Irish Women Vs. The Law

‘March for Rights’ protesters gather in Utrecht to urge the Irish government to hold a constitutional referendum on abortion, 24 September 2016. Photo by: Miriam Deprez

There is only one country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion. Women have been imprisoned, exiled, or died as a result of fatal medical mistakes all in the name of their law. This country is not Venezuela, or El Salvador. It is not Malta, Spain, or even Poland.

It is Ireland.

Today, abortion is illegal under Ireland’s eighth constitutional amendment recognising the life and rights of an unborn child. Terminations are only available to women who are in immediate danger of death if they continue with the pregnancy. Abortion for incest, rape or fatal foetal abnormalities is still illegal and can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Over the weekend a record 30,000 people protested in the annual ‘March for Rights’ rally in Dublin to urge the government to hold a referendum to repeal the eighth constitutional amendment. In a show of solidarity, 25 other cities across the world held simultaneous protests.

Utrecht protest organiser, Irish born Shannon Ní Raghallaigh said young women are frustrated with the government and there needs to be global pressure for laws to change.

“The [Irish] government has ignored everyone, national broadcasting has ignored us, and therefore this is unknown globally,” Raghallaigh said.

“It’s a basic right and women should have a say over their bodies. People ask me if I want to live in Ireland and I say no, I’m totally embarrassed by my own country.”

Supporters of the eighth amendment demand it remains in place to safeguard all life, equating the same rights of the mother as her unborn child. The constitution set the maximum sentence for abortion at life in prison until 2013.

This means as of only three years ago, women who were raped and fall pregnant carry the same prison sentence if they chose to abort, as their rapist.

When it comes to termination many women are exiled, usually alone to Britain to perform the abortion. UK government figures showed in 2015, more than nine women a day travelled to England and Wales to undergo the procedure.

A 2015 poll by Amnesty International showed 67 percent of Irish voters want the government to decriminalize abortions, and 81 percent in favour of ‘significantly widening the grounds’ for legal abortion access in Ireland.

In Ireland’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of May this year in Geneva, 16 recommendations relating to women’s reproductive rights were put to Ireland by the UN Human Rights Council. All of which were to be examined and responded to by the Irish government by September 2016.

Abortion Rights Campaign Spokesperson, Michali Hyams said in a press release on 22 September that Ireland’s government has rejected all 16 UPR recommendations.

“Irelands government has chosen to ignore the clear message of the international community and its obligations to provide abortion in Ireland,” Hyams said.

“The failure to accept these recommendations, along with the continued criminalisation of women and girls who seek abortions, constitutes a serious human rights violation.”

Ireland’s government has currently made no announcements regarding a constitutional referendum.

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