Should we repeal the Eighth Amendment?

The eighth amendment is a result of a hard-fought referendum campaign in 1983, which gave an unborn child the right to life, therefore constitutionally banning abortion. The topic of repealing the eighth has been dominating the Irish news for the past few months. It is a controversial subject, with both sides having very different ideologies and opinions. While there are no clear-cut paths to take when facing an unwanted pregnancy, it is good to see that the conversation surrounding abortion is finally being discussed. Most media outlets have published opinion pieces on the topic, setting out arguments for the pro-choice and the pro-life campaigns. I have to say I am also in favor of repealing the eighth, although I will still respect different opinions on the matter.

Criminalising abortion in Ireland has not stopped Irish women from having abortions. Many women are forced to travel to England or even further afield to obtain the procedure. According to the Irish Family Planning Association, 165,438 women and girls had an abortion in England or Wales from 1980-2015. This doesn’t include the multitude of women who gave false addresses. The women who travel are already in a vulnerable position if they feel they are unable to continue with their pregnancy, and shipping them off to England to “deal with the problem” is a shocking practice in a supposed “developed” country like Ireland. Abortion laws in Ireland are the most restrictive in Europe. After the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in 2012 because of the eighth amendment, and the outcome of the ABC v Ireland case taken to the European Court of Human Rights, the Irish Government enacted the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act , which sought to permit abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, whether it be due to physical or mental illness.

However, this act is still not enough to ensure Ireland’s abortion laws are not violating women’s human rights. 26 women had an abortion in Ireland as a result of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. However, 3,451 women traveled to the UK for an abortion in 2015. The disparity between these numbers speak for themselves, Irish women are being abandoned by their country and government in their hour of need. Amanda Mellet, an Irish woman, was forced to travel to England to procure an abortion, as her child would not survive birth. Abortion here is still illegal when it comes to fatal foetal abnormality, which means no dignity or respect is given to the the mother or the unborn child. The UN Human Rights Committee has called for Ireland to reform its restrictive abortion laws, noting that the state is subjecting women to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.

A 2016 Irish Times poll suggest that 67% of Irish people want to repeal the eighth to allow abortion in cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities. Obviously, there are some people who do not want access to abortion in any circumstances.These arguments are either religious or ideological. I think people should be allowed to express their beliefs freely. Some people believe life begins at conception, and that’s fine. However, when your personal beliefs are directly impacting someone else’s reproductive rights, how is this fair? And saying to the women who have unwanted pregnancies that they should either give the child up for adoption or just get on with it is cruel. These women shouldn’t be demonised for not wanting to go through with a pregnancy, or maybe not even being capable of raising a child.

The central issue here is choice. The pro-choice movement is not advocating for abortion on demand. Most women are not “pro-abortion”, as having one is complicated and often traumatic. No woman just decides to have a termination and is happy about it. But at the end of the day we should at least have the option, and not have to leave our friends, families and partners in order to get a medical procedure. Abortion is an individual choice, so if you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one. But don’t prevent others from making the decision.


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