The referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment has been announced and is to take place on 25 May 2018. What do we need to know? Well, we should arm ourselves with the facts but, most importantly says Tara Flynn, we should trust Irish women.
We pride ourselves on being great talkers here in Ireland. Full of the chat! Gift of the gab! Great with words! But there’s one word we never used to say. The ‘A’ word. Abortion. In its stead we had plenty of ‘S’ words: Silence. Secrecy. Shame. But not talking about the thing, that one thing, did nothing to change the reality. It seems that finally we’re coming to acknowledge it: there is abortion in Ireland, there always has been, and people in crisis will do whatever they have to. They will travel, buy illegal pills (risking a 14 year prison sentence), or take matters into their own hands. If you think ‘remedies’ like coat hangers and hot-baths-and-gin are only to be found in old novels, think again. Yes, still, in 2018. In places without abortion access, people drink bleach. They try to crash the car ‘just enough’ to end the pregnancy. I’m sorry to put these images in your mind but it’s important to face the reality of banned abortion: it doesn’t stop it happening, it just makes it unsafe. The truth is that 92 per cent of abortions happen in the first 12 weeks. After that, it’s about much-wanted pregnancies gone tragically wrong. Instead of hearing such stories with compassion, sometimes, out of fear, we recoil. But to me, ignoring reality has been far scarier than facing it.
It’s not just about the ‘A’ word
The Eighth Amendment affects every single pregnancy and birth in Ireland. It means that as soon as you become pregnant, you lose your right to choose or refuse certain medical treatments. That was recently brought home when Geraldine Williams made her story public, after the HSE applied for a court order to force her to have a caesarean when she wanted a natural birth. Surely, in 2018, the baseline for standards should involve our informed consent?
Women know what we want and, more importantly, what we can cope with. That’s why we should insist on having all the information and all the options, so we can properly weigh up what is the most difficult decision many of us will ever face. Before I faced a crisis pregnancy, I had lots of theories about what I might do, but you can’t know until you know. I ended up travelling to the Netherlands. I was so grateful for the compassionate care. Grateful to be trusted that I knew best about my body, life and future. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one for me and I was relieved to be able access that healthcare, albeit alone and far from home. But I’m one of the lucky ones.
I had a credit card. Over half of women who seek abortion are already parents, making what they see as the best choice they can to care for their existing families: travelling might not be an option if you can’t get childcare. Migrant women have visa restrictions. Lower income women are trapped. People with mobility or health issues might not be able to make the journey.
Some people want to go back
To before, when we didn’t mention the ‘A’ word. Whether we mention it or not, it’s already here. Hopefully most of us can agree that, given that reality, it should be safe. Making abortion safe won’t mean anyone ever has to have one – in fact, where it’s accessible the rate can actually drop, especially in conjunction with better sex-ed and access to contraception. If we let women make informed decisions in consultation with their doctors, it will be in private, as it should be. Those not affected won’t even know. Their values won’t be touched. Just like before. Ireland will still look the same, but some of us will have been given back rights and freedom of conscience we’re currently being denied. There’s great kindness in walking in another’s shoes and admitting they know what’s best for them and their families. In trusting them. Trust women.
I think that’s worth talking about.