Imagine living somewhere where your body does not fully belong to you, it belongs to your unborn foetus. Imagine being financially, physically, or mentally unable to raise a child and having to have one. Imagine being unable to terminate a pregnancy unless your life was endangered. Imagine being one of the estimated 5,000 women a year who travel abroad to have an abortion.
For Irish women this is their reality, they don’t have to imagine it. Under Irish law abortion is illegal, even when the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape, or there are foetal abnormalities. This is a result of the Eighth Amendment (1983), which makes the lives of foetuses and mothers equal – an amendment which has been criticised by the UN and Amnesty International. It passed by 67%.
At this point, it is worth noting that Ireland in 1983 was a very different place to Ireland today. It was a country where being gay was illegal, as was divorce, and unmarried pregnant women were sent to workhouses. Contraception was illegal, and remained illegal until 1985. In 1992, a case went to the Supreme Court called “The X Case”, where a 14-year-old girl was pregnant from rape, suicidal, and Ireland were trying to stop her from flying to England for an abortion. This was allowed, and led to the Supreme Court ruling that women had a constitutional right to abortion if it would save her life. However, three 1993 referenda revealed the electorate wanted the threat of suicide to be grounds for abortion, women to be able to travel abroad for abortions, and freedom of access to abortion information. However, organisations like the Crisis Pregnancy Agencies and religious organisations are not supportive of this.
This amendment, colloquially called “the eighth”, leads at least 5,000 women every year to leave the country for an abortion, and 2,000 women a year to take illegally obtained abortion pills. The most common country to travel to is Britain, where abortion is legal until the 24th week of pregnancy. The total number of women estimated to have left Ireland to have an abortion since 1983 is 170,000. Currently, if a woman is caught accessing an illegal abortion, she faces up to 14 years in prison. To compare, a rapist in Ireland gets an average sentence of five to ten years.
Ireland is historically an incredibly Catholic country, with the church having a tight grip, but times appear to be changing. The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (2013) allows abortion should a mother’s life be endangered, from physical illness or suicide, which has to be agreed by two medical practitioners. And this year, on May 25th, Ireland will vote in a referendum to say whether or not the eighth should be repealed. The Irish Government have agreed to allow unrestricted abortion up until week 12 of pregnancy should Ireland vote to repeal the amendment.
The pro-choice side don’t hate children, or want to kill them, they just want people to have autonomy over their bodies. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves. It’s about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families,” which really is the crux of the argument.
Both sides of the campaign have strong feelings for why the amendment should or should not be repealed, that much is clear, but a body is a body. It is not a vessel, a house, something for the church to control, or the property of anyone else. Some pro-choice supporters don’t agree with abortion, but want the choice to be there for others. They hope nobody would have to have one, but they know that sometimes the choice is necessary.
You’d hope that the right to safe abortion in their home country without resorting to pills from the internet, leaving the country, backstreet abortions or hangers, isn’t a radical one, but it still seems that way for a large group of people in Ireland today. And sure, you can just fly to England, but not everyone can afford that. Neither can everyone afford the couple of hundred euros (minimum) a year birth control.
It shouldn’t have to be this hard to take control over your own body. #RepealThe8th this May, and allow people to make their own choice about what happens to them, instead of the church. Nobody should have to feel like having autonomy over their body is a crime.