Friday 19 December 2014

Abortion law offers escape to rich and a dead end to poor

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

Picture posed.Thinkstock Images
Picture posed.Thinkstock Images

Middle-aged and elderly voters are responsible for Ireland's restrictive abortion law - it's time a new generation had a say.

Since Ireland first inserted the 1983 amendment into the Constitution, equating a woman's right to life with that of a foetus, voters have had a number of opportunities to make the law more restrictive. We have never had an opportunity to liberalise it.

The choice, if you could call it that, has only ever veered from endorsing an absolute abortion ban to allowing it in very limited circumstances to save a woman's life.

Consequently, nobody who can actually bear children in Ireland today - nobody under the age of 49 - has had any real say over our draconian abortion regime.

Instead, women's reproductive choices have been controlled, for more than 30 years, by Catholic dogma reincarnated as law.

This has remained the case despite the fact that Ireland in the 21st Century bears no resemblance to the theocratic state that first introduced an abortion ban all those years ago - a state in which divorce was illegal and homosexual acts were outlawed.

Still, while those religious artefacts in the Constitution were gradually excised over time, our abortion law has remained immutable, a perfectly preserved relic.

It's time for that to change.

The law, as it's currently constituted, is not equitable and it's not fair.

It offers an escape route to the rich and a dead end to the poor.

Its defenders say that the 8th Amendment stopped the introduction of abortion on demand into Ireland.

What they refuse to recognise is that we have de facto abortion on demand - for everyone who can afford it.

The others, without the money or the capacity to travel, are served up as sacrificial victims to the State's sanctimonious moralising.

Our perverse obsession with women's wombs is such that the law seems incapable of treating even a suicidal teenage rape victim with a modicum of empathy.

The details of the case of the young asylum seeker, suicidal at the thought of giving birth to her rapist's baby, which came to light this week are distressing.

It is an indictment of a heartless law whose only function is the criminalisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable women by a pious State too craven to face up to its own responsibilities to 50pc of its citizens.

But your reaction should not just be one of pity, you should be angry too - angry that, 22 years after the X Case, it can happen again.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has cautioned against using the case as "a political cause".

But how can it be anything other than political when the State effectively asserts ownership rights over women's bodies once they become pregnant?

How could it be anything other than political when the only way to ensure that a similar tragedy is not repeated is to change the law and accept that the cost of maintaining the fiction of an abortion-free Ireland is too high?

The fact is that this woman, who suffered so terribly after she fled to this country seeking asylum, could yet be deported.

And, if she had opted to have the child willingly, instead of being coerced into a C-Section, the likelihood is that the child would be deported with her.

And therein lies the problem - Ireland, for all of its pro-life rhetoric and constitutional protection for the unborn, doesn't care much what happens to children once they are born.

The State's illusory veneer of moral rectitude on this issue has crumbled in dust after 30 years.

If we really cared about women, we would demand that the law treated them with equanimity and empathy.

It's time that those whose bodies the State seeks to police finally had a say in their treatment. We need a referendum.

Irish Independent

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