Repeal the flippin’ eighth. How the hell did that amendment get enacted in the first place? Were our parents really so indoctrinated by the White Cloaked Pietists that they were unable to see that by granting rights to the unborn, they remove rights from the very-much-born?
In nineteen hundred and eighty three, an all party comedy of errors led Fine Gael’s Garret Fitzgerald, alongside his coalition partners in Labour, to sign in to law a Charlie Haughey (Fine Fáil) drafted amendment to the Constitution of Ireland which guaranteed that the State would “acknowledge the right to life of the unborn”. It also includes “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother” but I feel this tag-on has often been forgotten in successive years. After an acrimonious Referendum campaign that resulted in a staggering 67% favourable vote, that amendment was made law. That was thirty-three years ago this week.
I don’t need to remind any Irish readers how tight a hold the Roman Catholic Church has had on this country for eons. I was interested to discover that one of the main groups to oppose the 8th Amendment in 1983 (before and afterwards) was the Irish Council of Churches. This is essentially a club for all Christian churches who are not Roman Catholic.
In 1992, we held three abortion related referenda on the same day (because we do love to confuse the Irish electorate – Nice Treaty anyone?). One was rejected, two passed.
The Twelfth Amendment proposed that the possibility of suicide was not a sufficient threat to justify an abortion. This was thankfully rejected. Our Nation has already a terrible track record for mental health, particularly in relation to suicide, without muddying our constitution further.
The Thirteenth Amendment specifies that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel from Ireland to other countries where a person might legally obtain an abortion. The proposal was approved and further popularised the delightful Irish idiom, “taking a trip to England”.
The Fourteenth Amendment specifies that Irish citizens have the freedom to pursue and learn about abortion services in other countries. The proposal was approved and ensured Doctors and Nurses could no longer be persecuted for providing patients with information relating to abortion.
In 2002, there was yet another referendum, The Twenty-Fifth Amendment. This again, attempted to remove potential suicide as a legitimate reason to allow a woman access to an abortion. It was narrowly defeated. It was a referendum that starkly showed the rural/urban divide in Ireland and clearly highlighted that the issue of abortion was a passionate and divisive one, which needed to be urgently addressed on a State level.
So, eleven years later, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 was enacted, which did provide for abortion in circumstances where life was threatened by a risk of suicide.
Our politicians have been consistently terrified of losing votes, losing seats, losing access to brown envelopes. As a result, for far too long women have been treated as second-class citizens, incapable of deciding what to do with their own bodies. The fact that so many of the heel-draggers and anti-abortionists have been women is saddening to say the least.
That was a hop-scotch history of the people’s vote on abortion since the Eighth Amendment was enacted. I have purposely skipped the countless extremely important legal cases that drove each referendum, including and not limited to The X Case; The C Case; A, B and C v Ireland; and, of course, the heartbreaking death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. I could spend weeks talking about these and more, but I’d rather push forward to why abortion should be legal in this country and why the Eighth should be repealed.
So, repeal the flippin’ eighth! For the past few years (the first annual March for Choice was 2012), there have been march after march, protest after protest, campaigning, lobbying, shouting and screaming, all leading to one inevitable point – a new referendum on the issue of abortion. One that will see the removal of the 33 year old Eighth Amendment.
Frankly, my own personal opinion is that women have the right to choose what they do with their body and the State should not be allowed to intervene. I understand that it isn’t as black and white as that. The fact that this is one of the most widely debated topics in politics and beyond everyday politics proves that the complexity of the issue is why there does need to be some State involvement.
That involvement should be supportive, not demeaning. That involvement should be educational, not criminalising. That involvement should be positive, not overwhelmingly negative.
The crux of the Eighth is that is equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo. A foetus is not a child and an embryo is most certainly not a child. A woman who has become pregnant (for whatever reason) should have the right to choose whether she wants to allow an embryo become something more. That is a woman’s choice, not the State’s.
The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law. The law will allow abortions where the woman’s life is in danger. However, a woman may not seek an abortion in Ireland if she is pregnant due to rape. Come on!!!! The latest national statistics from Rape Crisis Centres show that approx 197 women and girls who attended their centres in 2013 were pregnant as a result of rape. 25% of these survivors went on to terminate the pregnancy, meaning they either had to take a trip to England or illegally take abortion pills in Ireland (which, incidentally, could result in imprisonment for up to 14 years under our law, for them or anyone who helps them). Are you infuriated yet?
Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures. Do I honestly need to keep talking? Women have already died because of laws created by our country. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
At least 150,000 women have traveled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980. And those are the ones who were lucky enough to be able to afford the emotionally horrific journey. Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.
I keep repeating myself, but the life and health of a pregnant woman has to have a much greater value than our constitution places on it, than our State currently allows, that “our Church” would ever admit to.
So, join the fight to Repeal the Eighth. Keep an eye on any events that are coming up. Donate to the cause. Get on Facebook and Twitter. March with us. Be proud Irish men and women and support the right to choose.