Posts Tagged '#repealthe8th'

Repealed! Now we look to Northern Ireland

Judith-head-shot-Oct-17-cropped

Judith Orr

Originally published by the Abortion Rights blog on May 26th 2018.

An uprising of activists in every city, town and village across Ireland made history yesterday and sealed the end of an era that saw women denied basic human rights. The victory of the Repeal the Eighth campaign will ring out across the world to everyone who is fighting to win the right to safe and legal abortions, whether in Poland, Bolivia or even on the doorstep, in my own birthplace, Northern Ireland.

The grassroots campaign saw great teams of people knocking on doors night after night and taking stalls to local high streets all over the country. It was inspiring to witness thousands of people going out to talk to people face to face about why they should vote Yes.

Thousands came #HometoVote from all over the world, and numerous Twitter streams and new hashtags showed the reach and creativity of the movement. Dentists for Yes campaigned in tribute to Savita Halappanavar who died in 2012 after she was denied an abortion when she suffered a septic miscarriage. She was herself a dentist, and her parents spoke out from India in support of a yes vote. Farmers for Yes tweeted photos of themselves holding Yes signs alongside their livestock and tractors while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.

“…while Grandfathers for Yes defied the clichés that this was simply a generational divide.”

But most of all the courage of all those who told their own personal stories, many for the first time, stands as a testament to the cruelty of a state ban of what is an essential part of women’s health care. Moving accounts, for example on In her Shoes Twitter account, recorded the anguish inflicted on women who had to travel to end an unwanted pregnancy, or who needed to end a wanted pregnancy for health reasons. Women spoke out about the past so no one would have to go through what they endured in the future.

The No side showed no humility in the face of this outpouring of moving experiences. In fact the anti abortion lobby rehearsed its well worn propaganda about being ‘pro-women’ and ‘pro-life’. These claims were exposed as being lies as the Yes campaign highlighted the impact that denying access to abortion services in Ireland had on every area of women’s health care.

Women described being denied cancer treatment, or medication for epilepsy, when they became pregnant. One doctor told of woman brought by ambulance to a maternity hospital rather than an A&E after being injured in a car accident because she was pregnant. Her own physical injuries were dealt with only after doctors successfully picked up the foetal heartbeat. In the most tragic cases surviving relatives bore witness to the consequences of the constitution treating a foetus and a pregnant women as equal under the law

So this is a momentous change that has been a long time coming. Many compare yesterday’s referendum to one that led Ireland to be the first country to legalise equal marriage after a poplar vote in a referendum. But although both show how attitudes to the Catholic Church’s orthodoxies are changing, today’s result is even more significant. Women’s lives, their bodies, their fertility and sexuality have always faced the greatest scrutiny by the church and the establishment.

“Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular.”

Abortion cannot be seen in isolation, rather as part of a regime of oppression that imposed severe restrictions on women’s lives, and on their sex lives in particular. This is a system that saw women who did give birth, but who happened to be unmarried, forced into institutions, such as Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries. Here their babies were forcibly taken from them to be adopted. Many babies were even sold, often to rich American couples, leaving a trail of personal devastation over generations.

The discovery, in 2017, of a mass grave of babies and children in the grounds of a former Bon Secours Mother and Baby home in Tuam, County Galway show that the full truth of these institutions has yet to come out.

This policing of women’s bodies meant that some women were shamed if they did give birth, but others were also shamed if they decided they did not want to continue a pregnancy. Yet, as so many Yes campaigners pointed out, keeping abortion illegal did not stop Irish women having abortions, it just stopped them having abortions in Ireland.

Yet the shame associated with abortion is not unique to Ireland. Abortion still carries a stigma in countries with access to legal abortion, such as Britain. Abortion is portrayed as the ultimate betrayal of what it is to be a woman, we are encouraged to see it as an aberration and a rejection of our natural biological selves. When anti abortion campaigners can’t win a bar on abortion they concentrate on maintaining these taboos.

Such stigma will not disappear overnight, but the impact of what has happened in Ireland cannot be overstated. It is a sea change that will not only affect the legal status of abortion. The result is both an expression of, and spur for, a transformation of social attitudes to abortion as well. This will be the backdrop for the debates still to come over what new abortion legislation will say, and then about how that is interpreted and implemented.

“But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. “

But there is also other unfinished business that is thrust into the spotlight by the referendum result, and that is the ban on abortion rights in Northern Ireland. The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, last year least 700 women traveled to England for health care they should be able to access at home. Others risk prison sentences by buying abortion pills online. One woman, 19 years old when she bought online pills when she couldn’t afford to travel to England, received a three month suspended sentence in 2016.

Theresa May was forced to concede that women from Northern Ireland should have access to NHS funded abortions in England in 2017. Until then women from Northern Ireland, paying the same National Insurance and taxes as women in the rest of the UK, not only had to travel for abortion care, they also had to pay for it privately. The issue threatened May’s ability to form a government after a snap election in June left her without a Tory majority. Her subsequent deal with the DUP, a Northern Ireland party trenchantly opposed to abortion rights, led Labour MP Stella Creasy to put a widely-supported amendment that could have defeated May’s critical Queens Speech.

In a single afternoon 50 years of discriminatory practice was overturned. This was not a sudden change of heart by the Tory government wanting to put right half a century of injustice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had only two weeks earlier fought a case in the Supreme Court to defend the right to deny NHS funded abortions to women from Northern Ireland.

This was a reform pushed through by a government to ensure its own survival, but it showed what was possible. It has made a real difference for hundreds of women. But they still have to travel, and many cannot take the trip even if it is funded, for many different reasons from ill health to child care or the fact they are living in an abusive relationship.

That’s why today while we are celebrating this tremendous referendum victory, the Abortion Rights campaign in the UK is saying let’s take this opportunity to demand reproductive rights for women in Northern Ireland too. It’s about time.

final FC_Lyn 4 webAbortion wars by Judith Orr is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £10.39.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Repealing the 8th: how new legislation on abortion should be designed

Fiona de Londras

Fiona de Londras

Mairead Enright

Mairead Enright

Fiona de Londras and Mairead Enright – authors of ‘Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish abortion law‘ – respond to the announcement of the Irish Cabinet of its intention to hold a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3 in May 2018. The book, now publishing on Thursday this week, looks beyond the referendum to what might come next, presenting detailed proposals for new legislation.

Chapter 4 from the book – Accessing abortion care: principles for legislative design – is now available to download free on our website. 

In 1983 the Irish Constitution was amended by the insertion of Article 40.3.3, now known as ‘the 8th Amendment’. This provides that “the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

At first glance, the 8th Amendment may seem innocuous or merely aspirational. However, over time, this provision has led to a near-absolute prohibition on abortion in Irish law and serious infringement of pregnant people’s rights. Under the current law, abortion is only lawfully available in Ireland when a woman will almost certainly die without it, and even then multiple doctors usually have to agree that this is the case.

“More than three decades of activism have come together in a large, vocal, visible and highly effective campaign for political and legal reform.”

Now, though, there are signs of change. More than three decades of activism have come together in a large, vocal, visible and highly effective campaign for political and legal reform; for the removal of the 8th Amendment and introduction of a law that will enable women to exercise agency in pregnancy and ensure that, for those who want to avail of it, abortion care is available at home in Ireland.

On Monday, the Irish Cabinet announced its intention to hold a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3 in May 2018. The People will be asked to delete this Article and to insert a provision that expressly says that provision may be made by law for the termination of pregnancy. The Taoiseach said that the referendum will present the People with a choice to enable the Irish parliament to legislate for abortion care at home, or to continue to export abortion to other jurisdictions and to put the lives of women in Ireland at risk.

The Cabinet will publish indicative legislation for a GP-led abortion service ‘on request’ up to 12 weeks, and more limited access to abortion in later pregnancy.

Hamill Aoife - 205kTravelled - Signs - London Irish Arc 2

After the referendum

In the book we look beyond the referendum, to what might come next once the 8th Amendment no longer absolves the Oireachtas of the responsibility to make law to provide for the needs of women in Ireland. We include detailed proposals for how new legislation on abortion might be designed, including draft legislation that gives effect to the proposals that appear to have received Cabinet support this week in a way that respects the rights of pregnant people in Ireland.

“…the rights of pregnant people can be developed in ways that truly respect and protect bodily integrity, privacy, and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

In doing this, we argue that repeal of the 8th Amendment would create opportunities for the progressive interpretation of the Constitution, so that the rights of pregnant people—for so long narrowed down to a bare right to life said to be equal in stature to that of an unborn foetus—can be developed in ways that truly respect and protect bodily integrity, privacy, and the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. This, we argue, would compel the Irish state to provide for lawful abortion, but would allow it to pursue the socially valuable objective of preserving foetal life provided in doing so it respects the constitutional rights of pregnant people.

This can be done by introducing law that makes abortion available without restriction as to reason up to at least the twelfth week. After that such a law might make lawful abortion available on broadly drawn health grounds so that pregnant people can truly determine the course of their own reproductive lives, and so that victims of sexual violence or those who have received unexpected foetal diagnoses will be able to be supported through a decision to an end a pregnancy, rather than forced through a punitive ‘qualification’ processes. This is what we are calling for now that the Referendum has been announced.

Like the Citizens’ Assembly and Joint Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment, we draw distinctions between the availability of abortion after 12 weeks and after 24 weeks, with later abortion (after 12 weeks) being truly exceptional in law, just as it is in life. Illustrating the feasibility of such an approach, we include in the book draft legislation that gives effect to this approach. This makes our book essential reading for anyone involved in the campaign.

Our objective in writing this book was threefold. First, we wanted to make the constitutional arguments about the 8th Amendment clear and accessible and, in so doing, to show that from a legal perspective there is nothing unusually difficult about legislating for abortion and no reason why, uniquely among medical procedures, it should be regulated within the text of the Constitution. Second, we wanted to show how the Constitution itself could develop after repeal to reinvigorate the personal rights of pregnant people and to strike a balance between protecting these legal rights and pursuing the social objective of preserving foetal life through voluntary, consensual, and well-supported pregnancy. Finally, we wanted to show that, by drawing on experience in other countries and on international human rights law, and by committing to ensuring that pregnant people have sufficient certainty and support to make decisions about their own reproductive lives, a workable, reasonable, and rights-based law on access to abortion can be imagined and designed for Ireland.

Now, with the announcement of the Referendum on the 36th Amendment to the Constitution, we are a step closer to achieving some of these goals, but there is still much work to do. Given this week’s developments, Policy Press has brought forward the publication of the book to 1 February: please circulate information about it to anyone who is involved in the debates around the referendum.

 

Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish abortion law‘ by Fiona de Londras and Mairead Enright  is publishing on 1 February 2018 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Pre-order here for just £10.39.

It will be available Open Access under CC-BY licence.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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