This is a historical few weeks for reproductive justice in Ireland. It’s an important time for human rights in this country. For the first time we are actually getting some kind of abortion legislation drafted. This is a good thing for human rights, yes?
Well, symbolically it is good. But practically it is a total disaster.
But we are creating abortion legislation (The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013), this is good…right?
Basically, this legislation is moot. Ineffective.
The 8th Amendment to the Constitution (fundamentally equating the right to life of the unborn to the right to life – not health – of the woman, thus allowing abortion in such restrictive and ambiguous circumstances that it doesn’t happen) makes it very hard to legislate in any meaningful, practical, accessible way. Urgh.
Repealing and/or reviewing the 8th Amendment to the Constitution is the REAL battle here. We must push for that or proper, accessible, clear and effective legislation will NEVER be a reality. That’s the real battle and we must keep our focus on that over the coming months. But for now, this is what we have and I guess at least it’s the first, tiny step in some kind of meaningless, dysfunctional direction, or something. Urgh.
What DOES this legislation say?
- It says that in a medical emergency where the woman’s life is in danger, there must be one medical practitioner to approve an abortion to save her life. Why do they have to approve my life being saved? Such a weird thing to ask a doctor to do! Doctors are there to save lives. Also, part of the problem with the 8th Amendment is trying to determine when someone’s life is ‘at risk’ (ruled a violation of rights by the ECHR in 2010), and this all sounds like a similar rhetoric which will be difficult to practically act on.
- It continues to say that if a woman’s life is at risk for non emergency health reasons (let’s say she needs treatment for a disease which may cause a miscarriage or needs an abortion to access the treatment properly or something like that), she will need the approval of 2 medical practitioners for the abortion/medical treatment to save her life. Bear in mind that if I were a man I would have instant, effective access to whatever treatment I need to save my life. That is straight up gender discrimination.
- Making a very dangerous distinction between physical and mental health, it goes on to say that if a woman is suicidal because of her pregnancy she must have her abortion approved by 3 medical practitioners. One must be an obstetrician/gynaecologist (who will no doubt feel ill qualified to ‘judge’ this kind of decision). If one of these doctors says you are lying about being suicidal, you will need to go through the whole process again, which could take another two weeks. It is not clear in the legislation who will pay for all these consultations either.
- Another interesting thing stipulated in the legislation is that in cases of illegal abortion in Ireland (where, shock horror, you haven’t managed to work your way around the mine field that is this legislation and figure out how to obtain one lawfully) you will face up to 14 years imprisonment. This is double the average sentence for rape in Ireland. So, you could – in theory – be raped, take an abortion pill, and end up in prison for longer than your rapist under this legislation. Nice.
The inclusion of this criminalisation of abortion will mean that more women will probably try ‘at home’ abortion kits, and/or be scared to seek medical help in the case of a problem with an illegal abortion. This puts them in greater risk and danger and also further confuses things for medical practitioners trying to help.
- The Bill defines ‘unborn’ as: “following implantation until such time as it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of the woman”. This means that the Bill will effectively criminalise anyone who feels the need to abort their foetus if that foetus has a fatal abnormality. We should define ‘unborn’ as a ‘viable’ foetus instead, so if the foetus has a fatal abnormality (ie. it wont survive birth) you have the option to abort that foetus and not be forced to travel or obtain an illegal abortion, or indeed carry the foetus to term when you know It will not survive.
- It repeatedly uses the word ‘mother’ which is an ambiguous, emotive, unnecessary, subjective and strange thing to include.
What does this legislation NOT say:
- One of the worst things we are not legislating for, dealing with, or seeming to give a toss about are those parents who have the tragic case of a foetal abnormality where the foetus will not survive outside the womb. It is a disgrace, a shameful, barbaric and horrific practice that we ask these people to leave their homes, their families, their own doctors, their support network and spend lots of money to travel for an abortion. We should not rest until this situation is rectified. As I mention above, by defining the ‘unborn’ as a fertilised implanted egg, we are not giving people in this terrible situation the option of abortion. The only Irish option for these people is to carry on with the pregnancy and give birth even when they know the baby will not survive.
- The fact that we are essentially still making people travel means we are not letting people have access to the most practical and common form of abortion – medical abortion. Most people that travel have surgical abortions. This means women have to go through more difficult and invasive treatments. Medical abortions need more follow up care in the subsequent days so you need to be near the clinic for a little while, rather than on a plane back home to Ireland.
- The Bill still does not give medical practitioners clear and non-ambiguous guidelines to do what they want to do – save lives. Doctors want to save lives. We must let them and help them to do that. The 2010 ECHR ‘Ms C’ ruling said that we must do this and we are simply not doing it.
- It does not trust suicidal women enough to ask them not to jump through hoops and prove their mental health to a bunch of strangers. Getting three medical practitioner’s unanimous approval is unworkable, restrictive and unpractical.
- It does not say clearly what is lawful, or when abortion is lawful. The word lawful is not used in the Bill at all.
- Delays (due to the referral process or conscientious objection etc) can cause a woman more harm if she is in a medical difficulty and needs timely action. The Bill does not support a medical practitioner’s duty of care in every circumstance.
- It does not deal with a woman’s consent over her own body. It does not deal with a woman’s bodily autonomy or choice. This should be the ONLY provision of an abortion bill in my opinion.
What does that all mean in terms of human rights?
It is highly discriminatory legislation on the grounds of:
- Gender (I can’t access life saving medical treatment but a man always can)
- Socio-economic status (if I can’t afford to travel, I can’t access an abortion unless I meet restrictive, complicated and unworkable criteria)
- Ethnicity and race (if I am an immigrant I may not be able to leave the country or get back in if I leave, this makes women of colour and non-nationals particularly vulnerable and discriminated against)
- It is fundamentally inhumane for women and parents whose unborn will not survive outside the womb to not have an option in their home country (apart from carrying to full term)
We all know that Ireland is fine with abortions. We are fine with exporting the women we refuse to help. The 12 women a day who have to get about 1,000 Euro together, take time off work, book flights and accommodation, travel to a strange place, deal with a medical treatment without their own doctor or support network, and then return to inadequate after care. Urgh.
The IFPA say:
“Abortion is available when the pregnant woman or girl’s health is at risk in 44 of 47 European countries. This approach is consistent with the key human right standard of proportionality which requires that laws and policies applied to regulate access to abortion cannot excessively interfere with women’s rights to life, health, privacy, freedom from cruel and in humane treatment and non discrimination.”
This is a human rights issue. This is fundamental human rights stuff. This touches on all the basic tenets of what is means to have a right over what goes into, and comes out of, your own body. This is mistrustful and insulting to women, and therefore to everyone. People are dying. People are being criminalized. People are going through barbaric, archaic nonsense and this legislation is not going to deal with that.
Our government are insulting us here.
What we need is to change the 8th Amendment/Article 40.3.3 or we cannot legislate properly for reproductive justice in Ireland at all. That is our real battle here and we must keep that in mind.
What can I do to help?
- Go to the PROTEST in Dublin, May 18th 2013 at 4pm, Central Bank Plaza (and bring some friends)
- Call/email/tweet/visit the Dail or your local TD to let them know how you feel. Have a look here to find your TD: http://www.whoismytd.com/
- Head to a fund-raising table quiz (fun and ethics combined!) in Doyles Pub, College St Dublin on May 29th (for more info: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dublin-Nights-for-Choice/499071116810288)
- TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT THIS ISSUE! One thing you can do over a pint, or coffee, or at the bus stop, is chat to people and highlight the need for us to act and keep the momentum up
- Get in touch/involved with, and keep track of, any of the following organisations:
Here are a few bits of further reading on this subject…