I am, as are most people I know, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of abortion. Thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d get on with someone who is. Who knows, maybe I’ll meet one someday and they’ll turn out to be perfectly lovely. Like everyone in Ireland so far this year, I have been left with little choice but to examine my thoughts and feelings on the idea of abortion. With, what I imagine to be an average, of four campaign posters per street lamp, the forthcoming referendum could hardly have escaped anyone’s notice.
Voting is, obviously, important. One only has to look at how non-voting affected the recent Brexit vote and the Trump election to see any protestations of “it wouldn’t make a difference” exposed for the nonsense that they are. As with the recent referendum on Gay Marriage, I’ve sought to consume information from those campaigning on both sides, after all in terms of subject matter, what we are being asked to vote on could hardly be more important. Below, I’ve outlined the reasons why I’ll be voting Yes on Friday, May 25th. This little note (and I promise to try and keep it little) is the how and why as to how I came to that position. I’ve put it all down in words, not in for some ill-advised posturing, but instead as note to those mates who may be erring towards a cautious No, or are currently sat on the fence. Consider this the quiet chat over a pint we would have had, had we the time.
A World Without Abortion
In any vote, there’s always a higher aim, some piece of blue-sky thinking. It may not actually be stated on a ballot paper, it might not even make the campaign literature but it’s always in there. In this instance, the piece of blue-sky thinking is a world, or more specifically here, an Ireland, without abortion.
The Yes side are for obvious reasons, not mentioning this too much but its very much a part of their campaign. The Yes vote is tied to the ideas of women’s liberation, contraception access and sexual education. Will these things eradicate the need for abortion? Probably not, sadly we live in a reality where access to an abortion, for some awful reason, will always be a reality. But access to abortion, along with those other three initiatives has seen the abortion rates steadily fall.
The No side are strongly hinting at this as an aim but are yet, to the best of my knowledge anyway, yet to come out and say it. My problem with this stance, is that they are campaigning for the status quo. They are campaigning for the same failed system that has been in place for over thirty years. Ireland is not abortion free, they just happen in another country.
It is well documented (ask and I can send you on the link) that countries with less restrictive regimes have lower abortion rates on average, than those with more restrictive regimes. This is because they tie abortion access to sexual education, to contraception access and Women’s liberation. As such, only one result next Friday will actually lead to a long-term decrease in Irish women seeking abortions.
Implications for Maternal Healthcare
So, the health of a foetus is entirely dependent on the health of the mother within which it is gestating. In some ways, the mother’s health is very much dependent on the life of that foetus. This relationship is unique and ends (in theory, but thankfully rarely in practice) once the foetus is born. And although there continue to be medical advances in this area, we still face situations where we can’t sub-in another mother, or keep the foetus alive using technological intervention.
Throughout the Oireachtas Committee hearings and in the months since, we have heard from the heads of both National Maternity Hospitals and from many other medical experts on the Eighth Amendment. And they have testified again and again that the Eighth Amendment prevents them from being able to act in the interests of the mother. As such, although the Eighth Amendment does extend Citizenship rights to one group, it does so at the expense of another. Consider in this instance then, a woman who requires a medical intervention abortion because her life is at risk. She may not receive one because under Irish law her life must be 50% in danger. Imagine instead that’s she’s just 49%. We lose her and we lose the family she may have gone onto have. It is also worth noting that our lack of care over pregnant women in this regard has been condemned by the UN and the World Healthcare Organisation.
I know that since the Oireachtas Committee hearings, some GPs have come forth to offer differing opinions. But they have done so only in opinion pieces, blogs, managed press releases or such campaign media. Anyone can fire out an opinion piece, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be cross examined on it (ahem…). When the Oireachtas Committee put out an open invite for any medical practitioner to represent what has become the No side, not one of them put their head above the parapet. In a situation where they’d actually be challenged and have their claims cross-examined, they were nowhere to be seen. One side, what would become the Yes campaign, had the courage of their convictions. The other didn’t, as such, I can only treat their medical claims with extreme cynicism.
That It’s Actually An Amendment to the Constitution
In the last bit I mentioned “medical advances in this area”. See, this is the thing, abortion is a medical procedure. I cannot fathom why something concerning a medical procedure isn’t left to the legislature. Here it can change and adapt as medical technology and healthcare practices advance. As I mentioned before, time and time again a less restrictive abortion regime is tied to greater contraception access, better sexual education and greater rights for women. These are things that reduce abortion rates.
Can’t We Have Those Three Things And Retain the Eighth?
This is a position the moderate elements of the No campaign have begun arguing in recent weeks. We’ll put aside the issues of fatal foetal abnormalities and that the mother needs to have less than a one in two chance to live for this here. To put it simply, I don’t believe them and wouldn’t trust them to deliver. In the thirty-years since the Eighth was added to the Irish Constitution, the main bodies behind the No campaign have shown no interest in improving contraception access, improving sexual education or women’s rights. In fact, they’ve campaigned on at least two occasions to have the restrictions increased. Furthermore, the sexual outreach programmes that they do run, have been caught time and time again giving false information to women. They make no attempt to cover up how they tell women that an abortion causes breast cancer. I don’t even need to tell you that that is nonsense.
I’m a Man and I Don’t Think I Should Be Voting On A Women’s Issue.
I hear you brother but as this is written into the constitution, it’s not a women’s issue. Want to make it a woman’s issue? Then get out this Friday and vote yes - as that’s the only way that that is going to happen.
12 Weeks Is Too Long
Okay so, first thing, just to make sure; bear in mind that the 12 week period does not equate to a 12 week old foetus. A 12 week gestation period begins at the date the woman’s last period ended. I know most folk know that, but thought it best to just to mention it. So, two things on the 12 weeks; firstly, we need to allow for rape cases and this is not something that can be currently done in less time with the current red tape levels in Irish law. It also places an onus on the mother to prove she was raped, and we don’t have to look too far back to find an example of how difficult and traumatising that can be.
The second one is that, this is where I trust the experts. I refer back to my previous comments regarding the Oireachtas Committee, all the medical experts backed the 12 week period, the only people to object were either not a medical expert or did not do so at the Committee hearings (despite having an open invite). I should also point out here that there is no disability test for a foetus at 12 weeks.
Can’t We Alter the Legislation for Extreme Cases?
So here’s where I put my anti-choice cards on the table. Simply put, i don’t agree with abortion access being granted without some restrictions. But then, here’s the thing, even if i were the one with power to enact this legislation, how could I go about legislating for those restrictions, let alone enforcing them? Furthermore, they’re the reasons I don’t believe in unrestricted access but as is now well-documented, other people also have their reasons for opposing unrestricted access. Once we go down that road, or start pulling on that thread, we stop talking about abortion access and start policing women’s behaviour. We need to empower, to educate, and finally to trust women to make the right decision for them, not necessarily one that makes us/me/you comfortable.
I’m also voting Yes because I can’t bring myself to vote No. I can’t witness the testimonies of those poor people who have suffered a fatal foetal abnormality and then been forced to travel to Britain only to then receive the remains of their child from a DHL courier. It’s disgusting that we put people through that and even more reprehensible that they’ve since been asked to respectfully debate with the likes of Ronan Mullen.
This is where it gets personal, this is where I think of my friends and their partners and how they may someday have to face this possibility. To think that I’d have gone through all that I’ve gone through with my friends and then turn around on Friday to tick a box that would help consign them to that fate, I can’t stomach that.
I’m voting Yes on Friday for you, your partner (you and your partner!) in the hope that you’ll never have to go through that.
If you’re reading this, you either have my number of can contact me through the likes of FB messenger. If you’re genuinely torn or unsure then please reach out.