Sherlock - Why I am voting Yes on May 25th
Posted on May 23, 2018 at 08:14 PM
For me, it’s simple: Like it or not, Ireland already has abortion. The question is not whether we want abortion here, it’s whether we want safe abortion here. I want my country to have a public health system where no woman or girl is ever again forced to travel abroad in sorrow or shame, or made to endanger her life in silence or secrecy.
Since the Eighth Amendment was passed in 1983, some 150,000 Irish women and girls have travelled abroad for terminations. That’s 12 Irish women and girls a day. More recently, the internet has made illegal abortion pills readily available, and since then three Irish women and girls take them, risking a 14-year prison sentence, not to mention their health in the absence of medical supervision.
Last year, 241 women and girls from Cork travelled to England for abortions. Other Cork women and girls took abortion pills. We might not realise it, but we know them, these women and girls. They’re our neighbours, our friends, our aunts, our cousins, our mothers, our sisters, our nieces, our daughters.
The Eighth Amendment doesn’t prevent abortion, it just criminalises it, and exports it. It also forces sick women and girls to travel abroad. It also invariably means terminat
Louise Kenny, a professor of obstetrics and a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, notes “of the 3,265 Irish women and girls who had a termination in the UK in 2016, 66 were aged 17 or under, and 10 were under 16. These children of Ireland deserve compassion and care.”
Every day, we send ten women and girls overseas. Every day, at least three women and girls take internet-sourced, illegal abortion pills without medical support. I have yet to hear a credible proposal from the anti-repeal lobby for how it envisages the future if the Eighth is retained. Do we just continue as we are? Do we just continue to exile Irish women and girls, or let them risk their health, their freedom, their lives, on their own? Do we just continue to offer a blind eye, a cold shoulder and a hard heart?
I wonder why those who are so outraged about abortion say so little about those of us who have lost children to miscarriage. You rarely hear them lament those deaths. Nor are those who loudly champion the Eighth Amendment among the loudest demanding better treatment for the most neglected of our living children.
I sometimes wonder why the same people who so vehemently oppose abortion tend to also be equally opposed to sex education, consent classes and contraception. Would it not be better to strive to do everything possible to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies?
I sometimes wonder why the harshest champions of the Eighth Amendment don’t propose an even crueller - and less hypocritical - solution to Ireland’s abortion problem. Why aren’t they campaigning to repeal the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which enshrine in our Constitution the right to travel, and the right to information about abortion services in foreign countries?
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended repeal, to be followed by legislation permitting abortion up to 12 weeks. That would bring Ireland into line with most of Europe, and would still be considerably more restrictive than the UK’s 24-week limit, to which we currently force women to have recourse.
Some people feel uncomfortable with 12 weeks, but it is logical for two reasons. If we feel we have no right to force rape survivors to remain pregnant against their wishes, thengiven the legal difficulties and delays in actually proving rape, our only option is to permit regulated abortion up to 12 weeks.
Separately, the fact is Irish women are taking abortion pills anyway – which work up to 12 weeks – and those women need medical care.
Savita Halappanavar was 31 when she died on October 28, 2012. A week earlier, she had presented at Galway University Hospital with back pain and was found to be miscarrying her 17-week pregnancy. Although the pregnancy was not viable, her requests for termination were refused because there was a foetal heartbeat. She contracted sepsis and died of multi-organ failure and septic shock.
Supporters of the Eighth Amendment claim Savita’s death had nothing to do with the Eighth and blame her death solely on sepsis. Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, professor emeritus in obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s University, London, chaired the HSE inquiry into Savita’sdeath. He told the J.O.C. on the Eighth, “She did have sepsis. However, if she had a termination in the first days as requested, she would not have had sepsis. We would never have heard of her and she would be alive today,”
At the same committee, Dr Peter Boylan, former master of Holles Street, was asked what will happen if the electorate chooses not to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
“Groundhog day,” he replied. “We will be back. You’ve got to do something.”
We all know Savita Halappanavar's name now, but Professor Arulkumaran is right. In a kinder Ireland, one without the Eighth Amendment, Savita would still be alive, her name unknown save to her family and friends. If we do not repeal the Eighth, I worry about the inevitability of a woman or girl out there in our future, a woman or girl dying without medical attention in a bathroom or on a ferry, a girl or a woman whose name we will all one day know as well as we know Savita's now.
Abortion is a sad fact of life. Irish women and girls have always had abortions, and always will have abortions. In truth, the question we will be asked on May 25th is not whether we want abortion in Ireland, it will be whether we want safe abortion in Ireland.
I will be voting Yes because - as a man - there is no article of our Constitution governing my body; I will be voting Yes because it’s time we owned up to our status as a country which hypocritically exports abortion.
I will be voting Yes because no longer should Irish women be treated like second class citizens in the very country where they give new life throughout every hour of every day.
Seán Sherlock TD
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