It is a beautiful, sunny day, and today the people of Ireland are making history yet again by voting on changes to the constitution. Times change, society changes, people change, the world changes, and sometimes the legislation which governs us must change to accommodate that. The people of Ireland are not afraid; they’ve done it before, and I hope they will do it again.
What does it mean? Very simply, it means abortion could be legalised in Ireland. Most people would agree that abortion is a double-edged sword; no one wants to kill an unborn child. In Ireland, there will be strict controls so that the system cannot be abused, and abortions will only take place during the first twelve weeks.
The debate still rages over whether life starts at conception, or later. And until now, the right to life of the unborn child has been prioritised over the health of the mother, to the extent that women have been allowed to die rather than provide medical intervention which might compromise the life of the baby.
Historically, women and children have not been well looked after in Ireland. It is only in recent years that the truth has emerged concerning the Magdalene laundries, mother and baby homes, dying rooms, cesspits stuffed with the bodies of babies and children, widespread abuse of children by priests and covered up by the church… lies, cover-ups, it’s a horrific legacy indicating just how Ireland in the recent past has actually valued its women and children, particularly its vulnerable pregnant women and girls.
Now it’s time to change all that.
I don’t approve of abortion; in all seriousness, who does? But if I was allowed a vote, I would without hesitation vote YES, because there are times when abortion is necessary: rape, incest, childhood pregnancy, when a woman has mental health issues, for the mother’s health and right to life, if the baby has serious deformities or health issues, to name but a few circumstances in which a termination might sadly be required.
I don’t believe women’s bodies and fertility should be controlled by the state, the church or the patriarchy. A pregnancy is a private matter between a woman and a man. If the woman is in a loving relationship with that man, they should both be part of the decision, if an abortion becomes necessary, but primarily, a woman should hold the rights over her own pregnancy.
You might be shocked at my decision, when I have a profoundly disabled child of my own. But having Carys has taught me so much. I would never judge someone who decided to terminate a pregnancy based on a diagnosis of abnormalities in their unborn child, because I know how hard it is to raise such a child, how it controls your life, actually, how it sucks the life out of you so you become a shell of the human you once were, how in fact society and the state do not value your child, will not support and help you or the child, how you must fight, fight, fight when you are so exhausted and stressed you can barely think straight.
That’s what it’s like for the mother. Nowhere in this debate has anyone stopped to consider what life is like for such a child, how much they suffer, and believe me, they suffer.
Of course, there is great joy in sharing your life with such a child, too. And so much love. But the good doesn’t outweigh the bad, or justify it; they just exist together, the bad and the good, side by side, impossible to separate. And that’s why I wouldn’t judge anyone who chose an abortion in similar circumstances. And neither should anyone else. In fact, I support their right to choose.
The twelve week rule. I support that too, although in effect, it will rule out a lot of women. In my pregnancy, the problems were not detected until I had my first scan, and I didn’t get my first scan until I was 18 weeks pregnant. Well past the twelve week limit.
My doctors spoke of termination, but of course that meant travelling to the UK. I won’t lie, I considered it. I researched all the syndromes I could find to see what my child’s life might be like, and if I thought I could cope. We decided to let nature run its course, so long as the baby wasn’t in any pain. The doctors said in their experience, in 100% of cases, the baby dies before it is born. They were wrong. Carys was born alive, and she is now nearly thirteen years old. That decision was right for us, but I respect that it might not be for others. I want people to have the right to choose.
Women should not have to travel overseas to access abortions. They need the comfort and support of family, they should be able to access after-care and counselling in their own country, not risk 14 years imprisonment. They should receive safe medical intervention provided by experienced, knowledgeable medical staff, not buy pills over the internet. And they should be trusted to make the right decisions over their own bodies. Contrary to what no-voters think, women care about their unborn babies, they do not see abortion as some kind of new birth control measure. Society needs to stop treating women as if they don’t have the capacity for rational thought.
Of course, the truth has been manipulated, and lies promulgated as fact in a debate which has prompted a highly emotional and passionate response. Now here’s the hypocrisy; the no-voters are arguing for the right of the unborn child to life, that life begins at conception. But in Ireland, if a child dies in the womb, it cannot be registered. In other words, in the eye of the law and the state that child, that human being, doesn’t exist, and has never existed. Therefore, whilst a baby is unborn it can have no rights, because it doesn’t exist. I discovered this personally when I was pregnant with Carys and believed she would die in utero. My only option to prove that she was ever here was to write her name in the hospital’s book of remembrance. It’s a blatant double-standard.
I know that this is a very difficult personal decision for everyone. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to vote on. But I really hope that the people of Ireland will vote with open minds and open hearts, with compassion and consideration, and without judgement and prejudice.