out she was pregnant. Her treatment was stopped and she was advised by the hospital to terminate the pregnancy due to the risks to her health. However, the hospital (its ethics forum) decided against allowing the abortion as her life was not in immediate danger. This decision resulted in Michelle travelling to the UK for an abortion. She had to be helped on and off the plane as she was so ill. She sued the state for a violation to her human rights. In 2012, Savita Halappanavar was denied a life-saving abortion as a foetal heartbeat could be detected after the commencement of miscarriage at 17 weeks. She died 6 days later of, an inquest found, sepsis, e-coli and miscarriage.
In 1992, there was a referendum following a case which voted to allow women the freedom to travel abroad for an abortion and to allow the freedom to access abortion information in Ireland. However, this legislation was not introduced at the time, and was only brought into legislation in 2013 under the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act. This bit of legislation also allowed lawful access to abortion in Ireland if there is a risk to the pregnant woman’s life. It states the woman must receive certification from a panel of 2 psychiatrists and 1 obstetrician if the risk is on mental health grounds and the termination must also be the only way of alleviating the risk to life. In what healthcare system in the world are there 3 medical professionals just hanging around waiting to make decisions? Despite this piece of legislation, many doctors fail to perform abortions for women even when they meet the criteria under which it is permissible as there is no statutory guidance.
International Human Rights organisations have noted that the draconian abortion laws in Ireland violate a woman’s rights. On the 25th of May 2018 the people of Ireland have an opportunity to make an historical change. The date has been set for a vote to Repeal the 8th. It is undoubtedly a topic that divides opinion and generates strong views. What’s important to remember is that this campaign is about choice. Those who are in support of this vote for change are not asking for it so that there be a dramatic surge in women having abortions just because they can. It’s about having the right, under the constitution, to make a decision for you, whether it be for healthcare reasons or life choices. No one makes a decision to have an abortion lightly; making it legal in the country won’t change that but it will allow more choice and in any situation we face. Having a choice is what matters most.
Having written a blog recently for International Women’s Day and now writing this, it’s so apparent that in the year the world is celebrating women, it seems we still have a mountain to climb in some areas of our society. Until change occurs, many will continue to make the journey to the UK.
So, to the woman on the plane, let me hold your hand in silence. To the woman in the waiting room, I was scared too. And to every woman who makes the journey, I stand by you.
More details about the campaign can be found at:
All Irish news websites
Any Irish person you meet in the UK