According to the results of an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll published today, a majority of the Irish population is unhappy with the 8th Amendment. Only 16% did not want to see the 8th repealed. However, a majority of those in favour of reform would still prefer to see the amendment replaced over a full repeal. Here’s why Parents for Choice think that this is ill-advised.
One thing is clear: based on the results of the poll, the Irish people thinks that the 8th Amendment as it stands is inappropriate. Whether this means that they think it was once appropriate but no longer is, or that it has never worked the way it should, it is flawed.
With this in mind, suggesting that the Constitution is yet again amended is highly problematic and demonstrates a severely lacking willingness to learn from past mistakes. The Constitution is not meant for testing the waters and legislating around issues likely to change – it is there to set out those most fundamental shared values, to define the parameters within which the elected representatives can govern and legislate, and, as such it is incredibly difficult to change. Say we believe that the 8th Amendment got it wrong from the get-go, what’s to say that we won’t get it wrong again? Say we think that attitudes to things like reproductive justice change with the times and that the 1983 amendment no longer represents the views of the Irish public, why would we want to make it so incredibly laborious to amend the legislation again in the future?
In media, those advocating for a repeal of the 8th Amendment are repeatedly asked what they would like to see in its place, often questioned about their views on time limits in particular. This is ironic, considering moving legislation out of the Constitution makes it less cemented. It’s not a full repeal that would create results of no return, as anti-repeal campaigners keep trying to infer – it is by keeping abortion regulation, liberal or not, in the Constitution that it becomes time-consuming and cumbersome to deal with. The truth is that the way things stand, a full repeal of the 8th Amendment leaves us with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act from 2013, still one of the most restrictive abortion regulating laws in the world. So why is it continuously implied that the pro-repeal advocates are promoting some extreme sort of liberal abortion haven that Ireland will live to regret, when in fact we are the ones who want to make the legislation process more flexible?
Our Constitution does not regulate men’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, nor does it deal with healthcare laws of any kind. Yet the 8th Amendment impacts on women’s healthcare provision as well as the right to consent of any pregnant person in Ireland, making pregnant people second-class citizens, sometimes to the degree where their life is put at risk, notably as in the case of Savita Halappanavar. We have an amendment in the Constitution that we got completely wrong, which is now used to coerce pregnant people into procedures they don’t want – yet we’re considering giving it another shot. Why?
The Irish public agrees that there are circumstances in which abortion might be the right option; we agree that, for our laws to represent that reality, change is needed. But to amend the Constitution yet again, we would need to find a wording that would work, solidly, for a long time. To replace the 8th, we would need to agree where to draw the line.
Who would draw that line? Will we go with the view that women have to suffer in order to deserve an abortion, adding a rape clause? If we do, we’ll be here yet again just a few years down the line as we realise that our jurisdiction isn’t up to the challenge and that proving you were raped is not just exhausting, triggering and traumatising, but near impossible. Will we decide to make exceptions for cases of Fatal Foetal Abnormalities, because we can sympathise with women if they at least wanted to become mothers in the first place? If we do, we’ll be here yet again very soon as we realise that fatal and near-fatal are too similar diagnoses for us to argue over minutes or even hours of potential life, not to mention the fact that we can’t even afford to provide pregnant people with timely anomaly scans.
Realistically speaking, what’s probably the most likely reason why someone would argue for replacing rather than repealing the 8th is fear – fear of the floodgates opening, fear of abortion on demand, fear of Ireland’s deeply-held Catholic values being eroded overnight. But we have to remember this: the only values protected as things stand are those of shame and guilt, as we ship pregnant people off to other jurisdictions that have learnt to deal compassionately and respectfully with sometimes very difficult circumstances including grief, sexual assault, poverty and failed contraception. The Catholic heritage the 8th protects is that of shaming women, much like that which is demonstrated yet again by today’s reports from the Tuam sewage chambers.
There is an idea in the Irish consciousness of abortion regulation within the Constitution as a means of ‘loving them both’. We have 34 years of evidence to the contrary, and today’s news reports prove beyond doubt that the intentions and motivations of the Catholic church have little to do with loving anyone – not mothers, nor their babies. Surely, a fresh start can only be seen as a good thing?
Only a handful of countries in the world regulate reproductive rights in the Constitution, yet the abortion rates in Ireland are very similar to those in countries where abortion is not just regulated elsewhere, but much more freely available. There is no such thing as a society where people have abortions for fun and subsequently stop reproducing – but Irish people have abortions and will keep having them. What we need is the right to this healthcare procedure in our home country, along with the right to give and withdraw consent – just like all other people in Ireland. There are numerous ways of legislating for that. Another amendment to the Constitution shouldn’t be one of them.