Abortion Reform for Ireland or just Eire?
Words and photomontage by Julia Andrews-Clifford
May 25th 2018 was a hugely important day for Irish women – at least for those in the Republic. The referendum results were overwhelmingly in favour of YES – 3 out of 5 people voted for making abortion legal up to 12 weeks. This is roughly in line with most other European countries but it is a huge shift in Ireland’s journey from one of the world’s most Catholic countries to somewhere vastly more secular and liberal.
There are still six other Catholic countries where there is a total ban on abortion under any circumstances, including rape, incest and potential death of the mother: El Salvador; Malta; The Vatican; Chile; The Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. And whilst legal in the US, some states have very strict laws making it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion: Ohio; Arkansas; North Dakota; Texas. Developing countries which have the strictest laws on ending a pregnancy have the highest unsafe abortion rate with an estimated 78,000 deaths resulting from these procedures each year.
And, of course, there is one protestant ‘country’ where abortion is still almost completely outlawed and that’s Northern Ireland. The six counties will soon be the only part of the United Kingdom and Ireland where it’s impossible to obtain a legal termination. A debate has been allowed in the Houseof Commons on repealing the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which makes abortion a criminal act in Northern Ireland. But given that the DUP opposes reform if it comes directly from Westminster, and given that Theresa May relies on the DUP for her government’s survival – there seems little prospect of imminent change.
The Irish Republic’s referendum has succeeded in bringing this hugely personal choice into the public realm again for discussion and review. The hidden experiences of women who have endured abortions in silence and isolation, adding secrecy and shame to an already traumatic experience, might finally become a thing of the past. Pro Choice or Pro Life, it’s time to stop seeing women as their ovaries – and start treating them as human beings.
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