On Monday the Minister for Health Simon Harris reaffirmed that the penalty for taking abortion pills will remain at 14 years' imprisonment unless there is a Yes vote in tomorrow's referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
The current legislation dealing with abortion states that anyone procuring abortion, including doctors, may be liable to a prison sentence of 14 years. The Attorney General, when examining a private members Bill which called for the sentence to be reduced to a fine of €1, advised that this was unconstitutional. The advice obtained by the Minister for Health was that the penalty of 14 years was legally required and therefore abortion cannot be decriminalised while the Eighth Amendment remains in place.
In the past 12 months, there has been an increase of 190 per cent from one pill provider alone (Women Help Women ). These pills are already used in the management of miscarriage in Ireland but the risk of a woman dying from taking these pills unsupervised has been highlighted by doctors throughout this campaign. These women are doing this despite the Eighth Amendment being in place.
Despite being illegal, abortion is a reality in Ireland. It is such a reality that The Saw Doctors wrote the song 'Everyday' about it in 1996. A lyric in the song reminds us; “She’s your one from out our side". Every day at least nine women travel to a different country to access abortion care. Every day at least three women take abortion medication, without any supervision or consultation from their doctor.
After Malta, Ireland has the strictest abortion law in Europe but this has not reduced the rate of abortion here, in fact rates have only increased since the Eighth Amendment. Some European countries - Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland - have only recently legalised abortion, and have seen their abortion rates fall. There is every reason to believe that with the highly regulated legislation the Government is proposing, we will see the same effect here.
Who is voting Yes?
The YES campaign has worked across civil society - uniting people from many different backgrounds and beliefs. Former Attorney General John Rogers; and former Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness have both advocated a Yes vote. In a joint statement, the senior legal figures said the prospect of an alternative Constitutional amendment or wording to deal with the “hard cases” involving rape of incest was “not workable”.
More than 80 per cent of the members of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have also called for a Yes vote. The Master of our National Maternity Hospital, Rhona Mahony has said “the existence of the Eighth Amendment in our Constitution is every day causing women serious risk”. The Rape Crisis Network Ireland have called on a Yes vote as there is no other way to help survivors of rape and "to ensure those pregnant after rape can be supported at home and without stigma".
The Association of Catholic Priests have stated that, "Human life is complex, throwing up situations that are more often grey than black and white and that demand from us a sensitive, non-judgemental, pastoral approach", and have asked that, "A vote cast in accordance with each person’s conscience, whatever the result, deserves the respect of all". This has given many Catholics the courage to vote Yes.
Many farmers are also voting Yes. The former President of the Irish Farmer's Association, Eddie Downey, is among many farmers who have called for a Yes vote saying, "If we give them the support at home and the access to a GP and proper advice, there’s a better chance that they’ll make a different decision and we get a better outcome in a lot of these cases."
What you can do?
Your vote matters. In 1995, the divorce referendum was won by a tiny margin - the equivalent of one vote in each box. Your vote, one vote could make the difference. Beyond that we all need to have that last conversation and encourage everyone who can vote to vote Yes, if they are already voting Yes then make sure they can get to a polling station. This is a once in a lifetime vote to support a woman in your life who one day may need your Yes. Don’t let her down. Vote YES tomorrow.
For more information contact Yvonne Aherne, Galway Together for YES, via [email protected].