Friday 30 September 2016

No Irish woman of child-bearing age has had a say on abortion - that must change

Published 23/06/2015 | 02:30

'Women are tired waiting. Women deserve better than this. We are not criminals'
'Women are tired waiting. Women deserve better than this. We are not criminals'

Yesterday, a United Nations committee said it was concerned at Ireland's "highly restrictive legislation" on abortion and how it is strictly enforced.

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After two days of hearings earlier this month in Geneva, including representations from parents who had to leave this jurisdiction because of Fatal Foetal Abnormality, the committee called on Ireland to take "all necessary steps" - including a referendum - to allow wider access to terminations in line with international standards on human rights.

If this announcement merely incites condemnation and declarations of interference in our legislation, it is worth remembering that it is your daughter, sister, mother who will suffer.

It seems to me that the difference between Pro-Choice and the Pro-Life banner is that one group judges women who are suffering, while the other seeks to help women who suffer.

Being labelled as Pro-Choice or Pro-Life has unfortunately created a division in society, where extremes are peddled to voters.

One group appears to hold dear the teachings of a Church that abused little children, while insisting that every breath is sacred, even if it means a woman could die balancing the rights of the unborn.

I can only speak as a mother who is grateful to have given birth to two beautiful sons and who lost two fatally impaired sons because nature implanted a rogue gene.

In my third pregnancy with twins, one had died and one was diagnosed with a disorder incompatible with survival.

The Dublin maternity hospital had the tests double-checked before telling us the terrible news.

My decision to prioritise my two little boys who needed me to be well enough to look after them is considered a crime in Ireland. The decision I took to safeguard my health and the welfare of my children is outlawed here, with a penalty of 14 years in prison.

The doctor and midwives who took care of me at the maternity hospital outside the Irish border, treated me like a woman who had suffered very bad news and were very kind. Some of them would have trained in Irish hospitals, which demonstrates that it is the legislation here that is inhumane, not the people.

They certainly did not treat me like a criminal. They gave me a tiny coffin. That was 13 years ago.

I remained anonymous in my pleading that other women would not undergo the same distress, in 'D v Ireland' in the European Court of Human Rights. Until three years ago, when I was in a hotel abroad and saw an Indian woman on a television screen, the banner below said she had died after a termination was refused in Galway.

It was so bizarre I thought there must be a Galway in India. Later when I discovered it was Ireland, I was distraught. It seems to me that Savita Halappanavar's death was avoidable and that the years I had privately battled were all for nothing.

The recent report by Amnesty International on women who are outlawed by the Irish Constitution is called 'She is not a Criminal'. The findings support a repeal to Article 40.3.3 of our Constitution on the grounds that it "violates the human rights of women and girls".

There are many who would say Amnesty International should keep its nose out of our 1937 constitutional right to life, as amended in 1983. There are also many who had no say in that 1983 amendment.

Those 1.6 million women in Ireland who are between child-bearing age 15-49 (2011 Census) have had no opportunity to vote on their rights to bodily integrity and to vote against degrading and inhuman treatment.

Gaye Edwards has also decided she must speak out about her experience. Worse, she was not able to take her son home in a coffin for a family burial. His remains arrived in a jiffy bag by courier. Gaye speaks out in the Amnesty report.

It is based on the experience of Irish women. Amnesty is not sticking its noses into our business, it is telling the world what we endure here and asking for compassion by changing the regime.

The report includes interviews with 26 women, six of their partners and the mother of a teenage girl. Eleven health care professionals, including the Masters of the National Maternity and the Rotunda hospitals - Dr Rhona Mahony and Dr Sam Coulter Smith - as well as representatives from women's health centres and staff from the Crisis Pregnancy Agency and the Irish Medical Council are also interviewed.

It states that "Amnesty International repeatedly requested interviews with the Department of Health and the Department of Justice ... they declined to be interviewed for this report."

The report asks for the repeal of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2014, which has proved to be ineffective, and its replacement with a legislative framework that ensures access to treatment, at a minimum, in cases of the mental or physical health of the woman is at risk, in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, and in cases of rape or incest.

I don't blame any government for its reluctance to pledge a referendum given the extreme reactions that will inevitably occur. But the crime is now on those who persecute women.

I recommend that when the next government calls a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, it should not allow any images to be used on posters. All parties will have to commit to a position on this; the young and committed electorate are watching and waiting.

Women are tired waiting. Women deserve better than this. We are not criminals.

We are not vessels.

Irish Independent

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