by Chloe Cowman
Hi there! You may still be pondering how you plan to vote in the upcoming referendum to repeal the 8th amendment of the constitution and I am here to tell you why you should vote YES. As the title of the article would suggest, I am a midwife and a nurse and have a whole wealth of knowledge and experience that means I am qualified to speak on the subject of women’s health, as well as having my own personal opinions on the matter. You may have read plenty on this being a “divisive issue”and that both sides are “as bad as each other” but there are some really basic facts here that are unavoidable and that don’t involve convoluted and intentionally confusing and emotive language.
1. The 8th amendment is about more than just abortion. Women’s health is hampered by this law that equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo or a foetus. This is both bad medicine and bad law. Doctors and midwives are forced to withdraw certain care based on this amendment – women who may need scans, analgesia, antibiotics, anti-psychotic medication, radiotherapy, surgery etc. cannot be treated properly because of this law. If you’re not pregnant, you get emergency treatment in the case of sepsis, a mental health emergency, the flu, a cancer diagnosis etc. If pregnant, you will be assessed but if your treatment is deemed in any way teratogenic (harmful to the foetus), you’ll have to wait until you’ve given birth. By which time, your condition may not even be treatable anymore. Doctors can intervene and terminate a pregnancy if and only if the mother’s life is deemed at immediate risk but as has become painfully obvious over the years, there’s no hard and fast rule that tells doctors exactly when to intervene. Each individual case is different and being forced to make complex medical decisions under the weight of potential legal retribution while trying to save a life is terrible medical practice. Women’s lives are forfeited for that of a potential life – picture your sister, friend, colleague, classmate, cousin, mother or yourself. Picture your grown-up, adult life with all of your hopes, plans, likes, dislikes, favourite songs, memories, quirks, responsibilities, loves and losses and now compare that to an embryo that has just the potential to have your full life. The two should not be on an equal footing. Women deserve better.
2. So it’s not just about abortion, it’s about overall healthcare but it is also about abortion. This part is a contentious issue for a lot of people but abortion is a medical procedure, it has by its very nature accumulated an added moral weight but as a health care professional, if this is a medical procedure that a woman needs, as decided by her and her doctor, then that’s the best course of action. You’ll have by now have heard of the so called “difficult cases” associated with abortion; rape/incest, a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality and in cases where the mother’s life is at risk but abortion also is a necessity for women who have social, mental, emotional, fiscal and physical reasons why they can’t continue a pregnancy. Women do not use abortion as a form of contraception. This is a fallacy created to paint women as flighty, fickle creatures when the reality is abortion is not something any woman truly wants – the same way I never want to have back surgery again (and didn’t want it in the first place) but am grateful that it exists because I so badly needed it when I slipped a disc that time.
3. We need to trust women. As a country, we have an appalling track record when it comes to how we treat women and girls. Mother and Baby homes, forced adoption, forced c-sections, forced episiotomies, forced symphisiotomies, women working in the public sector forced to give up their jobs upon marriage up until the year 1973, “churching women” (the church making women “clean” after the birth of a baby) up until the year 1967 (if not later), contraception illegal until the year 1980 (with restrictions), marital rape legal until the year 1990, the morning after pill only legalised in 2003 (and only available without a prescription in 2011), the gender pay gap (still a thing and still increasing, as per the most recent CSO figures), a ban on women priests (still a thing), and then of course all of the victims of the 8th amendment; Savita Halappanavar, Miss X, Miss Y, Miss P, the C Case, Ann Lovett, Amanda Mellet, Michelle Harte, and Sheila Rodgers, to name but a very few. Let me make it abundantly clear here; we are in violation of women’s human rights as per the World Health Organisation, the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Amnesty International. A reminder that women’s rights are human rights, as Hillary Rodham Clinton once (many times) said.
4. You might then be wondering about the planned legislation for providing unrestricted abortion access up to 12 weeks gestation. There’s a couple of reasons for this that I can see. Firstly, a foetus is not viable outside of the uterus until 23/24 weeks. If a miscarriage occurs, it more than likely will occur in the the first trimester (which is the first 12 weeks but actually that translates to ten weeks in reality; your estimated due date is based on the first date of your last monthly period and conception takes place two weeks after that date, hence 10 weeks). The Oireachtas Committee on the 8th amendment was particularly clear that this 12 week mark was important for cases where rape has occurred- it would be virtually impossible for women to access abortion in this situation if there was a restriction in place based on a trial outcome or an ongoing police investigation. In these circumstances, time is of the essence and our court system is notoriously difficult for victims of rape to navigate. Lastly, medical abortions require pills to be taken only up to 12 weeks gestation. As women are already illegally obtaining abortion pills up to 12 weeks without medical supervision, it could only become safer to legally provide for medical abortion in these circumstances with GP care and supervision.
5. Lastly then, and trust, I could go on all night about this, if you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one. That old chestnut. It’s true though; abortions will continue to happen if you vote no. They will continue to happen even if the 8th is not repealed. Women’s lives will continue to be put at risk with illegal, unsafe and non-medically supervised terminations. Women will still be forced to travel to the UK and other countries to receive compassionate reproductive healthcare that they should be receiving at home, provided by their own doctor and surrounded by their loved ones, if they so wish. Close to their own home and their own bed with no terrifying taxi and plane journey to get through, risking bleeding out or blacking out from pain and blood loss. There’s a pro-choice slogan of “stop punishing tragedy” and it makes me well up every time I hear it. I’m angry and personally devastated that we have sent so many women in need away from us when we should have been looking after them here. I want to put right that terrible wrong.
Abortion will happen anyway. The 8th amendment was a bad law in 1983 and it’s a bad law now in 2018. Please vote YES on the 25th of May and allow us to look after the women of this country with the care and dignity they deserve.