On May 25 there will be a Referendum on the Eighth Amendment, or Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. You will be asked whether or not to delete that Article and replace it with a new Article. The proposed wording of the new Article is as follows: Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.
So what does that mean, and why does it matter? Since its insertion in 1983, more than 180,000 women and girls have travelled abroad to obtain an abortion. In recent years, the number of women travelling has decreased with the availability of the abortion pill online. Women take these safe, but illegal, pills alone and without advice or support from their doctor and can face up to 14 years in prison.
Many women in Ireland who have been forced to travel or procure pills online feel alone and stigmatised - this has to stop. As An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in January, when he announced we would hold a Referendum: “This is a decision about whether we want to continue to stigmatise and criminalise our sisters, our co-workers, and our friends.” Voting Yes means a woman can access abortion here in Ireland, under the care of her own doctor.
Many women have had harrowing experiences under the Eighth Amendment, and some have lost their lives. The Eighth Amendment also affects women who choose to continue with their pregnancies, as was explored in an earlier article in the Galway Advertiser, but those who make the decision to travel abroad for a termination often do so alone and with little support. Some of these women’s heartbreaking stories can be found on www.everydaystories.org, www.togetherforyes.ie, or on the ‘In Her Shoes - Women of The Eighth’ Facebook page. All of these pages provide a platform for women to tell their stories, and before voting I would strongly urge you to read some of them.
As can be seen in the above figures, the Eighth Amendment does not stop abortions from happening or reduce their numbers; it simply makes the process more difficult and potentially unsafe for women. Just think, if you had to travel for any other medical procedure, how abandoned and scared you would feel. Our restrictive abortion laws disproportionately affect vulnerable women and girls in Ireland.
'Beyond the 24th week of pregnancy, there will be no abortions except in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities'
When faced with this difficult decision, women must take into account what is best for them and their families. Over half of all women who access abortion care abroad are already parents. Further to this, the vast majority were using one or more forms of contraception. If a woman decides to have an abortion, she can only access care if she can find the money for travel and for treatment, and if she has suitable documents to get in and out of the country. She also needs to be physically well enough to make the journey.
It is impossible for us to know how many people have been prevented from accessing care because they could not find the money, or could not leave the country, due to constraints ranging from their migration status, to physical inabilities, age, economic constraints, and beyond. Voting Yes means all women can have equal access to necessary healthcare treatment in Ireland, regardless of their passport, physical health, or income.
What happens if the referendum is passed?
What will the compassionate healthcare system look like? The Government has proposed a GP led abortion care model, similar to that of Switzerland. This legislation will be in addition to improved sexual education, and access to contraception, with a view to reducing the need for abortion access.
Should the referendum pass, abortion will be accessible, under proposed legislation, within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (dated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period ). This time-frame was first proposed by Fianna Fáil during the Oireachtas Committee hearings in order to allow victims of rape or incest to access terminations without having to prove they were raped. A three-day waiting period will be enforced. After the 72 hours has elapsed, an abortion pill will be administered to a woman by her doctor or a gynaecologist or obstetrician, given they are on a specialist register, should she choose to continue with an abortion.
'Abortion will not be available for reason of disability, such as Down Syndrome'
After 12 weeks, an abortion will only be carried out if there is a risk to a woman’s life or a risk of serious harm to her health. In this instance, two doctors will be asked to determine if an abortion should be permitted. However, terminations in these instances will not be carried out beyond viability, which is reached at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Beyond the 24th week of pregnancy, there will be no abortions except in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. No gestational limits will apply in these circumstances as these may not be detected until much later in a pregnancy. Abortion will not be available for reason of disability, such as Down Syndrome, only for fatal foetal abnormalities, in which case the foetus has been determined to be incompatible with life. Approximately two women a week travel to the UK for an abortion because they have received a tragic diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. For more information, and to see some real life stories, visit the ‘Terminations for Medical Reasons Ireland’ Facebook page.
On May 25, please vote for compassion and care for women, and trust us to make our own decisions. A woman you know might need your Yes.