Over the past number of years there has been increasing support for the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution of Ireland. This amendment gives recognition to the right of life of the unborn child, thereby prohibiting abortion by what amounts to a constitutional ban.
Ireland, until the 1990’s was very influenced by the Catholic Church and it’s teachings. Many things that now have the support of the majority of the population were seen as socially unacceptable. Same-sex relationships and marriage and the use of contraceptives were once illegal. It took huge efforts and campaigns for the laws to be overturned even as the influence of the Church waned. While freedoms such as same-sex marriage and the availability of contraceptives were won, there are still some certain freedoms that have not yet been granted.
At the time of the drafting of the Eighth Amendment it was considered morally wrong to terminate the life of an unborn child for any reason – even the safety and well-being of the mother. This brings in to question the value that the Irish state places on women – does the state value an unborn child more than a living woman? Also, given modern understanding of how a foetus develops, is it fair to force women to carry a child to term when she has only recently become pregnant and there is not much more than a group of cells?
Not providing women with the choice to avail of an abortion restricts their freedom. It is diminishing their bodily autonomy and can have serious effects on their health, physical and mental, as well as financial, education and career consequences. The lack of services for women and total legal restriction to abortion can force women to resort to stressful and dangerous methods to avail of one. While going through one of the most stressful experiences of their lives, they do not have the support of the state to assist them, provide them with information or safe access to a procedure that is not undertaken lightly.
As mentioned earlier, support for the movement to repeal the amendment and secure women’s rights is strong and growing. On the 8th of March, there were protests held all across Ireland. Thousands of people attended to show their support and to attract attention to a ban the UN has called “cruel, inhuman or degrading“.
How the Irish government responds to this issue will send a message to all the women of Ireland, either that they are considered valuable, equal citizens, or that they do not have the right of control over their own bodies.