Monday 26 September 2016

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell: 'Be kind to your daughters - let them stay at home'

Kate O'Connell

Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30

Newly elected Kate O'Connell spoke emotionally last week on why she felt the Eighth Amendment needed to be appealed. Photo: Tom Burke
Newly elected Kate O'Connell spoke emotionally last week on why she felt the Eighth Amendment needed to be appealed. Photo: Tom Burke

The challenge that presents itself when broaching the subject of the Eighth Amendment is one of almighty proportions.

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On one end of the spectrum, there are people with sincerely held views that life begins at conception and that any interference with that is fundamentally wrong.

On the other, there are people who cannot fathom how the State, or anyone else, should have any involvement whatsoever in their reproductive rights and freedoms.

Varying opinions then inhabit a space somewhere between those two points of view.

The very existence of the Eighth Amendment means that, on a medical and legal level, a foetus, no matter at what stage of its development, is as protected by the law as the woman who carries it.

The consequences of the law as it stands have left women and men in hugely distressing situations. My voice is just one of the many calling for a change.

Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kate O’Connell with her son Pierce. Photo: Damien Eagers

My son Pierce, now aged five, was diagnosed with a profound physical defect at 20 weeks gestation.

We felt we had to know more about his condition and whether he also had a genetic abnormality. Were that the case, it would be unlikely he would make it to term. If he somehow made it to term, due to the severity of his condition, it was extremely unlikely he would ever survive for any length of time.

We wanted a baby so much. I cried all the time, and then cried about what harm my crying might be doing the pregnancy. It was an impossible situation.

I became convinced that there was no hope and that we should accept our situation and try to move on. I researched the best places to go for a procedure in the UK and tried to think of what excuses I could make when I returned to work. I looked very pregnant at 20 weeks.

I wanted to close this awful chapter and start a new one, and I hoped that our next attempt might yield a happier ending.

Finding out he had no genetic abnormality changed the plan. We decided to take our odds and keep going, but I've never forgotten that dreadful, week-long wait.

There are many reasons I entered politics, not least to try and make Ireland a better place for women - and for medical practitioners.

We hypocritically "allow" our distressed women to leave our State. We "allow" them to seek information on services abroad and we "allow" them to seek aftercare without prosecution when they return.

But we are them. They are our neighbours, our cousins, our teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, accountants, and sisters. They are our people, our citizens, the daughters of Ireland. If they came to you and confided in you, would you turn away from them or would you help them?

You know someone who has made that journey, whether you realise it or not. By keeping the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution, we are all complicit in the suffering of desperate women and men. They will end their pregnancies anyway - but where that happens is up to you.

Be kind to your daughters. Let them stay at home.

Kate O'Connell is a Fine Gael TD

Irish Independent

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