On Saturday 20 August two women rose early and, with packed bags, headed to Dublin airport. On a chilly morning they queued to enter the plane knowing that they had a long journey ahead. One woman was travelling to have an abortion. The other, her friend, had come to support her. The women spent the next 48 hours sharing an incredibly personal and private experience with an ever increasing number of followers on twitter.
They detailed their whole trip from the nervous wait in the clinic to the blood-stained sheets on the bed after the procedure. By the end of the day 26,000 people had followed their journey and they had made headlines across the world. These women effectively showed the world that Irish abortion is a reality and that women should not be forced to foreign countries to acquire one.
I believe that Ireland is a good country but I believe Ireland can be a great country. In order to become great we need to change our abortion laws. The current law does not afford citizens of Ireland the dignity and respect they deserve. Every day 12 women are temporarily exiled from Ireland for the basic medical procedure that is abortion. Think about that for a second. Twelve women are forced to leave Ireland every single day. That means that by the end of this week, this number will be close to 80. It means that by the end of the year, this number will have jumped to almost 4,500 thousand women. I, for one, both as a woman and a human, find that statistic both appalling. Whether you are anti-abortion or pro-choice there is one thing that cannot be denied. Irish abortion is a reality.
The legislation that forbids abortion is enshrined in our constitution. The law gives an equal right to life of an unborn child and a mother. This literally means that as soon as cells start forming in a woman’s womb, in week one of pregnancy, that these cells have an equal right to life as that of the mother. It means that a foetus, which cannot live without feeding off a woman’s body, has the same right to life that she does. And it is wrong.
This legislation goes against the basic human right of bodily autonomy. We have seen how this legislation fails women time and time again. In the last few years we have seen a young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, die in agony from septicaemia because of a hospital’s reluctance to provide her with an abortion for a baby. A baby that had a zero percent chance of living. We have seen Ms Y, an asylum seeker, who, having been raped in her native country and unable to travel because of her immigration status, was forced to give birth to her rapist’s child. We have seen the macabre experiment of a brain dead woman being kept alive as an incubator for her unborn child against her family’s wishes.
These examples show us that not only is the law unethical, but also that in practice this law does not work. It shows that, despite the constitution, a woman and the unborn do not have the same right to life. It shows that the foetus has a greater right to life than the woman. This is anti-life. This is anti-women. And it neglects women their basic human rights.
The laws surrounding abortion in Ireland are archaic. And they no longer reflect the values of our society. A number of different independent polls have shown that the majority of people are in favour of widening access to abortion in Ireland. As it stands currently, no woman of childbearing age in Ireland has been given a chance to vote on the matter. Their fate has been decided for them. If we cannot trust women to make the right choices about their own body how can we trust them with raising a child? The logic does not add up.
Anti-abortion advocates suggest that decriminalised abortion numbers in Ireland would increase significantly. But this is highly unlikely. The abortion rates in Ireland fall largely in line with our European counterparts. In countries where abortion has been legalised, such as the US and Australia, studies have shown that the number of abortions did not increase. What do we have to gain by keeping it illegal?
The fact is that Irish abortions exist. They are a reality. And they are not going to go away. This is an undeniable truth. We have seen these women’s faces. We have listened to their stories. We have felt their heartbreak. It is time that we stood up as a nation and said this is not good enough. It is time that we trusted women to decide what is best for their lives and their bodies. It is time that we showed women the compassion and empathy that they deserve. I eagerly await the day that women will have control of their own bodies and won’t have to fight for human rights in 140 characters or less.