This week Fine Gael will host the European People’s Party (EPP) Congress in Dublin. Among the expected attendees is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is currently leading an attack on reproductive rights with legislation that, if passed, would drastically restrict access to abortion in Spain. This would be an extremely regressive move at a time when most European countries are moving in entirely the opposite direction. In France, for example, MPs voted at the end of January to reword the law to state that it is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. Late last year the French Government also introduced changes so that the cost of abortions will now be 100% reimbursed by the State.
At the same time that the EPP will be meeting, the GUE/NGL grouping in the European Parliament will hold hearings on defending sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Abortion Rights Campaign has been invited to present on reproductive rights in Ireland, and we will use the opportunity to highlight at a European level the grave consequences the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution has had for reproductive rights and maternity services in Ireland.
Introduced by referendum in 1983, the Eighth Amendment equates a pregnant woman’s life with that of an embryo or foetus. Until it is removed, there can be no progressive legislation on abortion beyond the narrow terms of the X case and, arguably, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Even after the passing of last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, Ireland still has, along with Malta, the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in Europe. But the reality of abortion in Ireland is that the Eighth Amendment is simply not fit for purpose. It does not stop women from terminating pregnancies; it only serves to make the journey much more difficult. Every single day women travel abroad to access abortion. Others self-administer abortions at home with pills ordered from reputable websites such as Women on Web. If caught, these women could face up to 14 years in prison under last year’s abortion legislation.
Opinion polls have consistently indicated that public attitudes to abortion do not support the imposition of such onerous penalties on women who end pregnancies. Since 1980 over 150,000 women have left the country in order to access abortion, while unknown numbers have found the means to end their pregnancies in Ireland. Do citizens really believe these women should be imprisoned? As much as anti-abortion organisations try to perpetuate shame and stigma around abortion, most reasonable people do not want to see their friends, sisters or partners behind bars because they terminated a pregnancy.