Sunday, 2 October 2016

On the Eighth Amendment: Why I'm Pro-Choice

At present, Ireland has a constitutional ban on abortion - even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. This has forced hundreds of thousands of women to travel to the U.K., since 1983, to access the medical procedure. This ban comes under Article 40.3.3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, or the Irish Constitution, and is more commonly known as the Eighth Amendment.

The Repeal the Eighth movement has been growing quite rapidly in recent years. It came to my attention after the death of Savita Halappanavar - a young woman who, in 2011, suffered a septic miscarriage, and was denied an abortion that could have saved her life.

Every year since, the Abortion Rights Campaign has held a March for Choice, demanding the government repeal this ban on abortion, and give Irish women and girls the right to make their own choices and control their own bodies. This year's march, on September 24th, gathered over 20,000 supporters to the streets of Dublin.

I'm a big believer in standing up for what you believe in, and expressing the voice we are so privileged to have - and thus I felt it important to discuss my feelings on the Eighth Amendment, here on my blog.

For starters, I'm sick of having other people - namely the middle-aged / elderly white men who take up the majority of seats in Dáil Éireann - having a stronger say in what I do with my body, and the choices I make in life.

I'm sick of living in fear of ever falling pregnant, or being raped, and not being able to afford to travel to another country to access the medical care our country refuses to provide. Or being forced into having a child against my will, because of the Eighth.

I'm sick of not having total control of my body, nor having the final say in what happens in my reproductive system.

Article 40.3.3 is sick, cruel and oppressive. Ireland has always had a difficult and disturbing history with women - and that's putting it lightly. We've seen the horrors of the Magdelene laundries (the last of which was closed in 1996), to legal martial rape (criminalised in 1990), bans on divorce (legalised in 1995, the last country in Europe to do so) and contraception (banned until 1980, after which it was heavily restricted; not legalised until 1985) - and this is all fairly recent history. These things were all happening in my parents' lifetime - some even in mine.

And yet, the Eighth Amendment still remains.

Far too many women have suffered, over decades, at the hands of Irish legislation. Can we really call ourselves a progressive, democratic, developed country when we continue to refuse women bodily autonomy?

Earlier this year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called the Eighth Amendment "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of women. It called for the Irish government to amend these laws, and to provide "effective, timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination in Ireland", as well as the supplement of "full information on safe abortion services without [women] fearing being subjected to criminal sanctions".

Amnesty International has also condemned Ireland's restrictive laws, launching their She Is Not A Criminal campaign last year. As it stands, a woman who undergoes an abortion can face up to fourteen years imprisonment in Ireland. Medical staff can be fined up to €4,000 for providing a patient with information on abortion services.

Approximately 4,000 women leave Ireland every year to access the medical care their country refuses to provide - even in cases where the foetus is suffering a fatal abnormality, or where the woman's life is in danger. That's 77 women a week; 11 women a day.

I'm pro-choice because I believe no woman or girl should be forced to give birth against their will.

I dream of the day where I can have the right to control my own body. But until that day, in the eyes of the Irish Constitution, my body is not mine, and I am just a vessel.
Ciara Pollock © . Design by FCD.