With the campaign for abortion rights gaining huge momentum in the South, the Anti-Austerity Alliance have introduced a bill in the Dáil for a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which bans abortion and equates the existence of a foetus with the life of a woman. If passed on 5th October, the bill would put power in the hands of people to take a vote on this issue for the first year in 33 years. Just one year after marriage equality passed in the South with a referendum, repealing the 8th Amendment is largely seen as something we can win and radicalising young women, in particular, to become involved in politics and fight for a separation of church and state.
Polls are consistently showing a growing support to repeal the Eighth Amendment. In contrast, a woman in the South can receive 14 years in prison for procuring or assisting with an abortion. This is not stopping abortion of course – it’s estimated that 12 women a day will travel outside the country for an abortion or have one at home with illegally obtained pills. This, of course, puts them under huge stress and can see them incur significant costs, especially without the help and support of their families and friends. The geographical proximity to Britain – where abortion has been legal since 1967 – and the historic role of the Catholic Church in the South are two of the main reasons the state has got away with neglecting women’s reproductive rights for so long, but the anger exploding around the issue now is putting politicians under pressure.
In Northern Ireland, the issue has been catapulted back into the media, too. One of only two pathologists here resigned from her job after having to advise a couple who had to have an abortion in England to bring back the foetus in a picnic cooler bag for a post-mortem. She said the law made her job untenable. Whilst we constantly hear from the Assembly that there is no money, £100,000 is being spent by the Department of Justice to appeal the High Court ruling that our abortion law contravenes human rights. None of the main parties here supports access to abortion. North and South, we must mobilise to demand a woman’s right to choose, as well as investment in sex education and sexual health facilities.