by Shelly Mitchell
One of the most popular on-going topics sweeping the Irish nation and being discussed in the Irish parliament at the moment is its abortion legislation. The divisions within the government and the general population have resulted in mass protests across the country by “pro-choice” and “pro-life” advocates. Currently in Ireland abortion is illegal and can result in a 14-year prison sentence for the woman. If and only when a woman’s life is in danger the pregnancy can be terminated, but apparently guidelines are not very clear and doctors are unsure what exactly warrants grounds for a termination.
What I find most difficult to understand about the situation regarding abortion in Ireland is: first, the vast amount of input the Catholic Church is having into this debate and second, the refusal of the government to even contemplate an abortion-on-demand policy.
In regards to the Catholic Church, taking their long history of gender inequality and more recent history of clerical abuse into account, I see no reason why they are to be involved in this debate, especially since Ireland is becoming increasingly secularised and the Church’s influence among the laity is in severe decline. The idea of abortion-on-demand has rarely even entered Irish political discourse. I find this insulting. It shows the government does not trust women like me to make clear, informed decisions over their bodies should they find themselves pregnant. It also denies women the agency and autonomy that we are supposed to have over our bodies as free Irish citizens.
Thousands of Irish women are shamed into travelling to the U.K every year should they need an abortion, which increases the stigma and indignity around the procedure. The travel cost can also put women into severe debt, especially as Ireland is currently going through a severe economic recession. As a result, this isn’t even a choice for many women, for example a woman in receipt of social welfare benefits or an asylum seeker, who simply do not have the economic means to travel to the U.K. They are left with no option but to continue with a pregnancy which may subject them into even further poverty and also may cause severe emotional and psychological trauma.
Finally, one other issue to note in relation to abortion in Ireland is the insensitivity of “pro-life”, or as I prefer to call them, “anti-choice” campaigners. Only last summer, Dublin was subjected to their very visible advertisements. On various billboards across the city were images of foetus being ripped apart claiming “abortion tears her life apart; there’s always a better answer”. Imagine a woman who had undergone a termination. What is this campaign saying about her and her choice? Everyday these women had to view these billboards reminding them of a private decision they have made over their own bodies and some strangers telling them they were wrong! Who are these strangers to decide there is always a better answer? Do they know and understand the exact background to every conception? Do they understand every woman’s socio-economic circumstances? I think not.
Only last week the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) was subject to hostile treatment in which he claimed “I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer, that I am going to have on my soul the death of 20-million babies. I’m getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system, and it’s not confined to me”(www.rte.ie).
This was from anti-choice campaigners in response to abortion legislation currently under review by the Irish State. I think anti-choice people would do well to start looking at this issue as the complex situation is it rather than refusing to accept individual situations and continuing the denial of abortion under any circumstances.