Op-ed: Why We Need to Overhaul Irish Abortion Legislation

This summer, the contentious Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 came under attention following two controversial news stories. The first was the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s criticism of the Act in their fourth periodic report of Ireland. The second was the treatment of a migrant woman who, under the authorization of the Act, was denied an abortion, forcibly hydrated, and had a C-section performed upon her at approximately 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Act, which came into effect in January 2014, specifies provisions regulating the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution (1983) which equates the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus, and in doing so criminalises abortion in all cases except where to continue a pregnancy would result in death. Rather than making a termination more accessible for women with life-threatening medical issues, the stipulations regarding the number and specialty of medical practitioners who must concur that a termination is necessary to prevent a risk of death by the Act, introduced new barriers to accessing legal abortion. The situation for women in Ireland now seems worse than before.

Cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and serious risks to the health of the mother are excluded, and the process for determining that a pregnancy does present a “real and substantial risk to the life of the mother” is so complicated that it may be unworkable in medical emergencies. The process a woman must go through to “prove” that her pregnancy is life-threatening requires more medical professionals to be involved to agree an abortion is legal than in any other country.

Where a woman is suicidal, three physicians, an obstetrician, and two psychiatrists, in addition to her general practitioner must concur to permit a termination. The provisions of the Act thus subject persons in a state of severe mental distress to even further disquiet. The exclusion of fatal foetal abnormality from the Act forces women whose pregnancies will inevitably end in tragedy carry out the full pregnancy or travel overseas for terminations. Those who are unable to travel overseas due to financial circumstances or migrant status, and self-administer an abortion pill risk facing up to 14 years imprisonment.

This summer the UN Human Rights Committee criticized “the highly restrictive circumstances under which women can lawfully have an abortion in the State party” citing, among its concerns the criminalization of abortion under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, the excessive degree of scrutiny by medical professionals for pregnant and suicidal women, and the discriminatory impact of the Act on women who are unable to travel abroad to seek abortions. Yet there seems to be little impetus on behalf of the government to amend these infringements on human rights.

I personally was motivated to get involved in the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC), a grassroots movement for choice and change in Ireland, by hearing numerous politicians express disinterest in improving upon the “Protection of Life” Act. Declarations that there was “no appetite” for an abortion referendum, and that such a referendum would not happen “within the life of this government”, made apparent to me the complacency of the state regarding the health and rights of women, and the need for Irish people to make their thoughts on the matter heard through other platforms. I went to marches and demonstrations, fundraised, dropped banners, realized my own conviction for every person’s right to bodily autonomy, and heartily encouraged every single person I knew to sign the ARC petition to repeal the 8th Amendment to lobby our unresponsive government to hold another abortion referendum.

The last referendum was held in 1983 and so no woman of childbearing age in Ireland has had the opportunity to vote on their own rights to health and to choice. If we wish to see treatment of pregnant women in Ireland improve, the impetus needs to come from the people first to demonstrate that, contrary to the beliefs of many of our government ministers, there is in fact an appetite for change.

N. Other Angle is a graduate student in UCD’s School of English, Drama, and Film. She is involved in Event Organization and Logistics for the Abortion Rights Campaign.

The 3rd Annual March for Choice will take place September 27th at 2 pm beginning at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin.

To find out more about the Abortion Rights Campaign
e-mail: info@abortionrights.ie
twitter: @freesafelegal
or sign the petition: http://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/repealthe8th/

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