Written by Eleanor Tiernan


Repeal appeal

Each day, 12 women make the journey from Ireland to Britain to have an abortion. It’s time to repeal the eighth amendment, says Eleanor Tiernan. In fact, it’s been time for ages.

Repeal the 8th mural
Ireland. My home country. Land of saints and scholars. Land of the pint of Guinness. Land of the craic. Land of the… restrictive abortion regime.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Ireland does not allow pregnant women to have abortions. Or at least the circumstances in which abortions are allowed are so restrictive as to make it practically illegal.

To give you an idea: in 2012, in an Irish hospital, doctors abiding by the law refused to give Savita Halappanavar the abortion she asked for because the septicaemia she was suffering from was not deemed to be serious enough. Hours later she died.

Women who are carrying with fatal foetal abnormalities are legally obliged to carry their pregnancies to full term. And if you are pregnant and want an abortion for your own personal reasons, then you can forget about it. The law in Ireland forces pregnant women to carry their children to full term when it is neither their wish nor safe for them to do so.

Oh and breaking this law carries a potential jail sentence of up to 14 years for the pregnant woman. It’s almost as if they want to make the woman sit and think about what she’s done for the length of time it would have taken to raise the child in the first place.

Thankfully Irish women have a nearby country that imposes no such cruelty on their citizens. Hurrah for the UK! Patient statistics from clinics show that every day, 12 Irish women make the journey across the Irish Sea – and further – to receive a termination. Decent, law-abiding women in every other respect risk being incarcerated, such is the gravity of the situation.

For those of us who have been around long to enough to remember the Troubles, there is something absurd about how, after all of the hassle between our two countries, Irish women must now run to the UK to have our basic needs met.

The journey is not for the faint-hearted. Imagine the stress of making such a huge life decision and then adding a Ryanair flight on top. Do I want a scratchcard? No thank you. I want my life back. It’s an expensive journey, too. Women who have been through this often report that they had to make the journey home before doctors recommended it was safe to do so because they couldn’t afford to spend the money on an extra night’s accommodation. Not exactly the craic now Ireland, are we?

Though Irish women are ever so happy that the UK offers us options in this way, we would like to change our legal situation so we can receive this medical treatment at home at less risk, effort and expense.

That’s why many of us are campaigning to have the law changed. You may have seen or heard the slogan ‘Repeal the 8th’ lately. It refers to the eighth amendment, the piece of legislation upon which all of this hokery depends.

“The purpose of the eighth amendment may only be to prop up the egos of those who take pride in imagining Ireland to be a pure, abortion-free enclave of the world. Who cares about women’s lives when brownie points with Jesus are at stake?”

The campaign would like to have this law removed from the constitution. Doing so would take away the current restrictions on Irish doctors and allow them, in consultation with their patients, to perform terminations as they see fit. More importantly, however, it will put the mental and physical wellbeing of the pregnant woman, upon whom the foetus’s life is dependent anyway, back at the heart of the matter.

The debate about legalising abortion in Ireland has been rumbling for as long as I can remember. During the time I was growing up, the country has voted in various referenda to grudgingly allow women certain tangential rights, like the right to travel for an abortion or the right to information on abortion clinics in other jurisdictions. How kind of us!

However, it seems now as though the time might be coming when a more far-reaching change to the law might be conceivable (apologies, couldn’t resist the pun).

In 2015 Ireland voted to legalise marriage for same-sex couples. It was the first time the general public voted for something that was against the teachings of the Catholic church. Of course Catholics are still free to marry members of the opposite sex. We stopped short of making it compulsory.

Marriage equality, however, had one thing going for it that helped the middle classes of Ireland get on board: men were affected by it. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that persuading the Irish public to vote for something that will only help women will take a more concerted effort. I know because, wait for it… I myself used to be against abortion.

Surely not Eleanor? Not someone of your calibre and rabid wokeness? Alas it’s true. As a teenager, I was against abortion. I never actively campaigned, but I know I would have voted against it in a referendum.

Why? Because I hadn’t yet seen enough of life to know how much reality differs from how we would like it to be. I hadn’t yet seen people close to me go through crisis pregnancies. I hadn’t yet realised that those making the laws might not have the best understanding of the issue.

The pro-life campaign will vehemently oppose the change in the law. No doubt we will see the pro-choice position over-simplified as the direct opposite of theirs, i.e. the desire to end vulnerable human life.

People who campaign for women’s choice to have abortions will be accused of wanting to coerce women into having them. Women who choose to terminate will be characterised as selfish career-driven sociopaths. The impact of abortion on women’s psychological well-being will be overstated. Adoption will be suggested as an alternative – as if the act of carrying a whole pregnancy to term is of little consequence. And people act like it’s not possible to believe in a woman’s right to choose and after that want to give the unborn the best possible chance at life too.

“Every day, 12 Irish women make the journey across the Irish Sea – and further – to receive a termination. Decent, law-abiding women in every other respect risk being incarcerated, such is the gravity of the situation.”

Importantly though, the pro-life side ignore the studies that show that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women from seeking it.

Therefore the purpose of the eighth amendment may only be to prop up the egos of those who take pride in imagining Ireland to be a pure, abortion-free enclave of the world. Who cares about women’s lives when brownie points with Jesus are at stake?

Like the marriage equality campaign, the ‘Repeal the 8th’ campaign contains many personal stories of crisis pregnancies. Lots of voters have no idea how often women decide to terminate their pregnancies and normalising the decision to end a pregnancy for voters who are unaware of how often it happens is the first step.

Over the past year, for the first time a number of women have publicly shared the stories of their terminations. Recently, one pregnant Irish woman and her friend taking the trip across the Irish Sea to receive an abortion, took the step of live tweeting about the journey directly to our prime minister, Enda Kenny, under the hashtag #twowomentravel.

She must have known that she would receive oodles of threats, bile and questions from people who felt entitled to an explanation for her decision (she did), but she did it anyway. Her account, aside from giving us some powerful insights into the bland normality of this journey, moves us a step closer to admitting the price women are paying so Ireland can maintain its moral superiority.

If this article seems a little light-hearted, I do apologise. I don’t mean to be flippant. It’s a totally heartbreaking situation for many. However, Irish people have a history of showing great compassion, especially when the crisis is a global humanitarian one. That capacity for empathy might be why we agonise so much over decisions like these. This time, though, it’s a matter of recognising a blind spot in our thinking, and extending that compassion to women. And then we can go back to having the craic.

Join the Rise and Repeal March for Choice in Dublin on Sep 24. Details here.

Rise and Repeal March banner
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Written by Eleanor Tiernan

Eleanor Tiernan... stand up, writer, actress, sister, introvert. Almost no street smarts whatsoever. Avoids the bandwagon if possible.