We talk a lot about having conversations with regards to the upcoming referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. We talk a lot about having conversations because we understand how important those conversations are. Speaking to people, be they family, friends or colleagues, listening to their concerns and discussing the wide-ranging impact the Eighth Amendment has on the lives of pregnant people in Ireland is crucial in the run up to May 25th. A few years ago, conversations like these changed my thinking and helped me fully understand the implications of the Eighth Amendment and why we must repeal it.
For years I didn’t really consider the issue of abortion at all, but when it came up in conversation or via the news I struggled to explain how I felt about it. I could understand where both sides were coming from, which in many ways can be a good thing. When it comes to the issue of abortion though, it can leave you feeling adrift.
I could never imagine forcing a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape to remain pregnant against her wishes. I could never imagine forcing a woman and her partner who receive a diagnosis of a fatal foetal anomaly to continue with that pregnancy against their wishes, as they wait for their much wanted baby to die. I didn’t realise that this was, and is, what happens every day in Ireland with the Eighth Amendment in place. I thought Ireland was a place that cared for pregnant women in those moments, times when they need it most, but I was wrong.
Doctors are unable to help pregnant people who find themselves in these tragic circumstances because their hands are tied by the words we inserted into our Constitution 35 years ago; “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 is practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” These words are responsible for untold damage and heartache to women and their families across the country. There is no corner of Ireland that is untouched by the Eighth Amendment.
Once I began really thinking about the issue, it was difficult to stop. I asked questions. I listened to the answers. I listened to the experiences of women who bravely shared their stories. The more I listened, the more I realised that our abortion laws need to change and in order for that to happen the Eighth Amendment cannot remain.
The more I listened, the more I understood that the Eighth Amendment is failing women and girls. Miss X. Savita Halappanavar. Ms Y. Amanda Mellet. The pregnant woman kept on life support for 24 days, against the wishes of her family, after she was declared brain-dead. The women who travel daily to access the abortion care they need abroad. The women who order abortion pills online, risking a 14 year prison sentence in the process. These are not faceless women; they are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and granddaughters, our friends, our partners, our girlfriends and our wives.
The more I listened, the more I realised that I needed to pay those conversations forward. I got involved in the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment because after everything I had learned I could no longer sit by and do nothing.
If you’ve been putting off having a conversation with family or friends about why you’re voting Yes, now is the time to bring it up. Your conversation could be the one that secures their Yes vote.
A version of this article first appeared in the letters page of The Kerryman on Wednesday, May 16th