Ireland is the only country in the world to have a constitutional ban on abortion. However the ongoing campaign for a woman’s right to choose has been given a boost by the landslide vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
The Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) is preparing for a public vote on repealing the Eighth Amendment, which bans access to abortion, and the organisation hopes it will happen sooner rather than later.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless there is a “real and substantive” risk to the woman’s life. In a nutshell, the woman must be suicidal and prepared to prove this to a panel of medical professionals. Whether a woman has been raped, is the victim of incest, or her pregnancy is doomed due to foetal abnormalities, has no bearing whatsoever on her right to a legal abortion. Unsurprisingly very few women choose to try to jump through those very high, very small hoops, opting instead to travel to another country for a private abortion — it’s thought that 12 women leave Ireland every day to have an abortion in the U.K. — or order pills from the Netherlands-based service Women on Web to carry out the abortion in their own homes.
For some women in Ireland pregnancy really is a life or death situation. In 2012 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia in Galway after being denied a legal abortion. Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when she began to experience back pain, which turned out to be a miscarriage. Her husband reportedly said that she had requested a medical termination several times over a three-day period, during which she was in extreme pain. He said her requests were denied because a foetal heartbeat was still present and that they were told at one point: “This is a Catholic country.”
The ARC estimates that at least 150,000 women have travelled abroad to seek abortions since 1980. Thousands more are unable to do so for financial, health or legal reasons.
Human rights history has been made in Ireland over the last few months. As well as the landslide vote in favour of marriage equality, Ireland passed the Gender Recognition Bill in June, which grants trans people the right to change their legal gender based on self-identification alone. All the signs are pointing to a more progressive Ireland — an Amnesty International poll found that two-thirds of Irish people want abortion decriminalised and eight out of 10 were in favour of some form of liberalisation of the law.
The poll, which was based on 1,000 telephone interviews carried out in May, also showed just how little the people of Ireland actually know about the legal risk of having an abortion in Ireland.
For example, 64 percent of those surveyed had no idea that it is a crime to get an abortion in Ireland when the woman’s life is not at risk. And only nine percent knew that a 14-year jail term may be imposed on anyone found to have had an unlawful abortion in Ireland or that doctors who carry out the procedure can be imprisoned too.
The lack of access to abortion has been described as “torture” by the United Nations. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Ireland decides to stop torturing so many of its women.
The 4th Annual March for Choice takes place in Dublin on Sept. 26, marking the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. You don’t have to be an Irish resident to support the campaign for legal abortions for all Irish women. You can sign the petition to repeal the Eighth Amendment here.