I’m voting YES to Repeal the 8th

I’m voting YES to repeal the 8th on the 25th May.
Yes because I trust women to make their own personal decisions in difficult circumstances.
Yes to allow doctors care for women without fear of an unjust and badly worded article in our Constitution.
Yes for compassion and care and an end to shame and stigma around sex and reproduction.
Yes to stop women having to travel for healthcare that should be provided at home.
Yes because what a women decides to do with her body is none of my business.
Yes because life is complicated.

The 8th is extreme moral protectionism. It protects an unrealistic notion of Ireland in the minds of a few. It demonstrates we are still collectively ashamed of sex and reproduction and the condition of being female in Ireland. Abortion, if it must happen, only happens ‘over there’ (the 1 in 5 poster of the Save The 8th campaign: In England 1 in 5 babies are aborted. Don’t bring this to Ireland). England is the still unfortunately the ultimate ‘over there’ for some in Ireland, defining ourselves by what England is not, at the expense of the healthcare of our citizens. This dangerous mix of moralism and nationalism brings into sharper view that a woman’s body is not her own, it is territory, it is property. At the moment of conception her womb and what happens with her body is treated as the property of the State.

This moral protectionism has failed. It is bad law. Article 40.3.3 does not protect women, it does not stop abortion, it does not save lives. The 8th is about fear and control. Fear that girls and women would have autonomy over our own bodies and agency in our own personal private decisions. The 8th says we don’t trust women. The 8th is about stigma and shame.

It has cost the health and even lives of women. The price of continued moral certainty for the few has been too high for the rest of us. Abortions happen in Ireland every day. Thousands travel annually to avail of more compassionate services in our wider EU community. We need to face this reality, and serve our girls and women better. We need to ensure they can access safe and legal procedures here, in consultation with their doctors.

The 8th criminalises girls and women who have abortions here, and those who would help in their time of need. Do we really want to see our sisters, friends, mothers, daughters go to jail in their thousands for up to 14 years for taking tablets in secret? That’s what the 8th demands. If people really believe that abortion is a grave crime, then why aren’t they calling for the legal consequences to be upheld? Yet we hear little from the the Save the 8th and Love Both on criminal prosecution. It is gross hypocrisy to campaign for the retention of the amendment, prevent the decriminalisation of abortion, and not advocate for its active prosecution.

I think the reality is that no-one here really wants to see girls and women and doctors going to jail for abortion. They’d rather pretend that abortion is wrong in all instances and should be prosecuted, but don’t want to contend with the reality of women being trialled by juries and being sent to jail, shut away from family and friends. They would rather punished us through the indignity of traveling for healthcare. They’d rather we’d just keep it all a secret.  

And that’s what we’ve been doing for generations. Shame wrapped up in fear, silence, and denial. Secrecy and denial cause trauma. Girls and women have carried this traumatic burden too long. We fail every girl and women in valuing secrecy over privacy, moral judgment over necessary healthcare, and in upholding a constitutional amendment that the UN has stated violates a woman’s human rights.  

At the time of 1983 referendum, the ‘mother and baby’ homes were still in existence. That was the anti-abortion lobby’s idea of ‘care and compassion’. We now know through the testimonies of so many women and children, that these homes were anything but caring and compassionate.

Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are rights. Religious doctrine should not dictate medical care. This was brought home to me in the starkest terms on a trip to Melbourne a few years back. I was visiting the site of the former Royal Women’s Hospital, now in offices while the precinct is being redeveloped. Just inside the entrance was an exhibition case displaying old medical instruments from the 19th century. There were two distinct sets of instruments used in difficult childbirths. The case label explained the distinction – the religion of the woman determined the set to be used. For catholic women, the instruments were to save the baby, and for protestant women they were designed to save the woman.

The design of those instruments was inherently influenced by religious bias in medical procedure. While those particular instruments are a relic of a distant past and another country, the 8th remains a blunt instrument of religious bias here and now.

I hear echoes of these attitudes from those calling for a NO vote.  As if determining the exact point that a woman’s life is in danger is always simple and clear-cut. When we have heard from so many of our leading obstetricians that the 8th hinders their ability to adequately care for all the women and girls in their care, and they abhor the continued medical exile of women.

Life and death are messy complicated processes. Twice in my life I have come close to death without knowing it. Twice I have had to be carried to hospital by loved ones, once as a baby with meningitis by my parents, once as an adult by my partner, when I was bleeding out. I needed urgent medical attention. I was saved not only by doctors, but also by the care and compassion of those who love me. The thought that our constitution denies other women medical care in their most vulnerable moments and prevents their loved ones from comforting them horrifies me. Everyone of us is vulnerable, and everyone of us needs care and support at times.

We have only just begun to listen to the testimonies, the real lived experiences of women, under the 8th. Every one of them is heartbreaking. Every one of the challenges us to listen with empathy and humility. Humility to acknowledge there are no absolutes here, and we don’t have the right to force women to continue pregnancies they don’t want or can’t have. Difficult, long-overdue conversations are happening daily now. Tender hot-spots of pain, trauma, denial and anger gently excavated, layers and centuries of misogynistic damage exposed to the air. Those conversations will continue regardless of the outcome on Friday.

The women of Ireland are strong, kind, resilient – we have endured too much for too long. It’s time we open our hearts and listen without judgement to the thousands of our sisters, mothers, daughters, who have needed care and have been failed here. It’s time doctors can fully care for women who are in the most difficult of situations at home. It’s time to support women in making our own personal decisions. It’s time to put compassion before dogma.

It’s time to stop punishing the tragedies of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormality. No girl or woman should have to prove that she has been raped or abused in order to receive this care.

The proposed legislation has been carefully and thoroughly considered, taking into account the recommendations of both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee. Those who oppose abortion already had their input and didn’t come up with anything better. That’s the democratic process. That democratic process has led to the conclusion that the 8th must be repealed so the Oireachtas can legislate. That is why we are voting on Friday – not on our own personal views on abortion, but on letting our elected representatives legislate for its control. Your vote is your democratic right. Please be fully informed with facts when you use it. Please Repeal the 8th. YES.