#repealthe8th: Why Ireland’s abortion laws belong in the past

Abortion – one of the most discussed and defining issues of modern times in Ireland. As per 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.” In simpler terms, the Eighth Amendment acknowledges abortion in Ireland as being illegal and therefore a criminal offence. Abortion, however, has been a criminal offence in Ireland since the 1800’s under the “Offences Against the Person Act 1861”, but a referendum was held in 1983 to induce a change to the constitution. On the contrary, in 2013, it was decided that abortion can be legally performed in Ireland if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life, including through the risk of suicide.

Speaking from a personal point of view, the fact that it’s 2016 and a modern day country in the western world still illegalises abortion is preposterous. The amendment denies all pregnant women in Ireland access to basic healthcare which should be a right, and instead forces almost 3,500 girls and women in Ireland to travel to the UK to access abortion services. Alongside the emotional affects a pregnancy and the subsequent decision to go through with an abortion has, a pregnant woman in Ireland will therefore have the additional stress of money, accommodation and travel. This brings me onto one of the most controversial and widely discussed cases in Ireland.

Abortion Protest.jpg

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament” a pro-choice demonstration in Ireland, 1992.

 

In late 1991, a 14-year-old girl is raped by a man who was later discovered to have been sexually abusing her since the age of 12. The female victim, who was known in the media as “Miss X”, consequently became pregnant from this sexual assault. Due the illegality of abortion in Ireland, the victim and her parents planned to travel to the UK in order for an abortion to occur.

As the victim and her family were also taking action against the rapist, they enquired to the Attorney General whether DNA could be taken from the unborn child to prove to the courts that the rapist was indeed the father. However, as they arrived in London for the abortion, the Attorney General actually obtained an injunction preventing them leaving the country and therefore the abortion. During the injunction trial, the victim made her mother aware of how she constantly contemplated seriously injuring herself or committing suicide in order to end her turmoil. Despite this, the judge ordered that the victim must not leave Ireland for a period of 9 months, completely disregarding her emotional state.

Of course, an appeal was made to the Supreme Court in the hope they would overrule the judge’s decision. Fortunately, after weeks of stress and pain, the Supreme Court found in favour of the victim and she was allowed to travel to London for an abortion. However, it was understood that the girl suffered a miscarriage at a hospital before undergoing abortion procedures.

This is just one of thousands of cases that still occur today. Despite the constant instances where women’s care and basic human rights have been neglected, the Eighth Amendment continues to inflict emotional distress on women in Ireland. A March 2016 poll carried out by Red C and Amnesty International concluded that 72% of people want abortion decriminalised, alongside a massive 87% who want access to abortion expanded. Support is growing, however pressure needs to be put onto the Irish government to at least propose another referendum on the issue for the sake of thousands of women a year. Pro-choice does not mean anti-life.

Before I finalise this post, I’d like to avert attention towards campaigns set up in support of repealing the Eighth Amendment. RepealEight is a coalition of 60+ organisations who fight to raise awareness for how urgent it is to repeal this amendment. You can find them on www.repealeight.ie or @repealeight. You could also donate to their cause or subscribe to their mailing list. There is also a growing artists’ campaign to repeal the eighth amendment, which has gathered almost 3,000 signatures from artists so far, and their website is www.artistsrepealthe8th.com.

I’m aware that the majority of people who have read my posts so far don’t reside in Ireland, and therefore this post may be their first instance of hearing about this amendment. If you are one of these people, I urge you to research more into this as I have and make even more people aware. Just because it isn’t happening to you, or even near you, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening elsewhere. Women should not be told what they can and cannot do with their bodies. The Eighth Amendment needs to go, and quickly. Thank you for reading and please spread the word. #repealthe8th

 

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