8th Amendment can has been kicked down road for too long
Published 27/01/2016 | 02:30
The sight of pie charts and graphics illustrating the decided, undecided and the downright denunciators of a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment, for fatal foetal abnormality, gives me a sickly feeling
A recent poll of parliamentary members showed a very real ignorance of the tragedy. In many cases, these TDs still use language like 'abortion on demand', and always say the 'floodgates will open'. They are mainly men. Hopefully, they now know that women's issues cannot be compared to weather systems and the apparatus that contains the annual winter deluge, which fails so miserably in Ireland. Perhaps these floodgate fanatics should spend more time on actually preventing flood damage.
The simple fact that the dissenters and denunciators choose to ignore is that the pregnant women who have come forward to relate their experience of fatal foetal abnormality, had no wish to have a termination. They wished to have a baby. There are only a few of us who have spoken out, as the experience is worsened by having to leave this jurisdiction, be far from our families and our medical practitioners when we most need them.
We don't want to have to talk about it. We don't want to have to read about it. And we certainly don't want to read about ignorant politicians and their lack of comprehension of it.
This very real tragedy for women has been reduced to a political football. The more it is kicked around the Dáil chamber, the greater the offence to parents who are faced with this diagnosis.
The clue is in 'fatal'. But politicians and lobbyists refuse to accept that parents should have the right to choose what is the most compassionate decision for their family.
I have never voted on the basis that a politician would make decisions about my body. The only person I trust to help me make a decision about my health is a medical specialist. So why do TDs even interfere? Is there still a concern about upsetting the Church? Or the new church of Iona. Why we allow a priest or bishop insist that a woman should suffer through fatal foetal abnormality is beyond me. Is it a vote strategy? That hardly makes sense, since over the years when the electorate have been polled, the percentage in favour of repeal in this instance is in the late 80s.
Despite this support, it sometimes feels like there is tendency to confuse the issue of fatal foetal abnormality with other chromosomal syndromes that are not incompatible with life. Even the Taoiseach answered a Dáil question around the time of Clare Daly's bill with 'I know a woman who knows another woman . . .' and went on to comment about a 'hole in the heart'. That has nothing to do with fatal foetal abnormality. It seems we cannot spell it out enough.
This attitude is either deeply ignorant of the reality (in which case those TDs are too stupid to be public representatives) or they are being misleading. Either way, it is no longer acceptable to withhold from the electorate the choice to repeal a very flawed Constitutional amendment.
The issue is attracting more attention of late, no doubt the imminent election is providing traction.
But it sometimes feels as if it is being used in debate to cast aspersions on Pro-Choice or Pro-Repeal commentators. One solution has been to provide peri-natal hospice care. I wonder why they don't also provide 24-7 home help and counselling to the women forced to continue a doomed pregnancy.
It is the experts in maternal and foetal medicine who have to face the pregnant woman and give her the heart-breaking diagnosis who are the best informed, but they are not believed by the extremists. Lately, the new master of the Rotunda Hospital, Prof Fergal Malone, spoke publicly about repealing the 8th Amendment to take account of fatal foetal abnormality. Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital, has also said she is in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment. Last evening former master of Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan, addressed a meeting organised by Labour TD Aodhan O'Riordan on repealing the 8th.
Last year, I was invited to address a conference of obstetricians and gynaecologists on this topic. It was a challenge for me: not only is the issue a very sad and personal one, it is not easy to discuss in public. But I decided, since there is so much misinformation being disseminated by our Taoiseach and other TDs on misdiagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, that I would put my clinical path on the record. I was humbled to receive a standing ovation from a room full of medical experts of diverse nationalities, faiths and ages.
Rather than hearing about a 'friend of a friend' that Enda met last week, listen to the woman who has gone through the grief before you make up your mind.
Ask every candidate who seeks your vote to commit to a date for a referendum, because this can has been kicked down the road for too long.