Today Irish nationals go to the polls in a referendum about legalising abortion. Under the 8th amendment, apart from in very few circumstances, it’s illegal for a woman to abort a pregnancy in Ireland. This includes if she is the victim of rape, if the foetus has life limiting disabilities detected in the womb or if the mother herself develops life threatening illnesses for which the treatment will harm the foetus.
That’s right – Ireland puts the rights of an nonviable collection of cells above the rights and welfare, both physical and mental, of a woman.
I’ve made my thoughts on abortion perfectly clear on this blog in the past. I believe that a woman should have autonomy over her body. Not just in cases like those outlined above. But in all cases. Because mistakes do happen. You can be as careful as you like with contraception and you may still get pregnant, even though you don’t want a child. It’s wrong to punish people into a life of parenthood when it’s not what they want. It’s not good for a woman, and not good for a resulting child.
I feel nervous today. “Why?” you might ask. “You’re not Irish, why should you care?”. I care because I’m a woman, and we should all care about women’s rights. It’s abhorrent to me to think of the hoops Irish women have to go through to have an abortion for whatever reason.
I’ve been following the #Repealthe8th hashtag on Twitter all week, and some of the stories I’ve read have been emotionally disturbing, draining and downright disgusting. Women who, short of money to make the trip, have tried to self abort with alcohol, hot baths and hitting themselves in the stomach out of sheer desperation. A woman who found out she was pregnant at 5 weeks but couldn’t get to the UK for an abortion until she was 12 weeks because she had to save up the money to afford it. Women who lied to their families and employer as to their whereabouts. A woman who couldn’t afford the extra cash for an anaesthetic so underwent the procedure with no pain relief. Women making the journey from Ireland to the UK and back in one day, with no rest or recovery time, because they didn’t want to arouse suspicion as to where they were. The fear of sitting in the airport waiting for a flight and praying that they didn’t see anyone they knew. Women who have ended up with a post abortion infection because they were too scared to go to their own doctor when back on Irish soil.
It’s an astonishing and unacceptable truth that a rape victim could receive a longer prison sentence for aborting an unwanted pregnancy than the rapist who sexually attacked her.
These are the reasons that the law needs to be changed.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. For every sad story I’ve been buoyed by tweets from people intent on being part of the movement for change. People who live outside of Ireland travelling home to make their vote count (it’s not possible to vote by post or proxy, which the cynic in me thinks is a deliberate move by the government to try and skew the vote). Irish nationals are travelling from far and wide; the UK, obviously, but America, Asia and Australia too – spending their time and money to contribute to the right result for women. People who live in Ireland, not content in just voting themselves, but in helping others to do so – offering free taxi journeys from the airport, lifts to the polling station and donating to Crowdfunding resources who are using financial donations to pay travel costs for people living out side of the country who are eligible to vote but can’t afford to get there. I even saw an individual on Twitter who said, because she couldn’t make the journey herself due to other commitments, she would personally pay, in full, the airfare of anyone who could go in her place.
And then there’s the humorous – a Twitter user’s Dad who was out walking his dog and given a leaflet by someone from the “No” campaign, who replied with “oh good, I’ve run out of bags”, and proceeded to pick up dog poo with the propaganda.
Ireland is in the spotlight right now, just like it was when it held the referendum on gay marriage. It has the chance to do something great; the chance to respect and honour it’s women, the chance to believe that a woman knows what’s right for her.
Abortions will continue, whether the law is changed or not. But a yes vote means that women don’t have to travel unneccessarily, don’t have to lie, don’t have to face financial upheaval and can recover in their own home with professionals on hand should things go wrong.
Also, let’s not forget, the sexual freedom that comes with legal abortion. I’m not talking about screwing around with no contraception. I’m talking about not having the fear that a sexual encounter that goes wrong – whether the condom splits, or the pill doesn’t work – won’t end up in a clandestine visit to the UK or an unwanted baby born as a result of lack of money or information. When I lost my virginity at 17 I felt safe in the knowledge that, if the worst happened, my life wouldn’t be changed in a way I didn’t want and that there would be a legal and safe way out of an unwanted pregnancy. Women should be free to enjoy sex without worrying. Let’s not make sex something to potentially be scared of any longer.
I hope with every fibre of my being that the antiquated anti abortion supporters are outnumbered and that sense prevails.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x