[This Blog Post was written in the weeks prior to the historic YES vote in Ireland]
On Friday May 25th Ireland goes to the polls to vote in a Referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to their Constitution. That amendment prohibits abortion except in extremely limited cases where the life of the mother is in danger. As it stands women have died in Ireland as doctors, fearing a prison term of up to 14 years for performing an abortion, have erred on the side of letting women die rather than facing a potential legal action.
I am Irish and I strongly support the repeal of the 8th Amendment and a woman's right to choose. I believe it is her fundamental right to decide if, and when, she becomes a mother. I believe forced motherhood is a barbaric outrage, a denial of a woman's human rights, and a grave disservice to society as a whole.
Living in New Mexico I'm a world away from the Irish Referendum debate, and I'm not. Here in the US President Trump just endangered the lives of millions of American women by implementing a national "gag rule". Federal funding to women's health centers will be at risk if they refer women for abortions. It's beginning to feel a bit like the Ireland I grew up in, and that's no good thing.
I left Ireland at the age of 25 to live and work in England where I lived, very happily, for over 15 years. Ireland has changed immensely in many ways since I left, and not at all in some ways, most notably with regard to the right to choose. An incident from my college years stands out very clearly. I was back in Dublin for Christmas, during a year of study abroad in Spain, and I needed my prescription for the contraceptive pill renewed. Rather than head all the way to the other side of the city, where my university was, and the medical center that issued the original prescription, I went to the local GP. I asked him to renew the prescription and he refused;
I can't do that. I don't agree with that. You'll have to go somewhere else.
Today I would demand his license be revoked. That day I felt shame as he looked at me, mentally branding me a "loose woman", and quietly left without the prescription. I called the university nurse. She stayed late to allow me the time to travel to the other side of the city to get the prescription. I was upset. She took the time to talk to me. Ireland's changing she said, but very slowly.
That was over 25 years ago. I hope today that no young woman has a similar experience when she asks for her birth control prescription. I hope.
Abortion is healthcare. It's not "baby murder" as the spokesperson for the Irish Anti-Choice Campaign described it on an NPR interview I heard the other day. It's the termination of a pregnancy. Baby murder is when someone kills a baby.
To be a baby you need to be born. I would have thought that was completely obvious. It seems however to be an intellectual stumbling block for the anti-choice side. There is a rush to endow a collection of cells with personhood as soon after ejaculation as possible. This is nonsense and treats women as chambers rather than full human-beings. It denies a woman (born and operating as a fully independent human-being) her right to full personhood by downgrading her right to autonomy of her body in favor of the collection of cells. That is, unacceptable.
The argument is not "When does life begin?"
The argument is "Are women full human beings?" Today, in Ireland, they are not.
I have experienced the anti-choice side up close in London. This is where Irish girls and women have been traveling for decades to access the care denied them in their home country. In a Marie Stopes clinic in London, some twenty years ago, I had an abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. From the moment I made my decision I was able to access excellent advice and service and had a termination at just over 9 weeks. I have not one regret.
On approaching the clinic on the morning of my appointment there was a crowd of anti-choice protesters with placards with graphic images purporting to depict abortions. I was approached by these people who were imploring me not to "kill my baby" and that they would help me and supply me with diapers for my baby. It's hard not to laugh now at the stupidity of these people. Still I was a woman in my twenties and was able to look these people in the eye thinking;
Have you really nothing better to do with your time than harass people whose choices you don't agree with?
Inside the clinic I heard the Irish accents. I overheard the conversations that confirmed that these ladies had travelled from Ireland. I felt for them. It's unpleasant enough to find yourself in need of a termination without the added hurdle and expense of a trip abroad.
The staff were fabulous, professional and sensitive. It is a shame that there are adults in this world who feel it necessary to stand outside these clinics to shout insults and those entering, within, and leaving. When I left I was shouted at and called a "baby murderer". Who did they think that behavior served? Was that their Christian compassion? I feel sorry for them now that their anger and rage led them to such hateful behavior. It was definitely not Christ-like, which I thought was the path Christians were supposed to follow.
I wasn't going to negotiate with them as I entered the clinic and I wasn't going to engage with them as I left. My decision, and any woman's decision, is private. It was my business and mine alone.
I was lucky. I wasn't an Irish resident when I needed a termination so I didn't need to travel and seek care in an unfamiliar country. England was my home.
Ireland was a very Catholic country and, bless them, there is still a large proportion of Ireland's aging population that show undue deference to the Church. This is the same Church that allowed Irish girls to be slave labor in the Magdalene Laundries. This is the same Church that killed real babies and covered up their mass graves as in Tuam. This is the same Church that allowed the sexual abuse by their clergy of young children, only moving the offending priests to other parishes when complaints were made.
A statement recently released by Bishop Leo O’Reilly, the Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland in relation to the upcoming referendum said:
For the sake of women and unborn children, and for the sake of our common humanity, I believe very strongly we should keep the Eighth Amendment.
This man is a representative of the organization that has committed all these atrocities against Ireland's women and children. The Church is an organization that systemically discriminates against women. Can we expect women priests soon? I, for one, will only be interested in what Bishop O' Reilly has to say about women on the day when the Catholic Church announces its first female Pope.
For the sake of "our common humanity" I would humbly suggest that Bishop O'Reilly and every other member of the Irish Catholic clergy, "shush". That means to be silent - you know, like the child victims of the Church's systemic sexual abuse were silenced, the way the Church silenced the women from the Magdalene Laundries, and the way the church enabled the tragedy of the permanent silencing of so many babies and children in the mass graves of women's homes across Ireland. Shush!
There has always been abortion and it continues in every country in the world regardless of legality. More women just die from unsafe abortions in those countries. As a woman who has had an abortion, I can tell you that, no, of course it's not pleasant. It's not something that you'd want to have to do more than once if you could avoid it. This hysteria over opening the door to "abortion on demand" is utter nonsense.
Every pro-choice advocate I have ever met believes abortion should be legal, safe, and rare. It should be rare because there is great healthcare and education and easy access to birth control (Hello America! Work to do here!). But even if all those conditions are met, it will still be necessary as a choice. There are many medical situations which may occur during the course of a pregnancy that demand a right to choose. The anti-choice side is so ardent in conferring personhood on an embryo that they ignore the fragility of this collection of cells and all the unexpected and heart-breaking outcomes that may develop during a pregnancy which may make a fetus unviable.
For women who do not want to become parents but become pregnant I think it's pretty obvious that typically, their first choice was not to skip contraception, and just have an abortion instead. Abortion is a real hassle. It's not the easy go-to option. Forcing women to become mothers because their contraception failed, including through their own inattention, serves no-one and is, I believe, a human rights violation. Every child born should be wanted, loved, and cherished and not the product of a state enforced pregnancy.
For women who do want to become parents, severe fetal abnormalities or an unviable fetus are heart-breaking, and those women and their families need privacy, support, and access to every medical option, including abortion.
Please vote YES to repeal the 8th Amendment if you are in Ireland.
To all of my American readers, let's be vigilant here. As Ireland struggles to free herself from the oppressive tangles of Church and State overreach into women's private lives and human rights, here in America we are facing the greatest threat in our lifetimes to our own right to choose. It will take us all, standing together, to defend our human rights here.
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and IG @emtczone
Want more of this type of content? Why not subscribe to our e-mail list to receive your dose of inspiration, insight and stories of women making a difference. Oh, and there's always the special offers and VIP discount codes too!