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Category Archives: Abortion

Citizens’ Assembly Submission

There are over 4,500 submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly. I am worried my story, my voice will be lost in the mass. I want to be heard; I want to be valued. I want to #repealthe8th

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I am writing to tell you my story as an Irish woman living in Ireland who needed an abortion. I would like to attach my name to this as I am not ashamed; however I am now a mother to 2 small daughters and I cannot afford the risk to my family of the potential jail sentence for having needed an abortion in Ireland using the abortion pill.

It was 2010. I was 26 and studying for my Masters. I’d gone back to college when the recession hit to reskill. I was in a quite new relationship with a man I’d known for some time and had been seeing off and on for a while, and finally both of us were living in the same place and we began going out seriously. He was working in a call centre. Those jobs have no security and don’t pay well. He worked with a man who was fired for being less than 5 minutes late 3 times in 2 months – at the start of those 2 months he’d just become a father.

2 months into that new relationship I realised I was pregnant. My period was late, I was feeling sick. I took a test. It was positive. I knew immediately I wasn’t ready to remain pregnant and eventually have a baby. A large part of why I knew I wasn’t ready was that I knew we were not in a position to be able to afford to have a family. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree and get employment.. His salary wasn’t enough to support us all. Rents were already starting to rise; we weren’t living together, we were renting rooms separately in shared houses and couldn’t have afforded our own place. I didn’t want my life, my partner’s life and the lives of the children I did eventually want to have with him to be trapped in the grinding poverty that they would have been if we had continued that pregnancy. I checked out what we would have been entitled to in state support and social welfare. It wasn’t enough to get by on. Looking at the friends I know now who are trapped in situations of relying on those payments I know that if anything I overestimated how much we would have been entitled to. I find it very emotionally difficult to think about the financially stressful and for me, misery-stricken life we would now have; it brings me to the point of tears. I think it is very likely we would now be among the huge amounts of homeless families in Ireland today.

I told my partner about the pregnancy and that I knew that wanted an abortion. He said he would support me in whatever I chose. He also said that he had personal struggles with abortion and that while he would never feel he had the right to force someone to go through with a pregnancy against their will he would find this very difficult and asked me to think about it for a few weeks. I of course agreed. I knew about the existence of Women on Web and said that I would contact them anyway so we would have that option there. I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford all the costs of travel for it. I researched the cost of childcare, wanting to be able to continue in college – I knew there was a creche on-campus that took children of students at a reduced rate. I looked up the fee for students. It was still €680 a month. That was considerably more than the rent I was paying at that point. There was absolutely no way either of us, or even both of us together could afford that. We looked at it all the ways we could. There was no way we could afford to remain pregnant. I know now that childcare costs in Ireland are the second highest in the world.

I filled out the consultation form for Women on Web. I used the address of a friend of a friend in the North to get them sent to. Customs here will seize them and then send you letters threatening to prosecute you. There was a bit of a panic there as his housemate signed for the package on delivery and then forgot to tell him about it, and the pills are time-sensitive for use – you can only use them if you’re under 9 weeks, and I was 7 weeks at this point. You’re counted as being 4 weeks pregnant from the time you miss your period so it’s really not very much time at all. We eventually got that sorted and got the pills to us.

I took them when I was 8 weeks pregnant. The embryo I was pregnant with was the size of a kidney bean. I took them in my bedroom of the rented house I was living in at the time with my partner there to look after me. I wasn’t ready for how painful it was. With what I know now, I would genuinely compare the pain of it to fullblown labour. Without any access to any medical reassurance, any support from midwives, any medicine to ease it or anyone who knew what was going on and could tell me and my very worried partner that I would be okay and that this was within the bounds of normal. We were fully aware that what we were doing would be punishable by a potential life sentence if we were caught. (This was 2010, before the PDLPA which now means that I’m ‘only’ liable to 14 years.) There was no way I would feel safe presenting to a hospital or calling a doctor if something went wrong. I knew the pills were very safe and I knew I would almost definitely be fine but I also knew that if I weren’t I would either have to risk my health on my own or risk pretty much the entire rest of my life with medical support.

I am sure there are some of you who are reading this who think that I deserved everything I went through for daring to want to end a pregnancy rather than continue it regardless of the personal cost to me and my partner. That I deserved to be frightened and alone with my partner during that abortion, that I deserve to be locked up for choosing not to continue to grow the pregnancy, for wanting an abortion at all. That because my pregnancy was the result of consensual sex rather than rape I should have been forced to continue it against my will; that because my pregnancy hadn’t been diagnosed with a fatal abnormality I should have had to go through the entirety of pregnancy, birth and motherhood regardless of the fact that my country, who would have forced me into it, would not support me through it and would see me and the resultant child trapped in a lifetime of poverty because of it.

I do not think I did. I do not think that I do. I do not think that the many women like me who need to self-administer in Ireland every day deserve it either. I am quite open about my experience on social media and as a result am frequently contacted by women who need to find out how they can access the abortion pill. There is not enough room in Irish jails to hold us all, believe me.

Since completing my Masters and finding secure employment, my partner and I have had 2 daughters. We are now married and in a considerably more privileged position than we were during that first pregnancy and yet it has been the most difficult time of both of our lives. Parenthood in this country is isolating, impoverishing, and unsupported. I have had postnatal depression after both of my children which is only starting to resolve now. I also nearly died when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my second daughter from a pregnancy complication, pulmonary embolisms, which I would be at high risk of again in any subsequent pregnancy. I chose to continue that pregnancy regardless of the risk to my own health because we as a family were in a position to have that child. I would support any other woman in her decision not to. I do not think that should I become pregnant again and the risk to my life and health become even greater, if say it does not respond to medication this time, that I should be forced to continue that pregnancy at the risk of leaving my existing 2 daughters without their mother and my husband without his wife.

I think it is beyond barbaric that Ireland forces people, particularly those women who are least able to access abortion, poor women, migrant women, disabled women, into motherhood and then leaves them high and dry without any meaningful social support or attempt to integrate society around families. The cuts to lone parents allowance and the ongoing attempt to financially coerce lone parents (who are 86.5% mothers) into leaving their children who are 7 or older at home alone by cutting off their lone parents’ allowance and pushing them onto jobseekers is not only horrendously cruel to those mothers but dangerous and discriminatory to their children. 60% of all lone parent families live in deprivation. Why is it, if Ireland cares so much about babies and children that it must force us to remain pregnant at any cost to ourselves, that it cannot even adequately fund a decent standard of living and of care for those babies and children once they are born?

Even if you are of the opinion (as I hope you are) that Ireland should do that, it is completely beyond the scope of the Citizens’ Assembly to enforce or even recommend that. I really hope that you want to stop criminalising those like me, stop us being forced to listen to ‘debates’ on this that paint abortions like mine for ‘social reasons’ as selfish and flippant and something we would indulge in because we have a holiday booked (I cannot count the amount of times I have heard this on the radio and it gives me a knot of stress and rage in my stomach every time), stop women with no resources being forced into continuing pregnancies motherhood they can’t afford and which will trap them in poverty for the rest of their lives. I hope that you do not believe that a woman pregnant with an 8 week pregnancy like I was should be forced to continue gestating that regardless of her opinions on the matter, and regardless of the knock on effects on her life; that the potential baby that might result from that 8 week pregnancy (1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage anyway) is far more important than anything else.

Most of all I hope you do not believe that you know better than me or than any other woman, any other person making that decision what is best for us. I hope you can understand that I am an adult human being capable and competent of making my own decisions for my own wellbeing and that it should not be up to you or anyone else who doesn’t even know me and has never walked in my shoes to override them. I hope that you do not think that my small daughters, should they ever as adults find themselves pregnant with a pregnancy they cannot continue, should have to endure what I did and be criminalised for it as I am.

I want to end this by pointing out that a recommendation to repeal the 8th doesn’t mean that you personally would choose an abortion in every circumstance that a woman who has chosen abortion would. It just means you don’t think you have the right to stop us.

Remembering Savita

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Savita Halappanavar died on this day 4 years ago in Galway University Hospital. She died in suffering and in pain, because she was pregnant, having been denied basic medical care she and her husband Praveen repeatedly requested.

She died because abortion is illegal in nearly all circumstances in Ireland and even now remains so; but she also died because she was a pregnant migrant woman and a woman of colour in Ireland. Migrant women are twice as likely to die in pregnancy in Ireland as women born in Ireland and the UK. Nora Hyland, Bimbo Onanuga, and Dhara Kivlehan are all names of migrant women who’ve died in or after pregnancy in recent years in Irish maternity hospitals who should be alive now with their children. Only a few months ago Malak Thawley died in an operating theatre of the NMH after basic surgical equipment “could not be found” to stop her bleeding to death.

Our maternity service is not a sufficiently safe place for migrant women, Traveller women, and women of colour; the denial of access to abortion in it only renders it more so, as demonstrated most recently and horrendously with the barbarities the Irish state perpetrated upon Ms Y.

I remember Savita and I remember the tears I cried for her on hearing how she was left to die unnecessarily. I remember Bimbo and how she was told she was exaggerating the pain which was a symptom of the uterine rupture she later died of, and how it took her partner and AIMS Ireland THREE YEARS of fighting to even get an inquest opened into her death. I remember Nora Hyland and how she died of a massive cardiac event after waiting over 40 minutes for a blood transfusion that never came, and with three times the recommended dose of Syntometrine in her body, a component of which is known to have adverse cardiac effects. I remember Dhara Kivlehan and how her doctor told her husband as she went undiagnosed of a fatal liver disorder that it was harder to diagnose Indian people with jaundice, a key indicator of liver failure.

I remember all these women, their partners, and their families and how they were not only mistreated appallingly by the Irish maternity system in life, not permitted as pregnant women to have the final say on their own bodies because of the existence of the 8th amendment, and how further indignity and injury was heaped upon their grieving families by the Irish state and maternity hospitals in refusing to address properly the causes of their death, apologise for them or treat their partners with the respect they deserved. I remember and I fight for change that sometimes seems as though it will never come, especially on days like today where the darkness closes in early and the memory of the horror and outrage and grief of 4 years ago weighs heavily on me. But I do fight.

Solidarity and love to those of you who fight with me, those of you who’ve fought for years and decades longer than me, and those of you who’ve seen more suffering caused by Irish law and Irish maternity hospitals than I can imagine. We will remember and we will bring about change.

This is my third time of posting this. I said this last year, and the year before; I say it again this year, and will every year until everyone in Ireland with a womb owns their own body.

I’m in an Abusive Relationship with my Country

Dear Ireland,

I’m sorry to have to say this but we need to break up.

You see I just finished reading this book called “Why Does He Do That? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men” and I now realise that I am in an abusive relationship.

With you.

See abusers have a sense of entitlement, and you have that Ireland, you really do. You think it’s ok to treat women like second class citizens, to lock up asylum seekers, to allow the elderly, disabled and children in care to be abused when you’re supposed to be looking after them, you think it’s ok to expect Irish people to pay twice for wateryou make racist jokes and you think it’s ok to discriminate against children who aren’t Catholics.

I know now all of these things are indicative of your deeply held sense of entitlement.

Abusers also have a core belief in inequality and again Ireland, you have that in spades. Women are  woefully underrepresented in politics (and other positions of power), paid less than men and have their right to bodily autonomy taken away from them when pregnant. Not much equality there Ireland. Can you see how unfair you are?

Plus you really aren’t respectful of my body, like when I’m pregnant you have more say in what happens in and to my body than I do. You can even force me to stay pregnant against my will, force feed me, touch my body and even cut me open – all against my will.

Other countries recognise that legally as assault, torture even.

I have less rights than a corpse around you Ireland and that really sucks. I mean who in their right mind would actually want to stay in a relationship with someone that would hold all that over you? Someone WHO WOULD ACTUALLY DO THOSE THINGS TO YOU. And if I try and reclaim my body you threaten to lock me up and take away my freedom. That’s pretty dark Ireland. You’re in a dark place.

Abusers have no respect for their partners and you clearly have no respect for me. I’ve seen the way you treat other women too, you just don’t give a shit about us do you? I’m worried about my daughters, growing up with you. Will you treat them as harshly as you’ve treated me? Will they have to go through what I and the women in your past have gone through?

I’m pretty angry Ireland. I’m bloody wild about how you’ve been treating me and I’m not going to let you get away with it. I’m going to keep telling everyone what a shit you are until you change your abusive ways.

All I want is some basic respect and access to my human rights. I can’t believe you continue to deny me them.

Sincerely,

A Woman of Ireland.

Bring Down The Final Curtain: The Citizens Assembly and the Macabre Theatre of the Abortion Question

I stood outside the Dáil on Tuesday evening during the Repeal demo organised by AAA-PBP and it began to rain. An activist I know from another organisation happened to be standing beside me asked how I was. Tired says I, as I had just come from work and I was up before 6 that morning to walk the dogs. It’s a long day when you’re standing at a demo regardless of precipitation levels. That’s not to try and garner sympathies or kudos – the point is that you’d want more hours in the day for all the protests. You’d be sick protesting. I’m especially sick protesting to repeal the Eighth Amendment. There are literally hundreds of things I could think of that I’d prefer to do. These demonstrations are kind of samey after a while and there are only so many different ways you can point out the sheer horror of having no say in what happens your body before you start to feel like you’re going to lose your mind with frustration.

As I thought about what I would rather be doing (no disrespect to the speakers because the ones I heard were really, really great but let’s be honest, we all want to be somewhere else), the cabinet came to a last minute voting arrangement on the Bill. Minister Katherine Zappone, poster deputy of Liberal Ireland, and a number of other TDs had a dilemma; having previously committed to Repeal but gone into government with Fine Gael they couldn’t vote in favour of the AAA repeal Bill, but they couldn’t vote against it either. Thus a magical typically Irish formula was arranged; the Dáil would vote on a counter motion to the Bill to state that no legislation on abortion would be dealt with while the Citizens Assembly was still sitting. This has the handy effect of getting Zappone et al out of a tight spot in this particular vote, but also buys time for the Cabinet and Independent Alliance. The Citizens Assembly is due to report in a year. Any other attempt to remove the Eighth Amendment between now and then will be ruled out of order using a convoluted mechanism of parliamentary censorship. Meanwhile Zappone and others who have built a political career on “liberal” issues will never have to make an actual decision on it. Sweatshirts and badges notwithstanding, responsibility for the matter is conveniently devolved to the Citizens Assembly.

The Citizens Assembly is a bizarre concept. It teaches us that women’s bodies are so politically destructive and terrifying that the people who are theoretically *elected* to represent the population cannot legislate for the matters that affect those bodies. The “problem” has been discussed at length by numerous Oireachtas committees and Dáil debates, all in an effort to not actually resolve the matter, but demonstrate “Look! Women! We’re TALKING about it!” They need to be seen to be doing something, but the women who need or want, or indeed have had, abortions are irrelevant to their political thinking, The comfort of their Dáil seats and knowledge of extremely healthy pensions, and the leather under their arses in Ministerial cars are worth more to them than women’s lives. Their Mercs with State funded drivers are fueled by the tears of twelve women travelling for abortions to the UK every day and god knows how many more getting medication online and off dealers.  What the criteria is by which a cabinet decides an issue is so socially toxic that they could not possibly attempt to legislate for a referendum on the matter is not clear.

The Citizens Assembly is a performance. It is political theatre. It will be fleeting plot line in the inevitable boring memoir by Leo Varadkar or Shane Ross when they have a fleeting reference to how they allegedly attempted to fight against it. It is a mechanism for kicking the can down the road.

Realistically it will be a year from now by the time the Citizens Assembly reports back. That brings us to the end of 2017. There is talk that a referendum could potentially be held in 2018. This seems unrealistic. After the Assembly reports it will, as is the practice with such reports, sit with an Oireachtas Committee for a few months. It will need to be debated to death. At the same time the ordinary business of bills and farcical Leader’s Questions will continue. They will need to pass a budget. There will also be preparations for the local and European Elections in 2019. They will need to address the looming Brexit situation. Political parties view time in election cycles. After the locals, there will be preparation for the next general election of 2021 – if the government manages to last that long. Fine Gael may have quietened any umbrage taken over abortion, but they still have the matter of annual budgets, judicial appointments, teachers striking, cops striking and whatever else is around the corner.

The Citizens Assembly gives them a get out of legislating card. Do not pass go. Do not collect your pension just yet.  The idea that 99 random punters are qualified to represent the population in this manner is farcical. It is the outsourcing of democracy. There was a small glimmer of hope among some activists recently when the 2018 repeal referendum was mooted. Hypothetically, if those great 99 return with a verdict that indeed, the women of Ireland need access to free, safe and legal abortion, will we get it? Will we fuck; Our expectations will be managed appropriately. Zappone has been co-opted and regardless of Labour’s current protestations, they were co-opted when they were in Government. Calls for people to be reasonable will abound and those who wish for something as basic as wanting to control reproductive health will be lumped in with the “looney left” who are seeking something better in life that the government tells us is unrealistic. The fiscal space will not allow the eradication of poverty or the realisation of bodily autonomy.

During the Tuesday night debate, Bríd Smith whipped out a packet of abortion pills in the Dáil chamber and rightly asked to be prosecuted. It will never happen though, in the same way the women of the Contraception Train weren’t touched. State authorities will save their efforts for the most vulnerable. Not the woman who has the platform of the Dáil chamber, but the woman who has an abortion at home in Belfast, alone, for want of access to legal healthcare. Or the women who are consistently reminded that you may go to jail for fourteen years if you are caught trying to do what is legal in almost every other jurisdiction in Europe. The criminalisation of those who have abortions at home and the prospective jail sentence must remain for the State; if women take things into their own hands (as they so often do) how else will they control women’s bodies without the threat of violence and imprisonment? Little do they care that there is already a significant level of subversion of these inhumane laws. There are networks of women who help each other and no threats of jail will prevent that.

There is a back and forth where reasonable TDs plead for a reasonable response. Climate change deniers and old men respond that they care about the babies. The gombeen men TDs play to their local audiences. Government members talk a lot without saying much. It is theatre of the absurd. Enda Kenny likes to think he has the air of a gladiator about him, but transcripts of questions to the Taoiseach demonstrate that he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about and it seems more like a pantomime. Look at Micheal Martin, he’s behind you!

The standard rules of political decision making do not apply when it comes to abortion.  The Citizens Assembly was an invention to outsource the talking shop elements of modern politics, while retaining the control over whether or not to take on board what they recommend. Each meeting of the Assembly is a staged performance. We are witnessing the dramaturgy of abortion politics in Ireland. Each participant carefully selected to ensure that they have never made any public declarations on the matter one way or the other. The actors will play the role that has been written for them accordingly. The audience reads notes on the drama of each theatrical episode in which pro-choice groups and forced birthers are positioned as two sides of the same coin; an expression of good versus evil. Lazy journalists portray fully staffed organisations backed by the Church and funded by the American Christian right as political equals to organisations filled with students and working class people who work voluntarily to assist women and stand outside Leinster House with home-made placards. Those who would see women jailed portray themselves as the guardians of the nation’s unborn babies, while children sit in homeless hostels, direct provision, schools with leaky roofs, and in counselling services having been abused by others. The orchestrated debates and prepared parliamentary speeches are designed to show us that those in power are truth-tellers. There of course will be the occasional plot twist, as will any political tragicomedy. Fine Gael TD Tom Barry drunkenly pulling Aine Collins TD onto his lap during a debate on legislation that was taking place directly as a result of a woman’s death was laughed off as banter between friends.

Naming it the “Citizens Assembly” was an important narrative technique to make the audience feel like they had some sort of participatory role in the event. We are citizens; therefore we own this Assembly even if we are not directly involved with the show. Women who remain undocumented or without the ability to travel due to complex and ongoing asylum procedures are among the most affected by the Eighth Amendment, but they are not citizens, so they do not matter. However, we are continually reminded that the Citizens Assembly and the debates surrounding it are for a higher, more moral cause. Their decision will be collectivised and distilled into a representation of the will of the people and we will be told that the nation has at last transcended the difficult Irish question of abortion. They are “the Citizens” after all, and they will redeem the State and the thousands of women forced to leave to access abortions in England will preach forgiveness. That is the hope at least. The rhetoric of citizenship and deliberation and participation is a fitting next act in the midst of state pageantry and a million 1916 re-enactments commemorating those who wished to be heard. The State through its Assembly tells us it is listening and delegitimises more radical acts, such as ordering medication online because you made a decision you do not want to be pregnant.

The cabinet member playwrights will take their bows following its choreographed conclusion; the hope being that future generations will commend them for their brave move in “letting the people decide” conveniently forgetting that letting the people decide will require an actual referendum. In the absence of allowing a Bill to proceed that provides for a referendum, it is merely a spectacle of compliance functioning to hold the government together. If Citizens Assembly did not exist, there would be no excuse in delaying a referendum. It’s the tv series that should have ended three seasons back because it’s starting to feel repetitive but just as back to back episodes of Come Dine With Me replaces anything decent on tv, the sanitised Citizens Assembly will obscure the views of those who think women should be able to decide whether to be pregnant or not regardless of the circumstance of conception or their health.

There was graffiti in Paris in 1968 saying “When the national assembly becomes bourgeois theatre, the bourgeois theatres must become national assemblies.” The outworking of the Citizens Assembly decisions will be done by those who do the banal work of overseeing the work of governance and the State over golf courses and in the Dáil bar and in departmental offices. This is separate from the public performance. In the 1571 a book called “Order and Usage Howe to Keepe a Parliament” detailed how members of parliament should not discuss the internal goings on of the chamber; politics and how decisions are made are not for public consumption or discussion outside. Up to the 19th Century, visitors from parliament were not allowed take notes of parliamentary sessions. There is no live feed in the office of the Secretary General of the Department of Health where decisions are actually made and Dáil committees regularly sit in private session.

We haven’t come that far from the practice of 1571, the Dáil is still just ritual theatre, and the Citizens Assembly is the interval act.

#Repealthe8th

@stephie08

 

Ungovernable Wombs – The Abortion Pill and the Erosion of the Eighth Amendment

Between 2010 and 2015 the rates of women travelling from Ireland to access abortion services in the UK fell from 4,402 per annum to 3,451 per annum. A total of 27,800 women travelled during this timeframe. Anti-choice groups congratulated themselves because of the drop in numbers, choosing to interpret the British Department of Health statistics as evidence of a drop in the rate of abortions taking place as a result of their work. Pro-choice groups were at pains to point out that this was incorrect; the British DOH stats simply show the decline in the numbers of women travelling from Ireland who access abortions in England in Wales, but they do not represent the total numbers of women from Ireland who are accessing abortions. The 27,800 figure was *never* accurate; it doesn’t include women who travelled from Ireland but gave UK addresses or in some cases used UK NHS numbers. It doesn’t include migrant women who travel to Eastern European states to access services there. It doesn’t include women who travel to other EU states that aren’t the UK to access abortion services there instead.

So the paper published today shows that during the period which *official* numbers travelling to the UK declined by 951, there were 5,680 women who requested the abortion pill to take at home within the island of Ireland from an organisation called Women on Web. The numbers willing to risk a criminal penalty to have an abortion at home are increasing year on year. That said, given that customs seize some of these packages, we don’t know how many made it through to the women who requested them or how many women actually took the medication once they managed to get them. But even if only 50% of women managed to get the abortion and actually take them, it pretty much cancels out the reduction of numbers women travelling to the UK for terminations. Fifty percent is actually a remarkably conservative estimate considering that Customs only managed to seize 68 of these tablets last year, and given that there are more websites than Women on Web who will provide the drug (including Women Help Women) and migrant communities who have their own word of mouth suppliers as well as less reputable black market suppliers online, it’s quite likely that there are a few thousand more who have requested and taken the abortion pill since 2010.

It’s good to see coverage of this issue, and specifically of Rebecca Gomperts’ research paper but it doesn’t tell the whole story about women who are willing to risk a prison sentence (such as the woman in the north who took pills and was subsequently reported to the police by her tout housemates). The pill was supplied by Women on Web to 1,642 women between 2010 and 2012 and they managed to conduct follow-up research on 1,181 of those women (72%).

What report does tell us is that the law that criminalises abortion north and south in Ireland, and allows the state to jail women if they breach it, is completely irrelevant to women who need to access terminations and can’t travel. They are going to take the risk and order the medication anyway. The women who accessed the abortion pill from Women on Web were generally between 20 and 30 years old and the majority of them were already mothers, and 97% of them reported that accessing and using the medication at home was the right thing for them with 98% saying that they’d recommend the experience to other women. The only negative thing for the women accessing abortions at home is doing it outside of the law.

While the Citizens Assembly pontificates on the rights of women in Ireland to bodily autonomy and control over their reproductive systems, women can and will break the law in order to end their pregnancies. The abortion pill is a safe drug, in fact, it’s safer than viagra, and while well-meaning obstetricians like to point out the risks of taking medicines without the supervision of a medical practitioner, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that in an Irish context, those concerns are as much about women in Ireland challenging the State’s control over their bodies as they are about taking a safe dose of misoprostol following an online consultation with a medical professional overseas. Continuing the prohibition against abortion and forcing women to go to term with pregnancies they do not want to carry is a form of structural violence against women.

The fact that women ordering this medication clearly believe it is safe should tell the State and the Citizens Assembly something. More and more women are now taking the pill and recommending it to their friends who can’t or simply don’t want to travel. Furthermore, even if women don’t believe it’s safe, they are willing to take that risk as well as the risk of arrest and prosecution in order to end their pregnancies at home here in Ireland. At this stage, for women in Ireland whether they travel or order medication online, abortion is a pretty normal event. It isn’t certainly isn’t a rarity. No one is put off ordering drugs whether they are risking a 14 year prison sentence or life in penal servitude, or their own health or life when it comes to disreputable black market sellers. Women on Web and Women Help Women alongside the activists who are supplying them with information, contact details, assisting them in getting the medication and providing them with safe spaces in which to take their medication are changing women’s health care in Ireland. Of course, this medication is only available for early terminations, but the power of it becoming more normalised and giving women control over their own bodies should not be underestimated.

Recognising that taking abortion out of the constitution and criminal law and treating it as a public health issue, is absolutely essential. This is about women’s rights and self-determination There are clearly public health consequences as a result of this domestic criminalisation – not every seller is as ethical as WoW or WHW. Forcing women to a point where they order medication online, though potentially empowering from a bodily autonomy standpoint, is pretty demeaning and dangerous in the context of a potential jail sentence if they are caught; if you thought your home abortion wasn’t going quite according to plan and you were unsure whether you were bleeding a bit too much, would you ask a doctor knowing they might feel obliged to call the Gardaí?

The Eighth Amendment might still be in the Constitution looming over everyone with a womb in Ireland, but like the women of generations past who handed down details of Queen Anne’s Lace seeds and Pennyroyal tea; email addresses and website details and safe houses to have packages delivered to are handed down by the current generation. If there is no safe house for delivery there might be a drone delivery.  In all jurisdictions where abortion is illegal women will find a way around it regardless of criminal penalties. The existence of the internet makes a mockery of the 1995 Regulation of Information Act that tightly controls the circumstances under which you be given information about abortion; literally anyone with a smartphone could potentially tell you when, where and how much an abortion will cost. Whether you have the funds to access it is a different thing altogether. Even if you do have the funds, the ability to access it in a post-Brexit Britain is in question.

When the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it must not be replaced with a semi-liberalised system that allows for abortion in certain highly restricted circumstances that requires women to jump through bureaucratic hoops designed to degrade them by requiring the narration of their experiences for panels of doctors who decide whether their reason for wanting to end their pregnancy is good enough, or whether the risk to their health or life is risky enough. The treatment of Ms. Y during her engagement with the panel (that ordered the termination of her pregnancy by a c-section at 24 weeks rather than the abortion she requested at 9 weeks) has taught us that the State will not make owning your own body straightforward for women. The Eighth Amendment must be replaced by a system that allows for free, safe, and legal abortion where a woman decides it is best for her, in a venue that is convenient and accessible for her – whether that is in a clinic or in her home. Continued refusal to allow this to women will simply mean thousands more travelling every year and thousands more ordering abortion pills online.

The 1,642 women who received illegal abortion pills in Ireland between 2010 and 2012 are the tip of a very large iceberg that is not going away no matter what the Citizen’s Assembly decides.

 

The 8th

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Guest Post by Lauren Foley

It was maybe the third time you’d done it. It took easier than the first (you vomited), no worse than the last (DVDs in bed). You’d completely forgotten all three times (and the fourth, then the fifth), but just now there was this article on your Twitter feed.

You remember the rush of sexiness, that floaty semi-arousing pre-menstrual flood. Alarm of hormones. Then blood after saccharine tugging just below your navel. There’s a taste to a chemically-induced period like NutraSweet® in your bloodstream, epidermis, sweat glands; and you do kind of want to lick your forearm the way cats do lick theirs thinking your skin might taste of Diet Coke. The blood is lighter, clearer, brighter – a pop of red cherry. Like how we’re made to think it would look if it was red on TV, and not the brilliant blue it’s made be. The pain is synthetic, manufactured and claws as if from behind a curtain (wherein lies a great and powerful Oz).

You never think on them as abortions.

The third was only twenty-eight hours into seventy-two.

You’d normally ‘double dutch’ it. Condoms and the pill.

But, you’d gained ten pounds on the progesterone injections and your boyfriend had been around a good long while …

You still used condoms, insisted—the Catholic in you—except that one night after the 1920s party when you were both too drunk to fuck but somehow managed to come. He took that as a future freedom like the American guy in Catastrophe who impregnates Sharon Horgan. You agree with her it was a bit bad of them.

And just like this article linked now on Twitter, your abortion did you no harm, you’d completely forgotten about it (the fourth, the fifth).

The eighth.

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Lauren Foley is Irish, and Australian (enough). Her short story, ‘Squiggly Arse Crack’, appeared in the 2014 Margaret River Press Anthology. She was shortlisted for the Overland Story Wine Prize, and Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award, 2015. Lauren won the inaugural OverlandNeilma Sidney Short Story Prize 2016. She was also awarded a 2016 Varuna Residential Writer’s Fellowship for her short story cycle in progressPolluted Sex. She lives in Skerries. 

laurenfoleywriter.com

@AYearinSouthOz 

The political and personal landscape of choice in Ireland

This piece has been previously published in print by the Workers Solidarity Movement in the magazine Common Threads. Since its publication one of the pending prosecutions in the north referenced in the piece has resulted in a conviction for a young woman for having a safe though illegal abortion using the abortion pills.1383342_332492296896551_364124772_n.jpg

 

It is all but impossible, both in theory and in practice, to legally obtain an abortion on the island of Ireland, both north and south of the imaginary border that divides this island. It is completely impossible to safely and legally obtain an abortion anywhere in Ireland;  the legal framework in the south specifically requires that in order to obtain an abortion without being criminalised for so doing, the woman who needs it must be ill enough to die; thus it is rendered impossible for her to be safe in access to legal abortion.

 

In the north, the Offences Against the Person Act dating from 1861 – over a century and a half ago – is what renders women taking control of whether or not they give birth and remain pregnant illegal. It describes abortion as ‘procuring miscarriage’, a description which is very apt for what those who need abortions in the north of Ireland today are forced to do by this archaic piece of legislation; obtain the abortion pill illegally online via organisations like Women on Web, Women Help Women, or less reputable means. It states that anyone who does this “shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable [..] to be kept in penal servitude for life”. However there was an exception made to this under the Criminal Justices Act of 1945. This Act, while it created the offence of “child destruction”, defining it as “any wilful act [that] causes a child to die before it has an existence independent of its mother” allowed that such a “destruction” could be carried out without legal penalty if one is acting in good faith to preserve the life of the “mother”.

 

Unlike in the south, this has been interpreted by subsequent judgements to mean not only that the woman must be on the brink of death, but also that the woman’s health was important as well. (In the south, the Supreme Court ruling on X in 1992 specifically excludes the woman’s or girl’s health from being in any way relevant to whether she is permitted to access an abortion.) In 1994 a court in the north found that this “does not relate only to some life-threatening situation. Life in this context means that physical or mental health or well-being of the mother and the doctor’s act is lawful where the continuance of the pregnancy would adversely affect the mental or physical health of the mother. The adverse effect must however be a real and serious one and there will always be a question of fact and degree whether the perceived effect of non-termination is sufficiently grave to warrant terminating the unborn child.” However it is very difficult to establish clearly the criteria under which this is deemed to be the case; on the 26th of March of this year the Northern Ireland Executive finally agreed to publish guidelines for healthcare professionals on when it is legal for women to access abortion. This was following enormous pressure on the Executive owing to a ruling from Belfast High Court in November 2015 which found that to deny abortions to women carrying pregnancies that will not survive to term, or beyond birth, or pregnant as a result of “sexual crime” was a breach of their human rights. Again, as in the south, this legislative framework ensures that a woman cannot be safe if she is unwell and endangered enough to fit the criteria of being ‘permitted’ to access a legal abortion.

Despite the obvious outdatedness of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, there are nonetheless not one, but two pending prosecutions in Belfast at the moment under it. One is of a woman who procured the abortion pill for her teenage daughter; subsequent to its administration they presented at a hospital in search of medical treatment, worried for the daughter’s well-being. Though details of the case are as yet unclear, it seems that a (presumably anti-choice) medical professional they encountered there felt the need to report them to the police for something that would render them open to life imprisonment. The second pending prosecution is of a woman in her twenties who obtained the abortion pill for herself and apparently for others. Again, details of her situation are unclear, but given that there is no prosecution or pursuit of any of the over 200 women from the north who have openly and deliberately incriminated themselves under their full names in repeated open letters and publications in various media as people who have needed access to the abortion pill, it seems likely that this prosecution too came about under pressure from another party.

 

The legal structure in the south of Ireland is the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution. It states 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.” The obvious afterthought of the right to life of the carrier of the foetus granted was only included in the wording after a vigorous campaign from feminist groups of the time. The referendum for its inclusion in the constitution of southern Ireland was passed in 1983 after a vitriolic debate in a referendum in which only 53% of the electorate voted. 67% of those who voted, voted for it. This means that a decision made by a mere 35% of the electorate of southern Ireland 32 years ago, none of whom are likely to be women of reproductive age today (the youngest a voter in that referendum would be now is 50), is deemed relevant and appropriate to force every person capable of becoming pregnant in the south of this island to remain that way regardless of that person’s own opinion on the matter.

 

The 8th amendment also strips from any pregnant woman or other person the right to consent or refuse any treatment a higher power than herself(!) may deem necessary for the foetus she carries in pregnancy. It also means that it is at the whim of a medical treating power to deny a pregnant woman potentially lifesaving medical treatment if they consider it may damage the foetus she carries, as was seen in the case of Michelle Harte. Michelle Harte was a cancer sufferer who was receiving treatment denied to her by Cork University Hospital’s “board of ethics” (what a misnomer) when she became accidentally pregnant. The same ethics board denied her, a dying woman, access to an abortion and forced her to travel to the UK while incredibly ill with cancer to obtain the healthcare she needed – an abortion. She subsequently died. A Catholic bishop sits on that ‘ethics’ board.

 

Since the context of choice and bodily autonomy in most public discussions, even most leftist public discussions, seems only to be understood as the choice to continue or to end a pregnancy, it is imperative to highlight that the 8th amendment is used also as a tool of coercion against women and others in continued pregnancy and during birth. The 8th amendment is regularly cited to pregnant women wishing to go against what their doctor deems to be the best for them; the phrase, “I could bring you to court if I have to, you know” is one used against pregnant and birthing women in Ireland far too often. This is explicitly stated in the HSE’s National Consent Policy, which cites the High Courts as the appropriate place to determine what can be perpetrated upon the body of a pregnant woman without her consent. Doctors, midwives and social workers are more often those doing the coercing in this scenario; it rarely goes as far as the courts, as most women when told by the social workers who arrive on their doorstep (as has happened in more than one instance) that their existing children will be taken from them into care if they continue to refuse to comply with their doctor’s vision of what is best for them, do not feel capable of struggling back when in all likelihood they will lose anyway. However there is one instance in which the High Court has been invoked, in Waterford in 2013 in the Mother A case.

 

The Mother A case involved Waterford Regional Hospital taking a woman, known as ‘Mother A’ by the court, to the High Court in an attempt to secure an order coercing her into a caesarean section. They took this action despite the fact that Mother A was not utterly refusing to consent to a c section; she specifically said that despite her desire to have a vaginal birth, should an emergency arise, she would consent to a section. It was not an emergency situation; the spur for the coerced c section was a foetal trace which was categorised by the person interpreting it as “non-reassuring” rather than emergency. She also wanted to delay the birth by at least 24 hours, because her partner was out of the country until then and she wanted him to not only be present at the birth but also to be able to be there to care for their older child during the period she was in hospital. Further, while the hospital insisted she was 41 weeks and 6 days pregnant, she deeply disagreed with their assessment. (It is worth highlighting at this point a similar case in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda in 2003 where a woman, Therese Darcy-Lampf, was coerced into a section at 34 weeks owing to the hospital having wrongly noted her gestation after a scan, despite the fact that she pointed this out to them repeatedly. Her baby, Jessica, died shortly after being born far too early.) All very reasonable things to want; yet all things that were utterly denied her at the apparently capricious behest of an obstetrician and a hospital that stripped her of her voice and her autonomy. No judgement was handed down in this case as the woman “consented” to the caesarean section before one became necessary.

 

The nightmarish reality of forced caesarean sections has now been publicly enshrined not only in Irish practice by the Mother A case, but also in law and in practice by the passing of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013. The first draft of this bill was called the Protection of Maternal Life During Pregnancy Bill; but clearly this concept, that women should not die because we are pregnant, was deemed far too radical by the Labour-Fine Gael coalition government to pass into law and thus it was renamed to ensure that nobody reading it should become confused and think perhaps that women’s lives matter. Such confusion is however highly unlikely given the content of the Act, which requires that a suicidal woman must prove that she is suicidal to up to 6 doctors before eventually being granted a lifesaving abortion. This despite the fact that suicide is a leading cause of death during pregnancy in Ireland, and despite the fact that we are constantly being reassured through ad campaigns telling us to ‘please talk’ (talk to whom is never made clear) that mental health is in fact real health. It is only real health until it comes to pregnant women, as was made obvious by the atrocities perpetrated on Ms. Y by the medical establishment and the state in the south in 2014.

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Ms. Y arrived in the south of Ireland on March 28th, 2014 as a refugee. At what is described as a “health screening”, six days later she found out she was pregnant; she made known to those performing the screening on behalf of the state that she had been raped and that she could not possibly under any circumstances have a child. She was very distressed. A nurse made an appointment for her two days later with the IFPA who informed Ms. Y that abortion is not accessible in Ireland and that travel for her “may” be difficult – as an asylum seeker travel documents and visas into and out of Ireland are time consuming, costly and difficult to obtain. The IFPA made an appointment for Ms. Y to have a dating scan and referred her to the Immigrant Council of Ireland for advice and support on travelling as a migrant. Four days later, Ms. Y had a dating scan performed and it was discovered she was 8 weeks pregnant.

 

At this point it would have been possible to hand her three pills and for her to have ended her own pregnancy as she wished, with minimal impact on her, minimal further violation of her bodily autonomy and integrity, and minimal pain and suffering. Three pills.

 

Instead, she was handed about from pillar to post, having contact with three separate NGOs as well as the HSE staff she initially encountered, and her situation appears to have slipped between the cracks of these, unnoticed by anyone except herself as with the continuation of her pregnancy her despair and hopelessness deepened. A doctor from Spirasi, one of the NGOs she had contact with, wrote to the GP of the direct provision centre she was consigned to, describing her as “having a death wish”. The GP of this centre says that the letter was not received. A co-ordinator at the ICI formed the opinion that Ms. Y might change her mind about needing an abortion based on apparently nothing whatsoever. A counsellor at the IFPA suggested adoption to her. For a further 16 weeks she was handed around and around until eventually, on the 23rd of July (almost four months after her pregnancy was first discovered and she initially declared herself utterly unable to contemplate going through with it) she had an assessment with a consultant psychiatrist who told her it was too late to have an abortion and then coerced her into being detained in a maternity hospital under constant surveillance, where she refused all food and fluids for several days.

 

By that time she had met a consultant obstetrician who was of the opinion, despite the fact that Ms. Y was so despairing and suicidal that she was even refusing water,  “that Ms Y could be maintained on the ward for as long as possible and hopefully to 30 weeks so that the baby could be delivered appropriately.” This would have meant another 6 weeks of detention against her will; another 6 weeks of sedation against her will in order to forcibly feed and hydrate her against her will in order that her body and autonomy undergo repeated violations in order to host a pregnancy she loathed so much she would rather have died than have it in her body any longer. Instead however, as Ms. Y continued in her determination to refuse fluids, a caesarean section was carried out on her several days later; enforced major abdominal surgery also against her will.

 

This horrifying and traumatic ordeal inflicted upon Ms. Y was torture; state-sanctioned, state-inflicted torture, state-legalised torture. And were another Ms. Y to arrive in the south tomorrow, in the same harrowing circumstances, the state would more than likely torture her in precisely the same manner.

 

It is important to note here the degree to which the maternity hospitals in the south are complicit in, and even the driving forces behind the denial of basic bodily autonomy to pregnant women; both in abortion and in continued pregnancy. It is for these reasons that those of us who are involved in the pro-choice movement should be deeply wary of embracing the “masters” (the word alone should be warning) of the Dublin maternity hospitals such as Rhona Mahoney and Peter Boylan when they declare themselves to be opposed to the 8th amendment. At least one of those ‘masters’ has been known to invoke the courts in order to coerce pregnant women into interventions during their pregnancies, labour and births, and both of them are opposed to women’s choice of type of care (midwife-led or obstetrician-led) and the choice even of birth position in the case of Peter Boylan. Furthermore Peter Boylan in 2015 testified in the High Court in defence of the barbaric practice of symphysiotomies. Tempting though it is to reach for a “higher authority” in defence of our stance, these are not our allies in the struggle for women’s bodily autonomy.

 

However those who are our allies in this struggle are, in fact, the majority of the voting public in the south. An exit poll carried out at the general election in February of this year found that 64% of people support the repeal of the 8th amendment. This number is all the more invigorating for those of us in the trenches of this fight given the increasing vehemence of the well-funded anti-choicers over the last number of years. It’s also all the more inspiring because there’s a general misunderstanding of what the pro-choice position is in the public discourse around abortion in the south; the case is constructed as “Would you agree with and support her decision in this case?” rather than “Would you personally stop her?”, a much truer reflection of what the pro-choice stance is and means.

 

As the fight continues, it becomes more and more important to avoid the slippery slope of only publicly advocating and arguing for abortion access in terms of the “hard cases”, such as where the pregnancy will not survive outside the womb or in the case of survivors of rape. The majority of those who seek abortions do not fall into these categories and would be left by the wayside. Only allowing abortion access for pregnancies conceived by rape and incest would not only be impossible to legislate safely for but also makes clear that the enforcement of continuation of unwanted pregnancy because the woman chose to have sex is outright misogyny; either one believes that an embryo or foetus has rights overriding that of the person carrying it or one does not.

 

We own our own bodies. We are not property of any state. We can and will birth where, how, and if we choose.