As the debate over the 8th amendment intensifies, Emer O’Hara speaks to a Polish pro-choice activist and looks at similar movements across the globe.
IN the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, abortion is currently illegal unless the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The ‘Repeal the 8th’ campaign seeks to overturn one of the most restrictive abortion regulations in Irish law. On the 8th of March, a ‘Strike for Repeal’ march was held in Dublin and in various towns around Ireland, where women were encouraged to refrain from all work and attend the planned protests. Protesters were also encouraged to wear black in solidarity.
It is not just in the Republic of Ireland, however, where protest movements have developed as a result of restrictions on access to abortion.
In Poland, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life in in jeopardy or if the pregnancy is not viable. In October 2016, around 100,000 women took to the streets in sixty Polish cities to protest against proposed legislation that would have made virtually all abortions illegal. The legislation was proposed by the conservative ‘Law and Justice’ party and was strongly supported by the Catholic Church. During the ‘Black Monday’ protest, Polish women boycotted work and classes and many dressed in black, as they held pro-abortion signs and chanted outside various parliament buildings.
“The Catholic Church plays a very important part in social and political life, and you are taught at school that abortion is murder”
“Lena” is a Polish student, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been involved in the protest movement against the government’s proposals. She explained: “In Poland, we were fighting for the law to remain the same. Many people who protested believed that the legislation that is already in place is a good compromise”.
“The Catholic Church plays a very important part in social and political life, and you are taught at school that abortion is murder,” she continued, “myself and my friends attended the protests and wore black.”
Abortion wasn’t always illegal in Poland: from 1959 to 1993 abortion was available on request, but in 1993 the law changed, primarily as a result of pressure from the Catholic Church. When pressed on whether or not she thought the government would move forward with proposed legislation at a later date, she added “society reacted so strongly, because the legislation was absurd, but the church will defend the unborn life until the last drop of blood.” The proposed legislation was subsequently rejected by parliament.
“The legislation was absurd, but the church will defend the unborn life until the last drop of blood”
An attempt to change abortion legislation in Spain was met by protests in 2014. Abortion in the country was first legalised in 1985 in certain cases such as rape and if the mother’s life was in danger. By 2010 the scope was widened significantly to allow abortion at 22 weeks in the case of foetal abnormalities. The new bill proposed abortion only in the case of rape or if the mother’s health was in danger. While the government subsequently backed down on this legislation, a further bill was presented in 2015, which would prevent women under the age of eighteen from procuring abortions without parental consent. This was subsequently passed.
In Angola, an upcoming parliamentary vote proposes to jail women for up to ten years for procuring an abortion alongside the individuals that performed the procedure. Abortion is currently illegal in Angola, but the proposed legislation incurs a harsher punishment. On the 18th of March, around 200 protesters attended a march in the capital of Luanda, carrying pro-abortion signs, and the protest passed peacefully. The proposed vote was scheduled for the 23rd of March but has been postponed.
In São Paulo, Brazil, protests over a woman’s right to abortion were held in December 2016. A Supreme Court ruling in November 2016 decided to decriminalise first trimester abortions in certain cases, which set a precedent for wider availability of abortions. At the moment, however, the Brazilian criminal code states that a woman could receive up to three years in prison should she procure an abortion illegally.
“An upcoming parliamentary vote proposes to jail women for up to ten years for procuring an abortion”
Abortion in Brazil is only legal in the case of rape, where a mother’s life is at risk, or in the case of anencephaly – a condition where the baby would be born with part of the brain and skull missing. On September 28th last year, women took to the streets of several cities across Latin America to protest for their right to bodily autonomy. South America is a primarily Roman Catholic continent and has very strict abortion laws in many regions.
In the United States of America, abortion has been legal since 1973, however it is severely restricted in several states such as Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, and Arkansas. The Women’s March in Washington DC saw many pro-choice activists take to the streets to protest. The pro-choice campaign in the US have concerns that President Trump will seek to dismantle current abortion legislation during his tenure in office.
Back in February, protesters from both sides of the abortion debate attended marches in more than twelve cities, with anti-abortion campaigners calling for the federal government to stop providing ‘Planned Parenthood’ with funding, while the pro-choice activists gathered to express their support for the organisation, which provides many reproductive health services, such as pregnancy testing, breast exams and contraceptives.
According to UN statistics in 2013, the most restrictive areas geographically are Oceania, followed by Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Europe by contrast, is one of the most liberal areas of the world on abortion laws.