Saturday, May 12, 2018

REPEAL THE 8TH: A Once In A Generation & Historic Opportunity

“Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan” is a proverb in the Irish language meaning there is no freedom until women are free. The purpose of this article is to highlight the significance of the REPEAL movement for abortion rights for women in Ireland in 2018 and to highlight how repeal is necessary for the liberation of women and societal change. Freedom is and always has been a long and hard fought struggle for Irish women.  First wave feminism created ripples here from 1860 with issues such as female education, suffrage, employment opportunities and the role of women in politics and decision-making taking centre stage. The first wave activists made crucial advancements in terms of education and by 1908 courses and degrees in all Irish universities were open to women. Significantly 2018, marks the centenary of partial suffrage for women in Ireland as those over 30 were allowed to vote  under UK Legislation. Suffrage for all women came in 1922 following the birth of the Irish Republic. Undeniably, progress had been made but greater change was necessary, hence the 60s and 70s gave rise to the second wave of Irish feminism. This agenda placed a much greater emphasis on the rights of women in terms of employment and reproduction. The Marriage Bar which forced women to leave their jobs when they got married was lifted in 1973. The Contraceptive Train of 1971 in which members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement defied Irish law to bring contraceptives to the Republic marked a monumental milestone in terms of reproductive rights. Yet, fast forward to 2018 and Ireland still has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. In 1918 Irish women pressed for progress and won the right to vote and by using this precious vote in the  referendum of 2018 we now have a once in a generation opportunity to make Ireland a safer and more compassionate country for all women.

What is The Eight Amendment?
The article forms part of Bunreacht na hÉireann (The Irish Constitution) and outlines that "the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, and with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect.. defend and vindicate that right". The above article assigns equal rights to the unborn child and the mother meaning that abortion is outlawed in this country except for cases when a pregnant woman's life is at risk under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. Abortion is illegal in Ireland in the cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities. This legislation means that the criminal penalty for a woman found to have had an abortion in Ireland is up to 14 years imprisonment. The law also ties the hands of medical practitioners who are restrained in their care of patients due to the 8th Amendment. 

Why was The Eight Amendment introduced?
This Amendment was passed by referendum in 1983 to grant rights to the unborn and lock a constitutional ban against abortion into Irish law. The result was viewed as an opposition to the status quo in Europe at the time where other countries were legislating for abortion rights for women. One must remember the undeniably powerful influence held by the Catholic Church during this period of Irish history and question whether their stance on moral issues contributed to creating such a highly conservative society. However, we cannot deny that Ireland has modernised completely in this past century. We live in a wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural society and with the passing of the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum in 2015 our image of family has revolutionised full circle. Yet, our country still has not legislated for abortion rights for our women. However, a referendum has been called for May 25th where the electorate will have their say on this crucial issue.

8 Reasons to Repeal the 8th

  1. The United Nations and Amnesty have both condemned Ireland’s strict abortion laws for violating the human rights of women and girls. Women are being denied the human rights of healthcare, bodily autonomy and independent decision making through a law which equates the life of a woman to the life of an embryo. 
  2. Ireland (along with Malta) has the most restrictive abortion laws in the EU.
  3. Women have died in Ireland having been denied access to abortion care.
  4. An average of 12 women a day travel abroad to procure abortions, showing how Irish law discriminates against women without the financial means to travel.
  5. Women are reverting to extremely dangerous methods to end their pregnancies. In June 2016 over 78 abortion pills were seized by Irish customs in just one week. The Eight Amendment is not restricting access to abortion- just safe medical care.
  6. Rape victims have no access to free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland.
  7. Women are forced to carry to term pregnancies that have no chance of survival (fatal foetal abnormalities).
  8. Ireland’s abortion law criminalises women who can face 14 years in prison for taking abortion pills and also criminalises medical professionals and places them in impossible situations where they cannot offer compassionate medical care to patients.   

Important Resources

In Her Shoes- Women Of The Eight- personal stories and testimonies from women who experienced life under the Eight Amendment firsthand. 

Men 4 Yes- Stories and resources for men supporting a repeal of the 8th Amendment. The men of Ireland have a vital role to play in this referendum, please let your voice be heard on May 25th.

Together for Yes- Facts, real stories, news and information on how to get involved and support the campaign through canvassing, donations and events.

The Irish Times- The online version features excellent analysis and fact checks of claims made by the yes and no side of the referendum campaign. This an excellent resource for impartial and clear facts and #8thRef also features heavily in their Inside Politics podcast.

What impact would Repeal have? A Repeal of the Eight Amendment in its essence means that Ireland would change the wording of the Constitution to legislate for protecting the lives, health and choices of women in our country if a referendum on the issue is to be passed. A yes vote would highlight modern Ireland as a country that trusts and respects women as autonomous beings who are capable of making their own decisions regarding their bodies, their health and their lives. Never forget that there is no freedom until women are free and the key to this freedom lies in the hands of voters on May 25th. Vote yes to repeal for Savita, for Ann Lovett, for Case X and all the cases that may occur in our future if this cruel and archaeic law is retained. Vote yes to repeal for we may never see this opportunity again this generation or in our lifetimes. Vote yes to repeal for the women of Ireland, past, present and future.

Grace Cullen, Educator and Writer 
Instagram: @gracewithloveblog

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