In Ireland, abortion is illegal. This baffled me when I first moved here as it has been legal in Belgium since 1990 – although it did cause quite a bit of controversy at the time (our king resigned over it).
Last week, I joined two organisations: I’m becoming a member of a new political party in Ireland, the Social Democrats (more on that later). I’ve also joined the Abortion Rights Campaign. What exactly that entails I don’t know just yet, but with the possibility of an upcoming referendum on the matter, I want to make sure they get all the support they need.
For me, women’s reproductive rights consist of so much more than just access to safe and legal abortion – it starts with good sexual education, easy access to birth control, healthy and open conversations with parents and in school about consent and being able to make your own choices with all sexual matters. It also extends to making good pregnancy services available in the public health system such as mid-wife led units and home births.
In an ideal world, everybody who wants a baby is able to get pregnant and take home a perfectly healthy little human. Individuals or couples who don’t want babies, don’t get them. Unfortunately our world is not black and white, and many shades of grey exist. There are those who are the victim of rape. Those who are told their baby will not survive outside the womb. Those who don’t feel they can look after a small human. Those women (and couples) should be given the choice to decide how they want to deal with their own personal situation. In my view, it does not affect anybody else bar the woman and those who support her. However, in Ireland’s constitution, the life of the unborn child holds greater importance than that of the mother.
The debate in Ireland is a difficult one, as the issue is tied into the constitution, laced in legal difficulties. The current punishment for committing abortion is 14 years in jail, which can be both applied to the mother and anybody assisting her (family, partner, doctors). Under the constitution, the right to travel does exist but no services exist on the island.
The argument I encounter often in Ireland is that abortion on demand will be used as a form of contraception. “You’ll see 17-year old girls getting them every 6 months or so”. I genuinely don’t believe that will the be case, and this is where good sexual education and access to birth control comes in again – start educating children and teenagers from a young age, which should decrease the amount of teenage pregnancies.
Time for change. Time for safe and legal abortion to be accessible in Ireland for those who need it.