Living in a country with restrictions on abortion

Camila Moret considers some of the realities for women living in Ireland with its legal limits on abortion availability.

It is believed that 12 women in Ireland have an abortion every day. Some fly to places such as the UK or Spain where abortion is legalised and regulated, others find illegal methods within Ireland, such as buying pills online to induce a miscarriage. Depending on their financial situation, some women could even submit themselves to more dangerous ways to terminate the pregnancy, putting their own life at risk. If discovered, women who have an abortion in Ireland could face jail time, together with whoever assisted them.

One year ago, Ana, a Brazilian student living in Ireland, found out she was pregnant. “My boyfriend and I were together for less than a year. Having a kid is no playtime; how do you bring a child into this world when you can barely afford rent?”

She then reached out to an all-women Facebook group in order to find more information about her options here. She had great responses about clinics in Ireland that provide all the necessary information and support needed, sometimes even with free consultations with the medical team. She and her boyfriend went to a clinic in Dublin to seek help and had a consultation with a psychologist to talk about the pregnancy.

On 25 May this year, Ireland will hold a referendum to vote on the restricted laws on abortion in this country. This will give the Irish population the power to decide whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment. This amendment was voted into the Constitution in 1983 and provides that a pregnancy could be terminated only in the case of presenting a severe risk to the woman’s life.

“Going through this experience is tough, but it is much better when the people around you are open-minded about it”

Basically, the amendment seeks to protect the life of a foetus as much as the mother’s well-being and threatens jail time as a suitable punishment for those who disobey (the maximum time is 14 years in prison).

The Eighth Amendment suffered a lot of backlash back in 2012 following the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman living in Ireland. She had a miscarriage caused by sepsis and requested an abortion to remove the foetus but the medical team denied it, not believing her life was in danger. By the time the doctors decided her life was at real risk, her sepsis had got worse and she had a fatal cardiac arrest.

Her death was followed by many demonstrations against the way the situation was handled. People believed that the medical team feared to authorise the abortion in case it was proven the patient’s life was not in danger, which could send the physicians to jail under the amendment.

The referendum is historical because it could broaden the aspects of legal abortion in Ireland. At present, a woman who has suffered sexual violence is obliged to continue the pregnancy. Also, if the foetus presents with fatal abnormalities, the woman still has to carry the pregnancy through to the end. If Ireland votes to repeal the amendment, women will get to decide if they desire to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (up to 12 weeks’ maximum).

As of now, Ireland has two major sides campaigning in the referendum: “Save the 8th” and “Repeal the 8th”. Both groups have discussions and events open to public participation. Also, both sides campaign around the country in order to make the population aware of the vote and its implications.

Those who stand by Repeal the 8th argue that legalising abortion would be a way to prevent deaths caused by unsafe terminations and respect individual cases such as when women are sexually abused. People who want to Save the 8th have the argument that the foetus is already a life and terminating this life would be just like killing a human being.

“Each one of us campaigns for what we believe in and, thank God, everyone is free to express their minds,” Ana said.

According to The Center for Reproductive Rights website, abortion is legalised with no restrictions and regularised in 74 countries worldwide. Ana chose to go to Barcelona, where abortion is legal. “You can choose the method you prefer – I chose suction with anaesthesia. The whole procedure takes about five minutes.”

When she returned to Dublin, she had a free follow-up medical consultation in the clinic, two weeks after the procedure. Ana believes there is a lot of free help in Ireland for women in the same situation; even though it is against the law to carry out the procedure in Ireland, there is no legal implication in making information available to whoever needs it.

A lot of this discussion might come from Ireland’s intrinsic relationship with Catholicism. “It could be because of the religion here; it is so deeply rooted in the culture. But how can you change their minds? It is their right not to want public money on this,” Ana said.

According to the 2016 Irish Census, more than 75 per cent of the population identify as Roman Catholics. Although the percentage is high, the number is actually dropping; 2016’s results show a decrease of 3.4 per cent on the 2011 Census. The result of the referendum could also show a distancing between political laws and very strict moral and religious beliefs, which was already seen in 2015, when Ireland approved same-sex marriage in the country.

As this is a matter of discussion that started over 20 years ago with the implementation of the Eighth Amendment, abortion is still a controversial and delicate issue in Irish society.

“Going through this experience is tough, but it is much better when the people around you are open-minded about it,” was Ana’s final view.

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