After the 8th – for our daughters and ourselves
A reaction to the Labour Party’s proposed legislation
Yesterday, Labour Women announced the scheme of the legislation that Labour would introduce should a referendum to repeal the 8th be successful. Parents for Choice commend the Labour Party for making repeal of the 8th part of their manifesto, although disappointed that the issue is being brought to the fore only at the end of their term in Government. It is hoped that other parties and candidates will take this issue seriously and commit to at the very least supporting a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment. Parents for Choice wholeheartedly support Labour in the view that the Constitution is no place for laws on abortion, and that “sustaining embryonic and foetal life in pregnancy should be recognised as an important social role which should be voluntary and consensual” (Ivana Bacik).
That said, Labour’s proposed Bill raises a number of concerns. They propose four grounds under which an abortion can be granted – risk to life, risk to health, rape, and fatal foetal abnormality. In the case of risk to health, doctors have to demonstrate “real and substantive risk” with strict tests for any abortions carried out after the first trimester. The distinction between mental and physical health is considered.
Firstly, the positives. It is a relief that parents who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality would be looked after under this bill. It is a devastating injustice we have shunned so many families when they needed us the most. No parent should have had to go through that. It is the very least we would expect from the bill to change this atrocious circumstance, although it does not excuse or ameliorate what Ireland has put these families through.
It is also a positive that the legislation has broadened to include risk to health. We are however concerned about the use of the X case language, “real and substantive threat” to health. Who decides what is real and substantive? Shouldn’t the pregnant person be the one to decide what risks with their health they want to take? Doctors have already described their difficulty working with the “real and substantive” threat to life guidelines, so it is unclear how this will work for evaluating risk to health.
Concerningly, this proposed bill is extremely conservative and already divides people with crisis pregnancies into those who are ‘deserving’ of an abortion, and those who are not considered to be deserving of our help. Unplanned pregnancies, and pregnancies that become a crisis have happened through time and will continue to happen. No contraception is 100% effective, and not all contraceptive methods are compatible with individual women. The only 100% way to prevent pregnancy is abstinence, which I’m sure nobody wants to force on fellow human beings, sexual by our very nature. Pregnancy should not be a punishment because somebody had sex – in Ireland of all places we should know the consequences of that brand of ‘morality’ policing. With the ‘grounds to health’ limitations, the vast majority of women in Ireland who have abortions will not be served by this law. They will still need to travel to other jurisdictions, or procure abortion pills and self administer without medical supervision. The problem will still be exported.
Another horrifying thought is that this will not solve the problem of migrant women who may not have the correct paperwork to legally travel abroad, or even to Belfast – and some of these people will be in the shameful Direct Provision system and won’t be able to afford it. Do we really want to stress women out so much that their mental health is affected, before we will grant them an abortion? Same goes for women who simply can’t afford a baby, or can’t afford another baby for that matter, and it’s not as if the Labour Party have been a friend to one parent families over the past years, cutting their payments and pushing families across the breadline into poverty. According to this bill, these women don’t deserve our help. This is appalling. Why on earth would we force someone to complete a pregnancy that they don’t want, with a child they aren’t ready for, or don’t want? It seems a cruel and unusual punishment.
Also very problematic is the “rape” grounds for abortion. The onus will be on the rape survivor to firstly disclose the assault, which she may not be ready to do, tell her story, again, adding to the trauma, and most worryingly, will have to be believed. We have seen so many times how those reporting rape are not believed, and how hard it is for them to get a conviction. It is unclear from what Labour published yesterday how this would work in practice. If we just trusted women to make the right decisions for themselves and their families, we wouldn’t need to put survivors of sexual assault and rape through this.
The Labour Party are suggesting in their soundbites that we repeal the 8th “for our daughters”. There’s no way in hell I want my daughter marching about the 8th amendment, or abortion rights for that matter, so I am on board with that sentiment. However, repealing the 8th is more than for our daughters. Its for ourselves. It’s for every person with a uterus in Ireland of childbearing age. It’s for every woman who thought she would never have an abortion, until she needed one. Life’s like that. We just don’t know what it has in store for us.
In summary, we welcome the willingness of politicians and parties to publicise their views on abortion and the 8th amendment, and we hope that other parties will take the Labour Party, and the Green Party’s lead on this, being clear to the electorate on what their stance is on abortion and repealing the 8th. We would urge you all to quiz your local candidates and let them know that this issue will be the one you will be voting on. Together, we can push for a better Ireland for both our daughters and ourselves.