On 25th May, Ireland will hold a referendum on the eighth amendment of it’s constitution, which effectively bans abortion. The proposed legislation would allow for abortion “without specific indication” up to 12 weeks, and then extend the provisions of current legislation to give equal weighting to if the foetus would not be viable outside of the womb. Abortion is currently possible for Irish women, but it comes in the form of illegal and potentially dangerous abortion pills, or by travelling to Britain. Neither of which are cheap, by definition discriminating against those on lower incomes.
Currently, up to 12 women a day travel to the Britain for termination of an unwanted pregnancy. This is fundamentally unacceptable in a 21st century society. Ireland is the only Western democracy which has a constitutional ban on abortion. Abortion is only legal in Ireland if there is an imminent and substantial risk to a woman’s life, including suicide. If a woman is seeking an abortion due to being suicidal, she must submit to an assessment by up to 6 doctors. These doctors then have the power to decide if the woman will be allowed to have a termination. It does not provide for abortions in regards to fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, or incest.
It is important to understand that the proposed legislation specifically doesn’t provide for termination for disabilities of any kind, which is something consistently raised as a red herring by the No campaign; specifically emotively in the case of Down’s Syndrome. There is a test that can be done which could potentially diagnose Down’s Syndrome in the 9th or 12th week of pregnancy, however it is extremely rare due to first its prohibitive cost, and also the fact these results take 2 weeks to come back as they must be sent to the US or UK to be processed and then requires a further test as this original test is not diagnostic. Clearly therefore, it is erroneous to raise the suggestion that women would seek a termination to avoid unwanted pregnancies due to disabilities, when there is absolutely no provision for termination outside of the first 12 week trimester of pregnancy. However what we do ignore is that women who have these disabilities could also find themselves in a crisis pregnancy, with no prospect of an abortion in Ireland under the current legislation.
I actually somewhat admire the sheer chutzpah of the Catholic Church to pontificate to anyone about what the Repeal Campaigners will do to “the babies of Ireland.” Is this the same Catholic Church who imprisoned unmarried women in the Magdalene Laundries, sold their viable and living babies to America without their consent to the highest bidder, and dumped the bodies of up to 800 babies in Septic Tanks at Tuam? How is that for the sanctity of human life? How is that for cherishing all the children equally?
It is raised by the LoveBoth campaign that “1 in 5 babies are aborted in the UK”. Apologies for the boring maths, but I feel it’s important this claim is fully debunked. Abortion rates are usually calculated per 1000 women of childbearing age. The “1 in 5” figure comes from adding the number of abortions (190,406) and the number of live births (696,271). Add them together and you get 886,677, claimed to be the total number of pregnancies. 190,406 divided by 886,677 is approximately 21%. The issue, is that obviously the number of pregnancies in any country is going to be significantly higher than the number of live births. Given that 10-25% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and around 80% of miscarriages occur in the first trimester, before a lot of people even know they’re pregnant; this isn’t a useful or accurate way to measure abortion rates. So an abortion rate of 20% would mean that for every 1000 women of childbearing age, 200 women had a termination. In England and Wales, in 2016, the abortion rate was 16 per 1,000 pregant women aged 15-44. So, 1.6%, not “1 in 5”. This doesn’t look as good on a poster though does it? That’s before even understanding how the proposed legislation is nowhere near as liberal in its provision for terminations as the British legislation.
It will only allow abortions in 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, and abortion will still be unavailable in the North. However they can avail of free NHS abortions in Britain as of October 2017, before then they were charged £900 for something covered under the NHS in the other constituent parts of the UK. As British as Finchley, eh?
I agree wholeheartedly that those who hold the point of view that life begins at conception are entitled to their view. Simultaneously and more importantly, I believe women are entitled to healthcare in their own country, to not be exiled to Britain under a cloud of secrecy returning home unable to tell anyone about the purpose of their absence, to not have to carry the child of their rapist and, fundamentally, to have agency over their own bodies. We cannot continue our current system of exporting our sisters, partners and friends at their own expense because we find the idea of abortion on the island of Ireland unpalatable. We simply must do better.