Women in Ireland have no abortion rights

Women in Ireland have no reproductive rights. I’ve been trying to think of how to open this piece for ages. Nothing has worked so I’ve just decided to say it.
Publish date:
August 8, 2012
abortion, pro-life, pro-choice, abortion rights in ireland

Women in Ireland have no rights when it comes to abortion and - though it doesn’t concern me personally - I think abortion is too complex an issue for a modern European country to have a blanket ban on.

To be clear: even if a woman is raped, is the victim of incest or any other form of abuse, has eight children she’s struggling to feed already, is feeling suicidal because of her pregnancy, is otherwise having her life threatened by it, or has been told her baby has a life-threatening condition that means it will be seriously disabled or not survive at all, she will not be able to legally terminate the pregnancy on Irish soil.

A pro-choice protester campaigns for reproductive rights at a pro-life protest in Belfast.

Even when a termination is being sought for medical reasons, she will be forced to travel abroad to seek treatment, most often to a private clinic in the UK. Figures suggest that each year 4500 Irish women do exactly that.

That a first-world country is still sending its women abroad to seek any medical treatment is in itself a fairly desperate state of affairs, particularly when you bear in mind that the illegality of abortion here means that there is no provision for even the possibility of one.

We can’t even discuss the possibility of terminations with our GPs. And that’s dangerous. Not because we still have huge numbers of teenage girls drinking gin in hot baths to “cure” unwanted pregnancies. Like mothers everywhere, most Irish mothers are realistic enough to know that abortion, however regrettable, is sometimes the best option.

It’s dangerous because it means that some women aren’t getting the mental healthcare they need, let alone the physical. There’s an urban legend about a woman who’s on the edge of my circle of friends: now aged 24, she's had seven abortions.

I don’t know if it’s true, I barely know her to talk to, but nonetheless, it's possible that this has actually happened. In the UK - one imagines - a GP looking at her medical notes after her third, or maybe fourth, abortion might ask to talk to her about her state of mind, or at least how effective her choice of contraception is. Therapy might be suggested.

Older women, who have lived their entire lives without the rights to abortion in their home country join the protest.

Here though, because her doctor can’t acknowledge those procedures, nothing can be done to address the mental anguish she may be going through to have got to the point where that many terminations has been necessary.

I mean, is it horribly presumptuous of me to think that she might be mentally unwell to have had seven unwanted pregnancies or should some kind of counselling for women in similar circumstances be more readily available here?

Another case, and this one verifiable: In 1992 a fourteen year old Irish girl discovered she was pregnant by a man who had repeatedly raped her for at least two years. She wanted an abortion, and informed the gardai (police), who were now prosecuting her rapist, of her plan to go to the UK and obtain one.

The gardai informed the courts who promptly attempted to bar the girl and her family from leaving Ireland in order to protect the life of her unborn child despite the fact that the girl was suicidal. This decision was overturned on appeal.

Now, I don’t know if I even need to say this but shouldn’t the rights of a rape victim, particularly one who’s considering throwing herself under a train (as this child was) be the priority of the courts, the police and her doctors? Should anyone in that situation not be able to seek a termination in the swiftest, least stressful way?

An older pro-life protester from the opposing side.

It’s cases like these, with all their additional traumas, that used to stop victims of sexual assault reporting their attackers. Who, after everything else, would want to go through that? The reason abortion remains illegal here is that Ireland is still in its bones a Catholic country.

Even now, when the number of people regularly attending church is falling, when the seminaries are all but empty and when all but the most devout condemned the prolonged sexual abuse of Irish children by members of the Catholic clergy as indefensible, I still very much doubt that the country is ready for abortion to be made as readily available as it is in the UK.

But that doesn’t mean the country is not ready, and in fact desperate, for some legislative changes to be made. This year Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, is considering passing a bill to allow women to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons, something I, and I suspect most Irish citizens, strongly support.

"Take your rosaries off my ovaries." Many of those who oppose abortion in Ireland do so because of their Roman Catholic beliefs.

Particularly when you bear in mind the stories of women who’ve been forced to travel abroad for terminations, and have ended up wandering around a foreign city after their procedure wasting time before their flight home. If the procedure was performed in a local clinic, their friends and family could be there to offer what I suspect is much needed support.

There are, of course, people who still do not believe in abortion under any circumstances. People who argue that even if you think you’re OK straight after an abortion, bloody visions of your never-born limbo-stranded child will come back to haunt you in a few years time.

To which I would say, please stop using nightmare imagery and quasi-religious guilt to infantilise women who have grown up in a first world country with high rates of literacy and an excellent education system.

Even if a woman does regret having an abortion, it’s up to her take responsibility for that. Stay out of her business and reproductive history. Thanks.

Right now my friend Hollie is disgusted by the fact that this poster by the pro-life Youth Defence group is glued to the billboard that sits next to her home.

The pro-life Youth Defence poster currently beside my friend Hollie's house

As you can see, Youth Defence argue that when it comes to ending a pregnancy, “There’s always a better answer.” Bearing in mind the stories I’ve told here, I hope that the Irish government come to agree with Hollie and I, that sometimes there just isn’t.

And when there isn’t, Irish women should be able to terminate their pregnancies in clinics near their own homes.

Growing up in the UK, I took for granted a woman’s right to choose whether she continued with a pregnancy or not. Even now, in spite of Nadine Dorries’ nuttier moments, I think most British women still do.

Even women who are uncomfortable with the idea of abortion for themselves are still - for the most part - pro other women being allowed to make the choice to end an unwanted or unsustainable pregnancy.

“You must do what’s right for you,” I would say when I lived in London, while making supportive cups of tea and booking time off work to make sure a friend planning an abortion was not alone for the few days after it.

Now that I live in Ireland, I’d like to be able to do that for my friends here, too , if they needed it.

Images of the pro-choice protest are © Tyler McNallyTerminations for Medical Reasons Facebook