Irish Series: Repeal

Tomorrow, 25th May 2018, is the day that Irish voters go to the polls to take a decision on whether or not to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland. This is a significant day for the country, for the citizens and for Ireland in the eyes of the world.

The 8th Amendment means that the life of a foetus is given an equal right to life to that of the mother, effectively meaning that abortion is prohibited, even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormality. In exceptional circumstances, if there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as opposed to the health) of the mother, doctors can intervene to save the mother’s life over the foetus. Often this intervention takes place too late to save either the baby or the mother.

Many people in Ireland consider this to be reproachable and inhumane in circumstances where a woman cannot decide what happens to her body, how and when a decision is taken or even take steps to protect herself and her family without the potential to be criminalized, as they require the Minister for Justice and Equality’s consent to travel abroad for an abortion. This consent is rarely sought and even rarer given.

The Yes campaigners have been working hard to bring these issues to the fore of Ireland’s psyche for several years, and after years of campaigning for change, have managed to do so. This struggle was not without suffering, and came at the cost of countless women’s lives over the decades, many of which have been openly discussed in the run up to this emotional and controversial referendum, most notably the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died unnecessarily of septicemia following a miscarriage, having been repeatedly refused an abortion.

In a country which has Catholicism at the core, the Repeal campaign has faced an uphill struggle. Many Irish people do not agree with abortion on account of their religious beliefs. However, this is not about whether voters believe in abortion or not. Voters are being asked to decide whether in certain circumstances it should be right for a woman to decide what happens to her body. It is about giving women in Ireland, and not just Irish women, the right to choose what is right for them, their families and their mental health. It is a decision about whether the unborn foetus’ right to life should continue to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution or whether this should be legislated upon, and thereafter strictly regulated.

This decision affects not just Irish women but also asylum-seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking and undocumented women who do not have the right to travel freely between Ireland and the UK to procure an abortion or have the financial means to do so. These women do not have the right to vote in the Referendum and will have no say today.

Many people don’t believe that abortion is right in certain circumstances. However, whether you believe in it or not, the people of Ireland should pass that decision on to women and their families to make. No-one should be subject to a law which inflicts pain and suffering in the way that the 8th Amendment does. No-one should have someone else’s religious beliefs imposed upon them. Abortions take place in Ireland every day of the week. Women travel abroad seeking abortions and will continue to do so, illegally, if the Referendum does not pass. Young women, sisters, daughters, nieces and friends will continue to buy abortion pills online without access to proper medical care. Some will die, by their own hand or as a result of a regime which the State imposes upon them.

If you think that treating women with respect, trusting doctors to do what they have been trained to do and putting an end to inhumane treatment of women, for example where a doctor has to wait until a woman’s fallopian tube has ruptured before that can act on an ectopic pregnancy that they know isn’t viable, then you are a Yes voter, whether you agree with abortion or not.

If you have a vote in Ireland, vote to repeal a bad law, an unchristian and inhumane law, and to change Ireland for the better.

As an Irish woman, Caoimhe Boyce (cboyce@meaby.co.uk) is in favour of Repealing the 8th Amendment. She encourages you to vote if you can.

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