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Time for Ireland to Change Its Abortion Laws

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all women everywhere

As the first country to allow its population to vote on whether or not to legalise same sex marriage, Ireland can be perceived as being relatively progressive. How, then, can this country which is on point when it comes to one human rights topic fall so devastatingly short on another?

Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic, has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

In Ireland, women can be jailed for up to 14 years for having an abortion. In Northern Ireland, women face the spectre of life imprisonment.

Medical staff who perform terminations can also be sent to prison for carrying out a termination. Even in the cases of rape, incest, or where the foetus won't survive, women in Ireland are not permitted to have an abortion.

Consequences of these laws are severe: women and girls either take abortion pills without medical supervision and face a possible 14-year prison sentence, or have to travel abroad for the procedure often with huge financial, psychological and physical expense.

Several women have told Amnesty of the impact this punishing law has had on their lives.

Lupe, who was carrying a foetus with no heartbeat for 14 weeks, told Amnesty she had to travel to her home country of Spain for proper medical treatment: "I didn't feel safe at all...I was feeling really scared because it became clear to me, that if any complication was raised, these people would let me die."

Nicola was 19 weeks into her pregnancy when a routine scan revealed a problem with the foetus. A more detailed scan made it clear that the impairment was fatal and there was no chance of the baby's survival.

Nicola told Amnesty, "I thought straight away they would induce me but the nurse explained they couldn't do that because it's classed as a termination and wasn't allowed in this country." Nicola had to continue with her pregnancy for another five weeks until the doctors confirmed the foetus had died.

Abortion laws in Ireland are in desperate need of change, and the majority of the Irish public would appear to agree.

In an Amnesty Ireland poll published last week, 87% of respondents supported the call to expand access to abortion in their country. Forty-two per cent were in favour of allowing abortions where the woman's life is at risk, where there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Meanwhile, 38% supported allowing women the right to access abortions as they choose. The additional seven per cent were in favour of allowing abortion in Ireland only where the woman's life is at risk or where there is a fatal foetal abnormality.

Only five per cent of respondents were opposed to abortion in all circumstances.

Clearly, Irish law is massively out of step with majority opinion.

So, what if the Irish government offered the chance to vote on this in the same way they did with same sex marriage? If these poll results are anything to go by, then the current Irish abortion laws would be torn up and thrown into the rubbish bin, where they belong.

At the root of all of this is the basic human right to control and make decisions about one's own body.

Whichever party, or coalition, governs Ireland following recent elections, one thing is clear: amending the abortion laws in that country must be the absolute first priority.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about

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