Sarah Coleman explains why she's Pro-Repeal and looks at the history of abortion in Ireland.
Earlier this month, those in favour of the current laws of the Eighth Amendment took to the streets of Dublin for their annual 'Rally for Life' Campaign. Pro-choice supporters also took to the streets in a counter-protest, where they campaigned for the reproductive rights of Irish women.
For decades, Ireland has been a predominately Catholic, pro-life country. Then we hit the noughties and women began to educate themselves and fight for equal rights. The media began to report on the case of Miss X and Miss Y, Savita Halppanavar and more recently, a pregnant young girl who was detained under the Mental Health Act after seeking an abortion. Apart from Malta, who bans abortion in all circumstances, we are one of the only European countries with such restrictive laws regarding abortion.
The pro-life campaign claim that they are trying to prevent the horrors of abortion elsewhere from happening in Ireland. Meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners slowly began to see the horrors of preventing women from accessing one. When we read about just a few of these cases, two problems are immediately obvious. First of all, no matter what your personal viewpoints are on abortion, as a medical professional, you are obliged to discuss all the options available to a woman who is pregnant, even if you personally disagree with them. Secondly, while medical professionals are entitled and obliged to advise and express concern, it is always the patient's decision and this is something that seems to be forgotten.
Pro-life supporters are keen to keep abortion from Ireland, yet 150,000 women have travelled abroad since 1980 to access one. As a result, the goal to keep Ireland abortion free has failed.We do have abortion in Ireland, we just force women to travel to countries that express more concern and sympathy than we do. It is also interesting to note that the rates of abortion where it is legal is considerably less to countries where it is illegal. According to the Abortion Rights Campaign, In Western Europe, where abortion is generally legal on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000, the lowest subregional rate in the world. Keeping abortion illegal will not lower the rates, it will only prevent adequate information being given on abortion, therefore making the procedure less safe.
I am pro-choice and I have been ever since my fifth-year Religion class, where I sat and watched the videos of women speak about how they regretted their abortion or the guest speakers who came to speak about both sides of the argument, but yet when asked, stated that they were pro-life supporters. This is part of the problem. We are not hearing both sides of the story equally.
I believe we have yet to break free from the viewpoint that we are predominately a pro-life country. While I don't speak for the entire nation, I do believe that we are slowly breaking away from this. I have seen more people have faith in the women of Ireland to make their own choices regarding health care. I see more people imagining their partner, their daughter, their sister in that situation and thinking they should deserve to have that choice. I see more and more of us attempting to break free from the patriarchy and the guilt and shame that has been imposed on Irish women for being sexual human beings and falling pregnant.
We are described as a nation of carers, yet there doesn't seem to be much caring happening. The laws currently state that mother and baby are given equal status, but can you honestly believe that when we hear of Savita who was denied an abortion in October 2012 because she was told that "Ireland was a Catholic country", or the pregnant young girl detained under The Mental Health Act after seeking an abortion. It is kind of incensing that, for a woman to consider abortion, then she must be mentally unwell or not in the right frame of mind to make that choice, when we should really trust women's judgement more and trust that they know what is right for them. I'm not saying we should never intervene, because sometimes that may be neccessary, but we should do so keeping in mind that it is always the woman's choice.
I won't tell you that if you don't agree with abortion, then don't have one because that statement undermines how emotionally complex this issue is. But who am I, who are you to decide what is best for Irish women? You may not personally agree with abortion, but if we could at least start to try and respect a womans choice, then we might just start to make progress.