Repeal the 8th Amendment: now is the time for change in Ireland

10.05.2018 | Culture , Thoughts | BY:

Ireland. The country famed as the Land of Angela’s Ashes, of Beckett, of Tayto crisps and of one of the oldest documented skeletons. It is also home to one of the most outdated legislations in the Europe.

Twin contributor Isabella Davey explores the realities of the existing abortion laws in Ireland and what the referendum on May 25th could mean for the country’s future. 

Abortion in Ireland is illegal. The only exceptions are if there is a threat to the life of the mother, either medically or through suicide. In any other case there are prosecuting consequences for women who choose to have an abortion through uncontrolled and potentially unsafe methods. Often women have no choice but to put themselves at risk.

On the 25th May, a review of this archaic situation will come into play. The national response to the Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment will hopefully reflect a modern Ireland of contemporary and democratic values. Repealing the 8th Amendment would see Article 40.3.3 removed from the Irish constitution.

This would then pave the way for legislation that would allow for free, safe and legal abortion procedures for women in the country, and return the right of bodily integrity and self-determination.

Speaking to Hannah Little from London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign on the importance of the referendum:

“No one under the age of 52 has voted on access to abortion in Ireland so this referendum is an overdue opportunity for Irish citizens to have their say. With our #HometoVote campaign, were calling on vote-eligible Irish abroad go home to vote to remove the 8th Amendment. Irish citizens overseas may retain full voting rights for a period of 18 months before the referendum so we’re asking the Irish diaspora to visit our website www.hometovote.com for further information.”

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act was introduced in 1983 after a referendum that asked Irish people to vote on the State’s abortion laws (which held abortion as illegal) and resulted in a 53.67% majority in favour of the right of the unborn child.

This saw the following amendment entering the country’s law:

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, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

In 20th Century Ireland, this wasn’t the only backward decision shaped by Catholic opinion. There is an alarmingly long list:

Divorce: only made legal in 1996. Contraception, inclusive of condoms: illegal up until 1979, where it was only made legal under doctor’s prescriptions who must be satisfied that the contraceptive is sought for family planning purposes. Condoms: only made legal to purchase in chemists in 1986. Marital rape: legal until 1990 when the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act abolished the clause that stated a husband could not be found guilty of raping his wife. Homosexuality: decriminalised consensual homosexual acts in 1993. These above examples illustrate the extreme delay in civilian rights in Ireland.

The fact that Ireland still serves abortion as a criminal offence only furthers the exasperation: why is Ireland stuck in such a backward law?

 

Ireland lies in a state of polarisation. On the one hand are the old laws, influenced by Catholic State rulings and on the other, a new Ireland that has embraced medical and technological advancements alongside its strengths in the arts. 

The reasons for the necessity of the 8th Amendment to be repealed are globally clear:

The main argument for the necessity is in the fact that the illegality of abortion removes the right of the woman’s own body and the right of choice from the woman. Her body is under the decision of the state, of which has had its laws deeply shaped by allegiance to the Catholic Church.

The secondary argument is that abortion has swiftly moved on from being a clerical abomination to its denial being a severe health risk, mentally, physically and emotionally.

In 2012 Savita Halappanavar died after being denied an emergency termination whilst miscarrying. As a result the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 was brought through. This stated that:

It shall be lawful to carry out a medical procedure in respect of a pregnant woman in accordance with this section in the course of which, or as a result of which, an unborn human life is ended where— (a) a medical practitioner, having examined the pregnant woman, believes in good faith that there is an immediate risk of loss of the woman’s life from a physical illness, (b) the medical procedure is, in his or her reasonable opinion (being an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable) immediately necessary in order to save the life of the woman, and (c) the medical procedure is carried out by the medical practitioner.

This ruling extended to include the risk of suicide on the pregnant woman’s behalf, but also enforced a prison sentence of up to 14 years of ‘unlawful abortions’ that don’t adhere to the above exceptions.

Destruction of unborn human life 22. (1) It shall be an offence to intentionally destroy unborn human life. (2) A person who is guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, or both.

Considering that the SAVI (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) Report of 2002 ratified the distressingly high figures for women below, the survey weighed up the low indictments against female abuse, and the high percentage of Irish females exposed to it:

Women: More than four in ten (42 per cent) of women reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. The most serious form of abuse, penetrative abuse, was experienced by 10 per cent of women. Attempted penetration or contact abuse was experienced by 21 per cent, with a further 10 per cent experiencing non-contact abuse.

If 10% of women in Ireland, based off the study’s figures, are experiencing penetrative sexual assault, this would allow victims of rape who fall pregnant to fall through the cracks of the law, leaving them vulnerable to the state and forced to carry a crisis pregnancy as a result of rape to term of an attacker.

In the X case of 1992, which saw a 14 year old rape victim having her case taken to the Supreme Court, the High Court initially instigated an injunction against her plans to secure an abortion abroad having had suicidal desires.

The X Case brought about the removal of limitation of one’s freedom to travel to secure an abortion, however the case brought through the proposal to remove suicidal desires as legal grounds for an abortion, known as the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 1992, which was rejected in a referendum.

In 2002 the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2002 which further looked to remove threat of suicide as a ground for abortion and increase the penalties for helping a woman have an abortion, held a voting result difference of 0.84% of the population against the amendment passing. That is a controversially low figure for a constitutional amendment imploring further punishment and further removal of medical reasoning.

The question the Referendum raises is about trusting women: trusting them with their bodies and the decisions that they choose to make.

 

In 2010 an Irish woman with terminally ill cancer sued the Irish state for violation of human rights after she had to cease her cancer treatment due to an unplanned pregnancy interfering with her treatment. Her obstetrician in Ireland was left unable to perform an abortion, leaving her arms tied due to the laws in place. The patient had to fly to the UK to secure one, despite her severely ill condition.

Today it is estimated that up to 12 women travel to the UK every day to access abortion clinics.

“Our best chance at winning this referendum is if people are willing to have those ‘tricky conversations’ with family and friends about why this issue is so important and why their vote matters.” Adds Hannah Little. “Abortion is still a very divisive subject, even in countries with less restrictive laws than Ireland. This referendum serves as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take healthcare out of the constitution and legislate for compassionate care for pregnant people in Ireland.”

The right to choose an abortion is one that is a deeply personal decision to many, and one that is not aiming to secure one answer, but give the control of that decision back into the hands of the women who currently have their decisions dictated by the State.

The results of the Referendum on May 25th will hopefully reflect the values of an Ireland ready to shed its past. Should we face a rejection of repealing the 8th Amendment, we will not be just facing a prohibition on our rights, we will be faced with the realisation that Ireland is failing to accept positive progression.

For further information visit Together for Yes and London Irish Arc

Feature image credit: Robbie Lawrence ‘The Road to Tyninghame’ for Twin magazine.

Tags: , ,

Join the mailing list

Search

  • Identifying a comfortable and trendy dog cloth is turning out to be difficult, as more and more cute dog clothes are venturing in the global market on regular basis.