“Ireland is not ready for full abortion rights” is a phrase I have heard more times than I would like over the last few months. (By which I of course mean, I have heard it more than once, or at all.) If Ireland isn’t ready now, at the most modern and forward-thinking we have ever been, when will we be ready?
“The Irish government fails to recognize that I am a woman, not a womb,” says Ciara, aged 20, a young Irish woman who I got the chance to speak with. She is right. Since the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway General Hospital last December, after she was denied the abortion that medical professionals say almost definitely would have saved her life, pro-choice groups in Ireland have not rested. Savita’s death brought to light the fact that it has been 20 years since the infamous X case, in which a 14-year-old girl was denied an abortion after becoming pregnant through rape, despite the fact that her horrific circumstances had caused her to become suicidal. At the time, it was promised that the X case would be legislated on. 20 years later, but nothing has been done to protect the women of Ireland and let them know that they are trusted with their own bodies, lives and choices. In fact, they have been patronized and condescended to at every turn since the debate on abortion rose to prominence again last December. “The idea that those opposing label themselves as pro-life is ridiculous,” continues Ciara. “They should focus their energy on improving the lives of those who exist today instead of denying me my right to control my own body.”
It is a terrifying thing to realize that your country does not value your life. That may seem like a dramatic statement, but let me break it down for you. Since Savita’s death, the demand for government legislation on abortion has been enormous and finally, it is happening. That’s hopeful, right? Not really. Firstly, the legislation proposed only allows for an abortion to take place if the woman’s life is in danger, i.e. if she has become so ill that she will soon die. She will literally have to wait until she is at death’s door before an abortion can be considered. Are we meant to be grateful for yet another law that defines what we can and can’t do with our bodies, this time one that could cause us to endure life threatening illness? Am I meant to feel secure and protected? Well I don’t. Not only am I deeply insulted that sexism runs so deep in this country that the government does not trust women with decisions regarding their own lives and bodies, I feel betrayed, undervalued and unrepresented.
The risk of suicide is also being put forward as an adequate reason to provide an abortion. Aren’t they generous? But how can a woman prove she’s suicidal? Don’t worry, it has been suggested that she be analysed by no less than six doctors before she can be declared unwell enough to have earned herself an abortion. Because that will help her get better. In order to combat mischievous women lying about being suicidal in order to procure control over their own bodies,there is a nice little jail sentence of no less than twenty eight days for a woman found to be exaggerating about their mental state to deter those pesky females from seeking autonomy. While none of this proposed legislation is definite, these are the aspects of it that have been discussed recently.
Jana, aged 20, an Irish student currently attending university in America, expressed her outrage at the proposed method of dealing with potentially suicidal pregnant women. “The Irish government needs to stop trying to tire suicidal women out of pursuing their right to, not even reproductive rights, not even the right to choose, but to their own lives.” Over the last several weeks and months, an Irish politician has said something grossly offensive and misinformed on the topic of abortion seemingly every other day. Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny last week stated “No woman in Ireland is entitled to by choice have an abortion unless there is a real and substantial risk to her life as distinct from her health…The law is not being changed. No new rights are being inserted here.” Actually, Enda, we are entitled, your government is simply denying us that right. There are no such things as ‘new rights’, only rights that have been denied to us for far too long. It’s not as if us crazy women have just invented this new entitlement and are now moaning because it is being withheld from us. I am tired of being condescended to, and made to feel like a spoiled child whining for more sweets. I will not be grateful for my country passing a law that says my life can be saved, but only at the last minute. I will not accept that sort of treatment, and I will not stand for any woman being put through that sort of physical and mental abuse, in the name of “morality”.
On Monday night, Irish current affairs program Tonight, with Vincent Browne hosted a debate on the issue, with a representative from Action on X, Sinead Kennedy, and an anti-choice politician, Peter Mathews. Kennedy asked “So you think it’s an acceptable risk for woman to be allowed to continue with a pregnancy even if that pregnancy would damage her health. You think that’s acceptable?” To which Mathews responded, “But sure we’re all going to end up dead anyway.” If we’re all going end up dead, Mr Mathews, I wonder why you would consider yourself ‘pro-life’ in the first place?
As the debate rages on, some of the young people of Ireland gave me their opinions on the proposed legislation.
“We don’t force people to give up their body, at great physical and mental cost to themselves, in order to keep other people alive in general,” points out Michael, aged 20. “We know this is true because we don’t legally require people to give blood or donate spare organs. Why is it that this situation changes just because somebody is a woman and pregnant?”
Emma, also aged 20, has this to say: “I am quite religious, yet I use contraception, I support gay marriage, and I believe legalizing abortion for all in Ireland is needed. I think that for it only to be okay if the woman’s life is in danger is not good enough. What about rape? Even the case of ‘this is not the right time’ should be considered. Personally, I would want to keep the baby if it was accidental. If I was raped, on the other hand, I would consider abortion despite what my religion says is right. You have to think about yourself before what you religion teaches you.”
Emma raises an interesting point, that of religion. Ireland has long been a fiercely religious country, with Catholic morality dominating many of its policies. Though this is changing, with homosexuality being legalized in 1992, divorce in 1996, and recent talk of an upcoming referendum on gay marriage, the opinions of Bishops still bear equal weight to medical professionals and politicians on this issue and quotes from religious officials almost always accompany those from medical professionals when abortion is being discussed on the news.
“I don’t feel safe as a woman in this country” says Fi, aged 21. I am inclined to agree with her. One thing I am sure of is that I will not be having my children in Ireland, when and if I have them. I am scared to be pregnant here, because if something goes wrong, I won’t be helped, at least not until I am gravely ill. I am nowhere near the having children stage yet, so maybe by the time I get there, things will have changed. But judging from the behavior witnessed over the last weeks and months, I highly doubt that. If Ireland is not “ready” to give me my rights, to recognize that I am a human being who deserves access to medical care no matter what, then it does not deserve to have my children to grow up here and I will not have them raised in a place where women are medically discriminated against. I just don’t think Ireland is “ready” for my kids.
Written by Laura-Blaise McDowell