The 8th Amendment – What It Does To Women Living In Ireland And What The May Referendum Means

The below was presented by the campaign to Die Linke.

The 8th Amendment Is, What It Does To Women Living In Ireland And What The May Referendum To Get It Out Of Our Constitution Means

Abortion is banned in Ireland – a pregnant woman can have one only if not having it would mean that without it she would die. There are no other grounds for abortion here, including any threat to a woman’s health. And if you do try to have an abortion here, it could mean up to 14 years in prison both for the doctor or friend who tries to help and the woman or girl involved.

Despite the ban and the hardship it inflicts, nine women, some children, leave Ireland every day to register for abortions in Britain. Between January 1980 and December 2016, over 170,000 women have travelled from the Republic to get an abortion in another country. These figures are an estimate. Some travel in secret and are not included in the statistics.

Believe it or not, these women with the money to travel are the lucky ones, they can afford the 2,000 or so euros it costs to have this medical care outside the state. Others cannot.

Ireland has a significant migrant population who are treated very badly in general and who feature disproportionately in our most notorious cases of mistreatment of pregnant women. If an asylum seeker is pregnant and wants an abortion she faces the possibility of not being able to get back into the state afterwards. And that’s if she has already managed to get the money to go: on her weekly allowance of €21.60, maybe another €21.60 to support a child she already has, finding 2,000 euros is next to impossible.

There are no abortions either for women carrying fetuses that cannot survive outside the womb. They too must leave the state, sometimes bringing their dead babies home with them on the plane. Others are so upset by the realisation that their child will die before it has lived, that they stay here and continue the pregnancy to term.

There is also the possibility that pregnant women with serious illnesses, cancer for example, could be refused medical treatment if there’s a possibility it will harm the fetus.

If a woman is pregnant by rape , she has no right to an abortion here.

Increasingly there is evidence that low paid women, those dependent on welfare and students are getting abortion pills off the internet. They abort at home, without medical supervision, sometimes alone. The ban with its threat of criminalisation and the resultant stigma that abortion carries in Ireland, mean women and girls are made to feel ashamed they’re afraid to seek medical aftercare. The same applies to women returning from Britain post abortion, who tell of making their way home through the airports bleeding and in pain.

This is what pregnant women and girls in Ireland live through under the 8th Amendment, voted into the Constitution in 1983. Its 43 words make the life of a woman equal to that of the fetus she carries and it was intended to ban abortion forever.

But In 1992, a 14 year old who was raped and pregnant was on her way to Britain with her family when the state took legal action to prevent her having an abortion. They called her back to Ireland. Miss X, as she was known, became suicidal when she couldn’t have the abortion.

The subsequent Supreme Court ruling opened a chink in the blanket ban, allowing for terminations when there was real and substantial risk to a woman’s life as opposed to her health. Three referendums followed. We are asked if suicide was grounds for abortion. The answer was yes. If women should have the right to travel, the answer was yes. If women should have the right to information on where to get abortions. The answer was yes.

But there were no medical guidelines and doctors have had serious difficulty waiting to treat a woman until a  real and substantial risk to life is actually present..

The death of Savita Halappanavar In 2011 was another major moment., Savita knew she was miscarrying and, asked twice for  an abortion but was told by an employee in Galway University Hospital: “We don’t do that sort of thing here, dear.”

Doctors did not act as soon as the signs of sepsis appeared, instead focusing on the foetal heartbeat. When they finally took action to save Savita’s life, it was too late.

The consultant who treated Savita was quoted in a HSE Report as saying: “Under Irish law, if there’s no evidence of risk to the life of the mother, our hands are tied so long as there’s a fetal heart (sic)”

International human rights organisations criticised the distinction between life and health and said interpretations of the 8th favoured the life of the foetus over that of the woman and it was directly implicated in her death.

Savita’s death meant our government finally made a law that reflected the Supreme Court judgment. It was brought in in 2013.  Irish abortion law has only changed when a woman or a girl either die or go to court to be allowed have an abortion..

Today, pregnant women must actually prove that they are suicidal to the satisfaction of three doctors. If the woman is refused she  may appeal a decision, but then has to face another three doctors for reassessment. Since 2013, only six abortions have been carried out in the state on grounds of risk of suicide.

Finally, it has taken the  establishment politicians 35 years to realise that the 8th is an anti-woman provision that does nothing to stop women having abortions and denies us the right to make decisions about our own bodies.

We will have a referendum to repeal the 8th, probably at the end of May. Without removing the ban, nothing can change, women won’t have a choice.

If we win and it goes, the government will be responsible for creating new laws. This is all the referendum is about – removing the 8th, making the government responsible for changes in our abortion regime.

Two official government committees, one a citizens’ assembly, the other consisting of politicians, were set up to look at how we could change our laws and if a referendum was needed. They came to the same conclusion: women and girls living in Ireland should have unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

One of the main reasons for this recommendation is that the politicians on the committee – some of whom had declared themselves opposed to abortion previously – realised that in order to allow abortion for women who became pregnant as a result of rape it is necessary to allow unrestricted but regulated access up to 12 weeks. Making women legally prove they had been raped would effectively deny them access to abortion and traumatise survivors a second time. It is unworkable and unacceptable.

The  12 week proposal has frightened some voters who are scared of opening the floodgates to abortion on demand up to full term. But the experience of the two government committees shows that good information and personal stories are powerful persuaders. This campaign will be won on the ground, through canvassing and local meetings.

Your organisation can play its part. The Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th is planning a May Day of international action on repeal. We’re asking our allies to join with us to stage events outside Ireland’s embassies calling for repeal of the 8th and call for abortion laws that respect women’s lives, health and choices.

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