The campaign calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution has been around in full force for the past two years, and perhaps at this point, you feel overwhelmed by the endless chatter, protest and debate  – but how much do you really know about the Repeal movement? Áine McGee reports

In a Nutshell

Currently, the Irish constitution has this little clause called the Eighth Amendment. 

“The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Under this amendment, the unborn child of a woman is given the same rights as the mother, effectively banning abortion without reason in Ireland. It was voted in in 1983 by the Irish people with a 53% voter turnout and passed 2:1.

Photo: Jerry Kiesewetter

It Was Acceptable in the 80’s

To give it some cultural context, 1983 was the year when seatbelts were finally considered mandatory in the UK, the space shuttle Challenger had just launched, and Culture Club was zooming up the charts. We teased our hair, wore loud makeup and presenters such as Jimmy Saville, and Rolf Harris were never off the telly.

It would be fair to say that a lot has changed in the 34 years since that law was implemented and the Ireland of today is almost unrecognisable in comparison. So why are our abortion laws so ?

In my opinion, it’s not just a question of women’s rights, but what we, as a society feel that women are worth. Are we not worth the right to our body, to decide if we want to carry a baby; to change our lives? Right now, it seems not.

Which Side Are You on?

Of course, there are two sides to this story.  In one corner, we have the Pro-life lobby headed by the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (P.L.A.C), and in the other, we have the pro-choice group headed by The Abortion Rights Campaign.

The PLAC is against abortion in any circumstance and believes that legally, mother and unborn child are equal and should be treated as such. They are of the opinion that the unborn child is a human child as soon as the egg is fertilised and immediately has all of the rights of any other Irish person. 

The pro-choice side believes that women have a higher right than their unborn child and within those rights should be able to choose whether they wish to complete their pregnancy; should they be faced with medical danger, or life threatening situations such as suicide.

What Are We Fighting For?

So what are myself, and thousands of other Irish women, protesting about at marches and rallies across the country?

We are fighting for an Ireland that doesn’t let mothers die because physicians won’t perform a medical abortion, or lets victims of rape or incest be reminded every day of their trauma, and is willing to exile Irish mothers when they need help and provide nothing for them when they come home. 

In the past year, my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have been flooded with campaigns relating to the Eighth Amendment, some positive and others negative. But I feel like there has been some confusion about what the Repeal project is hoping to achieve, so let me clear a few things up.

Repeal is NOT fighting for late stage abortions, casual abortions or unregulated abortions. What it is fighting for is the freedom of choice for the woman to decide, when in a life-threatening situation, if she wishes to terminate her pregnancy.

Currently, medical abortions are technically legal in Ireland, under complete control of the appointed physician. However, the ‘stigma’ around abortions, caused by our inability as a nation to separate church and state, leads to many doctors not considering it a valid option for their patient.

 Karen Axelrad Flickr

Something Needs to Change

Savita Halappanavar died in 2012 due to the late action of her doctor to perform an abortion in spite of the fact that her unborn child was not compatible with life and was causing her health to deteriorate past ‘life threatening’ which should be the medical marker to allow for a medical abortion.

The idea that doctors will only consider terminating a pregnancy when the mother is dangerously close to death is beyond my level of understanding and something I hope never to have to learn to accept.

The people campaigning to change abortion laws in this country protest because they want to make sure this never happens again. But also, that woman forced into situations of pregnancy have the autonomy to make a decision about their body and that they will be fully supported by the medical staff in Ireland.

Milestones in the Movement

In 1992, three referenda were held, with two of them passing. These two referenda guaranteed a women’s freedom to travel abroad for an abortion and obtain the freedom to access information about abortion in Ireland. Previous to this, in 1981, approximately 3,600 women annually were leaving Ireland to seek an abortion in England.

Throughout this campaign, it seems as if the pro-choice side has been forced into a pigeon hole which labels us as ‘unmotherly’ and ‘inhumane’. Here’s the thing; we are under no illusion that any women could emotionlessly have an abortion and return to life as if nothing had changed. 

Regardless of the reasons for the procedure, we are still women, we are still human, and we will always be affected by this choice. What we need is support from our country. We need to be able to come home and feel settled into a safe space with resources and help being offered to us. 

What we, as people, do not need is the feeling of national exile and judgement for taking control of our life and the awareness that there are no medical professionals that can help us with the issues following such a procedure.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying: “if you want an abortion, just travel, why do we need it here?”

The truth is that there are a myriad of reasons and women seek terminations for a wide variety of reasons. You have girls who are in dysfunctional family systems, those who are in the sex industry, women who have been raped, teenage pregnancies and mothers that are close to death due to their pregnancies. The list goes on.

Reducing women’s options so that they must travel for treatment ignores people who are less financially stable, not mentally able to endure the hardship of the trip or those that are so incapacitated they can’t move. These women are at a huge disadvantage, and it is one that could make the difference between life and death.

Photo: Corinne Kutz

A Generational Divide

Statistically, pro-life supporters tend to be above 30 years old, with pro-choice supporters being the millennial generation below 30. Considering these age brackets, it’s no surprise that the pro-choice campaign exists mainly on social media. This kind of generation divide has this strange effect of both sides not really knowing what is happening with the general population.

As a woman in my twenties, I find myself surrounded by people with similar opinions. I don’t put a huge amount of thought into those opposing my personal opinions because it seems almost fictional. I haven’t spoken to many pro-life supporters and therefore naturally consider it to be a small group, and I’m sure this happens vice versa. As a normal citizen supporting a cause in such a small country, it baffles me how the groups can be so divided.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I would urge anyone unsure of their stance on Repeal to give us; the ladies, sisters and daughters of Ireland, the option to make this difficult medical decision in our own right should we find ourselves in a position that requires it. 

It’s high time we provided women in Ireland with reproductive health services which are in line with best medical practice and international human rights standards. Anything less is an outrage.

Additional Image Credits

March forward pic: Guido van Nispen.Jonathan Eyler: Women’s March, January 21, 2017, Chicago.March forward pic.Guido van Nispen Future is female.Guido van Nispen