On 25th May 2018, Ireland will be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum as to whether the Irish government should repeal article 40.3.3, also known as the eighth amendment. This amendment forbids abortion in all cases except where the mother’s life is endangered by continuing the pregnancy. In fact, this condition was only added in 2013, prior to which all terminations were illegal. In Irish law, therefore, mother and fetus are recognised as having equal right to life, meaning that any terminations carried out that do not meet the criteria of this law are subject to criminal penalty.
Circumstances where abortion is against the law in Ireland therefore include unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy as a result of rape, and pregnancies where the fetus will not survive outside the womb. In all the above circumstances, under Irish law, a woman must still carry the child to term. As it stands, a woman who accesses an illegal abortion, or anyone who assists a woman in doing so, can face up to 14 years in prison. As a result, on average 10 women a day travel from Ireland to the United Kingdom in order to access an abortion, whilst thousands of abortion pills are seized by Irish Customs Officials.
#RepealThe8th has been the rallying call of those on social media who label themselves as pro-choice and will be voting to legalise abortion in Ireland. It is beyond important to stress that being pro-choice does not necessarily mean that you are pro-abortion. It is not the aim of this article to undermine the enormous, often heartbreaking, decision that is choosing to have an abortion. No one knows better than the woman who is pregnant that the embryo inside her has the potential of life. Being pro-choice simply means a recognition of a woman’s autonomy over her own body, and her ability to make choices regarding the future of that body. Ireland’s current abortion laws are outdated, and inherently misogynistic. What sort of brutal legislation forces a woman to undergo a pregnancy as a result of rape, or a pregnancy where the mother is well aware that she is unable to support the child once it is born? What government forces the parents of a much-wanted baby that will not survive after birth to follow through with the pregnancy, despite knowing the pain that it will end in?
Contrary to the fear mongering coming from anti-abortion campaigners, allowing legal access to abortion does not increase risk of infertility, does not promote abortion as a method of contraception, and does not result in an exponential increase in abortion. Perhaps the most important thing to note is that criminalising abortion does not prevent abortion from happening. It just means that those attempting to access abortions have no medical aid if something goes wrong. As a consequence, countries that criminalise abortion simply promote unsafe abortions as the only option for women who wish to terminate a pregnancy. Ultimately, illegal abortions are a serious health risk to women.
So what does a debate in Ireland have to do with the rest of the world? A vote to decriminalise abortion in Ireland next week would be revolutionary for women across the globe. A country voting to legalise abortion would send a message to global leaders: that womens bodily autonomy is an essential right. In an age where increasingly right-wing politics and hysteria permeates society (yes, America, I’m looking at you), a result that repeals the eighth amendment would empower women to around the world to demand their rights.
I hope with all my heart that tomorrow Ireland is brave enough to turn its back on decades of harmful misogynistic legislation and anti-abortion rhetoric that forces women to become second-class citizens the instant they fall pregant, and embrace a future where women are allowed to make meaningful decisions about their future and health.