Suzi Coombs, Galway Pro Choice
Since its introduction into our constitution, the 8th Amendment has been a serious issue of contention.
For many years, women and men have fought for its removal and reproductive rights in Ireland. This May, the Irish people will have the chance to make history and vote to remove the 8th Amendment from the Irish Constitution.
In 1992, the 8th Amendment was at the centre of public debate once again during the X-Case. For those who do not remember, the X-Case involved a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by a neighbour. The girl was suffering from a lot of mental anguish and was suicidal. She wished to terminate the pregnancy and so she travelled to the UK with her parents to access an abortion. Before she went through with the procedure, her parents contacted the Gardaí asking if DNA from the fetus could be used as evidence against the child’s rapist.
At this time, the Attorney General stepped in and declared that it would be unlawful for the girl to terminate the pregnancy. X’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage before the matter was resolved in the courts. The man who raped her served three years in prison.
Though clauses have since been inserted, supposedly to prevent cases like this, there is still much uncertainty because of the 8th Amendment. Doctors find themselves unable to do their jobs, faced with 14 years imprisonment. If you think about the circumstances of this case, ask yourself, would you want to force this child to carry this pregnancy to term?
If not, perhaps then you might consider this: if you agree with abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities, then you do not disagree with the act of abortion itself but perhaps with the manner in which a woman has become pregnant. According to the recent report by the UK Department of Health on Abortion Statistics in 2016, more than half of the people who accessed abortion were using at least one form of contraceptive.
This figure dispels the common misconception that women accessing abortion are somehow irresponsible and thus should be punished somehow (think back to the Magdelene Laundries ). These women who have accessed abortion are not strangers. These figures show that around one in 10 Irish women have had abortions, meaning chances are you know someone who has had one.
In 2016, 38 women from Westmeath gave an Irish address when they travelled to the UK for an abortion. This figure does not account for the women who took safe but illegal abortion pills they bought off the internet. The women of Ireland deserve better than this, they deserve access to safe, legal and compassionate healthcare, at home in Ireland.
Making abortion illegal does not stop it from happening. Irish abortion statistics are proportionately in line with other European countries, so what purpose does the 8th Amendment really serve? It does not stop Irish women having abortions; it simply makes it harder for them to access it.
During the recent proceeding of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, Dr Bela Ganatra of the World Health Organisation said the following: “Our information shows that rates of abortion do not vary owing to the degree of restrictiveness of the law. The statistics show that the level of safety changes as the restrictiveness of the law increases. I would not say Ireland is immune from this.”
Air travel after any medical procedure increases the risk of complications. We cannot continue to export this problem to the UK. People who decide to travel usually opt for a surgical abortion because these are quicker than medical abortions. These people often delay travelling because they need to save up or borrow money for the trip and procedure, meaning they have an abortion later than they would have otherwise.
Doctors in Ireland also cannot directly refer patients to clinics providing abortion care abroad, which is challenging for many patients including those who face language barriers, have literacy issues, or have complex medical conditions. Additionally, only women who can afford to travel can access the healthcare they need, meaning the 8th Amendment disproportionately affects women and pregnant people from minority groups and people living in poverty, of which the number is growing.
Reproductive healthcare should not be a luxury. If you believe that as a country should offer our women the healthcare they need in Ireland and not force them to travel, vote Yes to Repealing the 8th Amendment.