Today in Ireland, we’re going to the polls in a historic, and once-in-a-generation chance to make a much-needed change in our country. I will be voting Yes in today’s referendum, to repeal the Eighth Amendment of our constitution, to bring compassionate care home to Ireland, to give our women and girls the dignified healthcare they deserve.
This referendum is not a vote on abortion, because abortion is already happening in Ireland. This is something which everyone acknowledges. Just look at the numbers – nine women a day travel to England for abortion. In 2016, 3,265 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in England. That figure does not take into account those who did not list their home address, or who travelled to other countries to access the care they needed.
Nor does that figure account for the three women a day who order abortion pills online, and take them without medical supervision in their bedrooms and bathrooms. These women put themselves in harm’s way to access the healthcare they need. The threat of a 14-year prison sentence if they are discovered means that many do not seek aftercare. And many of these women and girls never even tell their doctors what they’ve done. So, this is really a vote to decide if we will choose to regulate and make safe the abortion that is already here.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard the stories from women and couples who’ve made the journey to England after learning that their much-wanted pregnancy would be unsuccessful due to a fatal foetal abnormality. In these dark days, Ireland’s laws force those who wish to end such a pregnancy to find substantial sums of money, and to travel to unfamiliar cities and doctors, at a time when they should be treated with care and compassion at home. Those who are unable to travel, spend the rest of the pregnancy fielding excited strangers’, friends’ and colleagues’ questions about due dates, names and baby clothes. All the while, knowing they will never meet their baby, and that it is most likely deteriorating inside them. The Eighth Amendment discriminates between those who can afford to travel and access supervised medical care and support, and those who can not. This is not a fair system, or a dignified way to treat our women and girls.
The reality is that life is complicated – we all know this, and pregnancies can be complicated as well. There will be a time in all of our lives when we are forced to manage medical emergencies and uncertainty. When this time comes, everyone hopes for compassionate, supportive care from doctors that we know. We can not reduce complex medical situations to two rigid sentences in our Constitution – but that is what the Eighth Amendment does. And it ties our well-trained doctors’ hands. Rather than allowing them to do their jobs, we have constrained their ability to provide the best care possible for their patients. Our nation’s top experts on women’s health, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the vast majority of its members are all in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
When voting in this referendum, we’re voting with the women we love in mind. I would want her to be treated at home if she received the devastating diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. Or if one experienced the horror of rape or incest and became pregnant as a result, I would want her to be treated with compassion and dignity in her own country. The girls and women of Ireland deserve better treatment than the current status quo. They deserve our Yes.
Orla O’Connor is co-chair of Together for Yes