Change or no change – let’s talk about fears

I want to talk to you about your fears.

I know you’re torn. I know you agree that there are exceptional circumstances that make abortion acceptable – circumstances where you’re willing to concede, despite the fact that your gut tells you it’s wrong. I know that you feel that abortion should be a last resort, and you fear that the government’s proposed legislation fails to acknowledge that.

I won’t judge you. You’re not alone.

But what if I was to tell you that maybe you don’t need to feel so torn?

Hear me out – respectfully, non-judgementally. Because I actually do think there’s a middle ground here.

I think that you agree with abortion in cases of rape. Do you? Do you empathise with the girl who’s been violated so fundamentally, who is just about coping on her own, let alone with a child?

A yes vote is the only way to ensure that those pregnant as a result of rape can access abortion care, should they need and choose to seek it. No future parliamentary bills or negotiations will ever result in legislation that allows for termination in the cases of rape, if we vote to keep the 8th amentment – because any such legislation would be unconstitutional.

The need to report rape and relive the experience of it in order to qualify for a termination retraumatises women and girls who are already in an extremely distressing situation. Legal processes are time-consuming, and proving rape within the timeframe required to go ahead with a termination before the pregnancy progresses too far is pretty much impossible. Even if it was possible, such a process would be highly illadvised as it would lead to later abortions – something nobody wants.

The only way to care for rape victims who need abortion care is by providing access without the need to disclose the reason in the early weeks of pregnancy. This isn’t possible as long as the 8th amendment remains in place, and there’s no way around that.

I think perhaps you also agree with terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Do you? Do you feel the pain of the parents who learn that their very much wanted and longed-for baby won’t survive outside the womb?

Unfortunately, as things stand, these parents face no other option than to walk around waiting for their baby to die, or plan a costly trip abroad for a termination. This is because a pregnancy of this kind – while sometimes a significant threat to the mother’s health sooner or later – doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the pregnant person’s life, and as such the constitution won’t allow a termination.

This won’t change further down the line with a different vote or another proposal. As long as the 8th amendment remains in the constitution, doctors’ hands remain tied. The only way to provide the medical care needed to those who face a fatal foetal abnormality and decide that they cannot continue with the pregnancy is by repealing the 8th amendment, and there’s no way around that.

I know that you feel that this is unfair, that you’re faced with a choice between two evils. I understand that you want to show compassion with those who are suffering, but you feel like the government has put you in the impossible position of having to vote for something you fundamentally disagree with if you want to do so. And I know that people who feel that way are inclined to err on the side of caution and vote to defend the status quo.

Why can’t they just offer you the middle ground?

Because that’s not how the constitution works, and this referendum is about the constitution.

The only thing you are voting on on the 25th of May is whether the 8th amendment should be removed or not. The government has put forward proposed legislation, which may be enacted should the yes vote win – but the words ‘may be’ are crucial.

Let’s say that the referendum goes through. Let’s say that the 8th is repealed. Immediately following its removal from the constitution, abortion will still be illegal in Ireland and punishable with 14 years in prison, because of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. Nobody knows or can say what will happen after that.

If the current government stays in power, their proposed legislation could likely be enacted, ensuring that victims of rape are appropriately cared for. But if the yes side wins by a very small majority, it’s possible that the government might interpret the demand for change as minor and opt to legislate for termination only in very exceptional circumstances. If a general election takes place before legislation is enacted, change might take a very, very long time.

But what if the proposed legislation does become reality – how would you live with that? Maybe you’d focus on the fact that the Joint Oireachtas Committee also recommended that free contraception and improved sex education be provided, as there is an obvious link between the provision of these and lower rates of crisis pregnancies. In other words, rather than allowing them to take place abroad, you might have actually contributed to minimising the number of abortions needed. Surely that can only be a good thing?

You might also try to be pragmatic and focus the reality that those who need an abortion will seek one out, if unsafely or at huge personal expense – so while you can’t prevent abortions from happening, you can allow them to happen in a dignified and safe way for those who feel that they have absolutely no other option. The type of abortion you fear is already happening, and there is nothing you can do about that; the type of suffering you’d like to help minimise, however, you have a very real chance to do something about.

It is also worth mentioning, since the no campaign likes to highlight that the right advice or support can help a woman change her mind before she has the time to get on that plane, that the proposed legislation requires that 72 hours pass between an initial consultation with a GP and the termination being carried out. There will be time for reflection, and there will be time for someone in a desperate situation to ask for help and support, knowing that there are people around her who won’t blame and shame her. I’m not sure that the same can be said for someone who books expensive flights in secret, feeling judged by their own community and maybe even family.

We only know one thing for sure: nothing can change as long as the 8th amendment stays put. I ask you to consider whether you’re happy with the current situation; whether you think it’s right that rape victims have to travel for care; whether you are happy to send parents whose babies have been diagnosed with a fatal condition overseas, away from the support of their families, often having to leave their babies behind. This is what a no vote means. If you want any of this to change, you have to vote yes.

I ask you also to think of me, a mother of two, and to think of my sons and my husband. I beg you to consider whether you think it’s right that a potential pregnancy might risk them losing their mother and wife, due to a constitutional amendment that countless obstetricians and other medical professionals have said is unclear, unworkable and outright dangerous.

I ask you to think of the constitution for now, about change or no change, not the heartstring-pulling arguments of those who want you to fear abortion on demand. We can work on the demand in countless ways, and we can discuss and change statute legislation over and over. But a no is a no, and we know exactly what it looks like. We won’t get another chance to repeal the 8th and affect change for compassion with those who need it most for a very long time.