There is too much uncertainty to make a decision on Repeal

The referendum is approaching and we don’t know what the outcome will cause

It’s only a matter of weeks before the population of Ireland will vote whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment. Currently, the eighth amendment states that the mother and the unborn in utero have equal rights. The proposed amendment seeks to strip the unborn of its rights and allow women to have abortions in this country. According to a 2016 report from the UK Department of Health, 3,265 Irish women travelled to the UK seeking abortions. Another report conducted in 2016, cited by the Irish Family Planning Association’s website, states that 1,642 abortion pill packages were sent to Ireland between the years 2010-2012.  

To repeal or not to repeal? What if you’re unsure? I feel there is no unbiased information accessible to those who are in the undecided category. In no way, shape, or form am I pro-life in the full meaning of the ideology. As a woman, I fully believe that the absolute least we should expect is bodily autonomy. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has long condemned Ireland for our poor abortion legislation and the lack of bodily autonomy granted to women. In spite of this, we should have questions, concerns, and doubts about the proposed removal of the eighth amendment.

I am more interested in focusing on preventing unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Certainly, there are instances where pregnancies cannot be prevented, but I believe that the wellbeing of the woman during pregnancy is of the utmost importance and that she should be prioritised during the pregnancy.

If a woman is at risk of ending her own life because of a pregnancy, she is in no way well in her being. Would you not agree that it is better to have a woman looking after her mental health with a terminated pregnancy, than a woman who has committed suicide because she was forced to continue the pregnancy? There needs to be support for these women struggling with mental health issues during pregnancy. Simultaneously, there needs to be emotional support for all women regardless of their mental health when they go through procedures like this.

To counter the emotional difficulties associated with both pregnancy and termination, counselling should be mandatory post termination. I don’t think abortion should be an isolating incident which is never properly dealt with. I think women should acknowledge the difficult situation and in some cases, mourn the loss of the pregnancy.

Abortion is completely a subjective issue. There are countless stories of women seeking advice on abortion because they’re not in a financial position to have a child; they’re too young to have a child; they’re been raped; they’ve been sexually assaulted; the child will die shortly after birth. I think it’s unfair for somebody to be able to dictate what I should or shouldn’t do with my pregnancy.

My doubts lie with the legislators in terms of what kind of system is going to be put in place to support the termination of pregnancies. Mental health in Ireland is already underfunded and there are only three perinatal psychiatrists in the country. How can we be sure that women who find themselves in this difficult position are cared for emotionally and won’t be let down by a system that could potentially be a service accessible to only those with private health care? There needs to be a system set in place so that every woman can access this service. Should this mean that funding about service should come from the taxpayer’s money?

All the recommendations made by the Oireachtas committee are just mere recommendations. More often than not, I agree with the recommendations; they advocate better sex education in primary, post-primary schools, colleges, youth clubs and other organisations that involve the interactions of young people. I was educated in all-girls primary and post-primary schools. I can remember the first time we were introduced to sexual education. The only thing I can remember from it is that the woman teaching us about it got a red lacy bra when she first got her first period.

Any sexual education that followed me through my teenage years was about hygiene, coping with stress and peer pressure; not exactly practical information about sex or consent, which is worrying. Sex is a part of growing up, and learning about consenting to it should become normalised. Amsterdam is famous for its sex museums but the truth is that the Netherlands have the best sex education in Europe; the Dutch are taught sexual education from kindergarten so by the time they reach their teens, they have a strong concept of consent and contraception, and have the lowest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe as a result.

Ireland is gradually becoming a liberal country but we can’t ignore that once in history the Catholic Church ruled the state. The conflict is between church and reasonable sexual education, the Catholic church believes artificial contraception is sinful and has had too much influence on sex education and education in general. The Oireachtas committee has made a recommendation for a thorough review of the current sexual education including areas of contraception and consent; such education should be impartial, factual and independent of the organisations’ ethos.

A further problem is access to contraception. Access to the pill and other alternatives of contraception other than condoms can be very expensive. The contraceptive pill, for example, requires you to visit your doctor to prescribe you the pill, then you need to pay for the prescription, the pill, and check-ups every three months to monitor your health.

If you qualify for a medical card, that’s all well and good. However, there are women on the cusp of qualifying for a medical card that will not have access to the pill because the whole procedure is far too expensive. The proposed amendment looks to modernise reproductive health and introduce access to the most effective contraceptive, free of charge, to all who wish to avail of it within the state.

Fatal foetal abnormality is not a medical term. It is deemed not appropriate by the Oireachtas committee to give a list of what may qualify as a fatal foetal abnormality because they are complex and sometimes multiple. There has been clashes over this debate; the quality of life is a leading argument for this discussion. There was a 22-week gestational limit proposed for a fatal foetal abnormality likely to occur before or shortly after birth. The committee advised that doctors judge through good faith whether or not the unborn has a fatal foetal abnormality. The debate around this issue is ongoing.

I found it quite shocking that the committee rejected the suggestion of 22-week gestational limit for cases of rape, only recommending a 12-week gestational limit. A victim of rape has already gone through so much trauma, and in dealing with that, why should they be forced to make such a huge decision amid all this distress? It’s recommendations like this by the committee that make me wonder about the proposed eighth amendment.

If you have a mother with an unborn foetus who is seeking asylum in this country, the rights of their unborn child are protected by legislation. Where does this leave the asylum seeker if the eighth amendment is changed? We need to look ahead of repealing the eighth we cannot make an informed decision on what we are looking to repeal if we don’t expressly know what it is going to replace it.

Yes, there are recommendations that have been made by the Oireachtas committee but there have been no attempts as of yet to even propose a policy around the whole issue. How can we trust the legislators to articulate something we want when there has never been anything like it in this country? I’d much prefer in something as big and potentially historical as repealing the eighth, everyone of all ages and backgrounds could inform themselves properly and make an intelligent and informed vote.

The proposed changes to the eighth amendment advocates better sexual and reproductive education and more accessible contraception. I wish to see women in this country have access to abortion if they so choose, I’m just worried that the vote will be rushed and legislators will not deliver when it comes to drawing up the official policy.