Ireland’s abortion laws belong in the past
‘It blindly brings suffering – even death – to the women whose lives it touches.’
Women and girls in Ireland are suffering under the country’s harsh ban on abortion, under a law that is outdated and discriminatory. Abortions are a crime in all circumstances except one – when the mother’s life is deemed to be at risk. In practice, this means pushing women to the brink and needlessly endangering their lives. In reality, it means that it is effectively impossible to have an abortion in Ireland, whatever your circumstances.
A woman cannot ask for an abortion when she has been raped. When the pregnancy is a result of incest she cannot ask for a termination. Even when the foetus has no chance of survival whatsoever, a woman must go through the traumatic experience of carrying it to term and giving birth to a baby that cannot survive.
Break the law and endanger her health by having an abortion in secret, and a woman faces 14 years in prison. Anyone found to have assisted her faces criminal charges.
Until Ireland decriminalises abortion, women and girls will continue to have their rights and health trampled over by a law that belongs in the past.
The laws denying women their rights
‘Feared by politicians, this is a ghost of paper and ink – a spirit written for a constitution of a different time.’
After Savita Halappanavar’s preventable death as a result of pregnancy complications – a death that could have been avoided had she been able to access an abortion – made headlines in 2012, the following year the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDPA) was created to purportedly lower the death toll of Ireland’s abortion ban and protect women’s rights. It has not.
Created to comply with a ruling handed down from the European Court of Human Rights following Savita’s death, the PLDPA continues Ireland’s long history of persecuting women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
The Eighth Amendment
The Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution gives the unborn foetus equal right to life as the life of the mother. Created following a referendum in 1983, the Amendment (Article 40.3.3 in the Irish Constitution) is deeply rooted in religious doctrine – and inconsistent with human rights law, which states that human rights begin upon birth.
For over 30 years, the Eighth Amendment has had a negative impact on the quality of healthcare for all pregnant women, in the context of childbirth and even end-of-life care.
By denying access to healthcare services as well as the information surrounding terminations – and punishing those who seek abortions as criminals – Ireland is denying its women and girls their right to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination, information, free speech and freedom from torture.
The limited choices available to women
Travel to England for an abortion
There is a long history of women escaping Ireland’s punitive abortion laws by travelling for a termination abroad – and it continues now. Today, at least 10 women will have travelled from Ireland to England for an abortion.
Around 4,000 make the journey to Britain or elsewhere in Europe every year. A further 1,000+ women come to Britain from Northern Ireland every year. Their reasons for terminating their pregnancies vary, but their reason for travelling is the same – the women are treated as criminals, and face 14 years in prison if they have an abortion in Ireland.
Travelling for an abortion is a difficult experience – the women who undertake the journey face trauma, stigma, humiliation and a gruelling physical experience. Many women are in serious pain when are travelling. They pay over the odds financially for health services that ought to be readily available to them. It is cheaper to travel alone, without support.
Risk an illegal and dangerous abortion in secret
Many other women and girls are unable to travel – it is simply too expensive for many; others cannot travel because they are refugees or asylum-seekers; the prohibitively brutal physical and mental toll of the journey dissuades others from embarking on it.
Those who can’t travel can become desperate. Some consider suicide or potentially life-threatening forms of self-administered abortion to be their only option.
"I remember walking around thinking, ‘I’ll just throw myself under a truck. That’ll solve the problem.’"
AF, who was later given money by her sister to travel abroad for an abortion in 1997
Others take medication in an attempt to terminate their pregnancy – without medical supervision or support. One half of the two drugs commonly used together to produce a ‘medication abortion’ (termination through drugs) is effectively banned in Ireland.
If drugs that can induce abortion are seized by Irish customs, the recipient faces jail – so medication is smuggled and bought on the black market, with no regulation or guarantee of its legitimacy or indeed safety.
The outdated laws belong in the past
We’re calling on Ireland’s government to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution and associated discriminatory laws. It can protect the lives and rights of women and girls by repealing the ban on abortion. It can leave the discrimination and persecution in the past, where it belongs.