I used to identify as pro-life…I think in many ways I still am pro-life. I understood that there were some circumstances where a woman might terminate a pregnancy, I was uncomfortable with the idea of people getting abortions ‘willy-nilly’. Yes, I thought women who have been raped should have access to abortion. Yes, I thought women should be free to travel if they wanted to have an abortion. But to have them here in Ireland? Not sure about that - it shouldn’t be too easy to get. I didn’t want people to start “using abortion as a form of contraception”. I thought, if they want it badly enough, they’ll travel.
I think my views were very similar to those held by many Irish people, we don’t like abortion but we also recognise that in certain situations it may be necessary. I have thought about this issue and the 8th amendment a lot in the months since having my third baby. I still don’t like abortion, but no-one does. Absolutely no-one. Yet now I identify as pro-choice. How did I get here? This is how…
When does life begin?
I believe life begins at conception. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always struggled with the concept of abortion. But does the life of the unborn have the same value as the mother?
I think it’s somewhat disingenuous for our society, our constitution, to say that the rights of the unborn are equal to that of the mother - because they don’t mean it, not really. Looking at it another way, are the rights of the unborn equal to that of a toddler? They don’t think so - they have never thought so. Ask any woman who has had a miscarriage and has been expected to just jump up and get on with life, or is told that “at least she has the other children” or “next time”. She is not treated like a woman who has just lost a child - we do not treat her like a woman who is grieving the loss of a baby. We say things like “at least it was only 10 weeks” or “maybe it’s for the best”. Can you imagine anyone saying that about the death of 2 year old?
The language we use is different too. We talk about women “having a miscarriage” or “losing a pregnancy” - we talk about in terms of her body, her anatomy, her loss. It’s not until much later in pregnancy, close to the point of viability, where the language changes and we shift the vocabulary from the mother to the baby.
Why can’t the baby be put up for adoption?
This is a hard one for me too. If a woman doesn’t want to or can’t raise a child, why can’t she just put it up for adoption?
As someone commented recently on the internet “my womb is not your herb garden”. A woman should not be forced to grow a child against her will - we are more than soil. A society that makes women who are pregnant continue with the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption is a cruel one. That is no different from the Magdalene laundries. We are past that - we are better than than kind of slavery - we have evolved - or at least I thought we had.
Adoption can be a beautiful thing. I am in awe of women who continue with their pregnancies and, at the end, pass their child over to another family. But it has to be consensual. We can't force adoption upon women in crisis.
Is one abortion better or worse than another?
I think most people agree that abortions should be available to women in certain circumstances, like rape. There are those that feel that even in these circumstances, a woman should have to carry her rapist’s child. If this is your view, you probably should vote to keep the 8th amendment. But for everyone else, who thinks there should be circumstances in which it is allowed, I would ask you consider whether the issue is just the abortion itself or the circumstances in which a woman became pregnant.
Abortion is abortion is abortion. A foetus conceived in rape is no less a life, has no fewer rights, than one conceived in other circumstances. So why is it ok after rape, but not in any other circumstance? Is it because with rape we can vaguely imagine the horror that forcing a woman to carry her rapist’s child would subject her to? But we can’t imagine why a married woman with two small children already should be able to get one.
Not all horrors are ones we can see or understand. What about the woman who suffers from hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme sickness) in pregnancy so severely that another pregnancy would leave her unable to care for her existing children? What about the married mother who has a history of pre-natal psychosis and cannot risk that happening again? What do we know of other people’s lives. If a woman is in crisis to the point that she would terminate her pregnancy, who are we to judge whether her reason was deserving enough to make it ok for us?
We can’t just sit up on our moral throne and dictate who “deserves” an abortion. What kind of society does that make us, that we are more concerned by other people’s morality than anything else?
This is also why the referendum is proposing that abortion be available to women before 12 weeks gestation, regardless of circumstances. To do anything else would be to subject women to a trial of morality - you would have to force a raped woman to prove that she was raped, to make her case to a panel or a jury who would then decide if she was deserving enough. You would make her go through it again.
Women have to be allowed to deal with their own issues themselves, they shouldn’t have to convince strangers that they are desperate, the fact that they request an abortion should be enough. No-one should have to turn out their souls to salve our consciences.
How do we reduce the number of abortions?
This is the real issue. We do not want to see a high abortion rate. Abortion is not a lovely thing. It may be a necessary thing, but the lower the better. So here are the facts:
Criminalising abortion does not result in lower rates of abortion. In fact, the opposite is true. In Africa and Latin America, where abortion is illegal in most circumstances in the majority of countries, the abortion rate is 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age respectively. Conversely, in Western Europe, where abortion is generally legal to a greater or less extent, the abortion rate is 12 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. These statistics point to a correlation between restrictive legislation and high abortion levels(Source: WHO) http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/unsafe_abortion/induced_abortion_2012.pdf
In Switzerland, for example, where abortion is available in the first trimester regardless of the circumstances. The rate of abortion is 7.1 per 1,000 women (and that’s including women who aren’t ordinarily resident in Switzerland).
I know there are a lot of posters up saying that 1 in 5 pregnancies in the UK are terminated but, as we always like to tell other people, we are not the UK. The UK rate of abortion is 17 per 1,000 women.
Let’s not be the UK, let’s be Switzerland.
It was only somewhere around my second or third pregnancy that I became fully aware that travelling was never the deterrent, abortion itself is its own deterrent. Having brought three children into the world, I really believe that nobody comes to that decision easily or with a light-heart. It is physically and emotionally draining and painful. So why are we making women in crisis travel to the UK to undergo these procedures alone, without proper care, without proper support?
Because we don’t want it in our own back yard.
Does the 8th amendment do what it’s supposed to?
The 8th amendment was designed to prevent abortion - it doesn’t. Ireland is not, has never been, and never will be abortion free.
At least 150,000 Irish women have travelled abroad for abortions. And these are only the ones they can count. This figure also does not include those who procure abortion pills on the internet.
If you want a society where abortion does not happen, under any circumstance, what you need is not the 8th amendment, but a time machine to take you back to the 1950’s and a sand pit in which to stick your head.
While this is a peripheral issue for most in the debate on the 8th amendment, the vast majority of women who are affected by the 8th amendment are happily pregnant and looking forward to the arrival of their children.
They are pregnant in a system where the legislation enshrines principles which fundamentally remove their right to bodily autonomy. At the end of the day, the decisions that govern how a woman’s body will be treated during pregnancy and labour are not her own. Other people have the final say over what happens to her body.
As a result, pregnant women in Ireland are treated like toddlers. They are infantilised and patronised. Procedures (episiotomy, membrane sweep, artificial rupture of waters, induction) are frequently performed on them without their consent because, when it comes down to it, they do not have an inviolable right to withhold consent. And women don’t want to put their babies at risk, so they do what they’re told. But it’s no way to have a conversation.
Women should always have the final say. They should always be asked “Is it ok if I push a metal hook up through your cervix and break the amniotic sac that you have protected your child with for all these months…is it ok if I do that?”. But they aren’t always asked, and it isn’t always, or even often, necessary. Pregnant women and women in labour are not imbeciles, they are mothers - they want to protect their children - they are capable of making an informed decision and, crucially, their only vested interest is their own child and their own body. Trust them.
Repealing the 8th Amendment
I have thought about and argued and discussed and pondered the 8th amendment back and forth for months, and I cannot think of one single logical reason to retain it. I don’t know how I feel about abortion - I don’t know if it’s something I will ever be fully comfortable with but my comfort and my conscience is not the issue here. The 8th amendment is not about whether we are morally opposed to abortion or not, it’s about how we treat women who have decided to terminate their pregnancies. It’s about care - it’s about compassion - it’s about taking our heads out of the sand and changing the way we treat these women.
The 8th Amendment does not save lives. It punishes women. It adds pain and strife to a woman whose plate is already overflowing with pain and strife.
Children are a blessing, they should never come into the world to punish someone else.
We are better than this.