Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution must be repealed if women in Ireland are to have proper reproductive rights, protection for their health and well-being, and the right to choose parenting, adoption, or abortion.
This is the view of Galway Pro-Choice, which is preparing for the coming launch of its campaign, along with other pro-choice groups in the State, to have Article 40.3.3 - which grants an unborn foetus equal rights to the life of an adult woman - repealed.
Despite The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill being signed into law last week by Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins, this is not the end of the abortion debate in Ireland.
For Galway Pro-Choice, the legislation is limited, offering little in the way of protection for women’s health and reproductive rights, while having the potential to continue to cause problems and leave this troubled issue unresolved.
“The legislation is extremely restrictive,” says GPC member Ciara Dalstra. “It does not cover cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, or incest. These women have been left out and abandoned. Also, as a mother, I look at the case of Savita Halappanavar, and it terrifies me. If I was in the same situation, the legislation may not protect my health or may only allow intervention too late, and my little boy would be left without his mother.”
The group is also concerned by the provision in the legislation to gaol for 14 years any incident of the “destruction of unborn human life”. On this basis a woman who takes abortion inducing pills could be imprisoned. The provision could further stigmatise those who have abortions, ensuring the subject remains unspoken of in Irish society.
Dette McLoughlin, also a GPC member, points out that the new Bill will not end the phenomenon of thousands of Irishwomen travelling to Britain each year to have an abortion. “Many women will still have to travel abroad,” she said, “so the campaign needs to continue.”
For Galway Pro-Choice, despite the new legislation, issues around abortion, women’s health, and reproductive rights remain unresolved, as does the broader issue of the general rights of women within Irish society. The group argues this will remain the case so long as Article 40.3.3 remains a legal fact.
“Article 40.3.3 equates a woman’s right to life with the life of the unborn, which is legally defined as an embryo at the moment of implantation in the womb,” says GPC’s Sarah McCarthy. “The consequences of that wording are widespread. It has led to abortion being illegal in every circumstance and to women having to travel abroad for the procedure.”
GPC’s Orlaith Reidy argues that attitudes to abortion and the actual Article 40.3.3 itself reveal underlying attitudes and assumptions towards and about women.
“The article may state that the woman’s life and the foetus’ life have equal rights but you can’t always do that, circumstances don’t always allow, and in practice, the preference has always gone towards the foetus, not the mother. When a woman becomes pregnant, a lot of her rights are removed.”
The pro-choice movement has been characterised as an ‘abortion on demand’ campaign, but this is not the case. As the Galway Pro-Choice members make clear, the campaign is about “facilitating women to have the choice regarding parenting, adoption, or abortion”.
“Women need to be supported economically, medically, and materially to have children,” says Ms McCarthy. “We support a woman’s right to have a child, her right to reproductive health, her right to have an abortion, and her right to have choice in all these issues.”
Ms Reidy is also concerned to tackle other misconceptions about the movement.
“For women in these circumstances it is never ‘I want an abortion’, it’s ‘I need an abortion’,” she says. “It is not a decision taken lightly. Some women do regret having an abortion but studies show they regret the circumstances which led them to take that decision, not the abortion itself. This is why having choice is important.”
Galway Pro-Choice will host two public events over the coming week. The first will be a public meeting in the Victoria Hotel at 7pm on Monday August 12.
Three expert speakers - Dr Sophie Faherty, a GP and gynaecologist obstetrician; James Burke of Termination for Medical Reasons; and a speaker from the Galway Rape Crisis Centre - will address the meeting on the topics of pregnancy as a result of rape, fatal foetal abnormalities, and circumstances in which women’s health is threatened by pregnancy.
Galway Pro-Choice in association with Over The Edge will host Our Choice, an evening of poetry, fiction, and music at the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday August 14 at 7pm.
The event will be hosted by Aoibheann McCann. The participating writers are Celeste Augé, Ger Burke, Sarah Clancy, Susan Millar DuMars, Elaine Feeney, and Lisa Frank. There will be music by Sandra Coffey and a raffle.
The purpose of the event is to raise funds for Galway Pro-Choice. There is no admission charge but there is a suggested donation of €5 per person.