On the 26th May 2018, Ireland voted a resounding YES to repeal the 8th Amendment by 66.4% for YES and 33.6% for NO. No narrow margins there, no debate or quibble or calls for a re-count – the unequivocal result is Ireland has said YES – Repeal the 8th Amendment.
The 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution gave equal right to the life of the dependent unborn foetus and the life of the woman upon whom that foetus was dependent. This had resulted in moral and ethical dilemmas and disasters of huge proportions. Women whose lives were threatened by clinical conditions that would in normal circumstances be managed by a therapeutic abortion were denied this treatment if the heartbeat of the foetus was still detectable, due to the 8th Amendment. A trace of life in a foetus, prevented life-saving treatment for the woman who carried that foetus. The life of an adult, living, breathing, walking, talking independent human being could be extinguished to preserve the life of a womb-and-woman dependent foetus, an organism not yet fully formed or able to survive independently in most cases.
Most memorably, the death of Savita Halappanavar occurred due to the failure to provide a timely therapeutic abortion as it would have been illegal to do so because of the 8th Amendment. She would most likely have been alive today, had she had the necessary abortion to save her life at the appropriate time, as she herself had requested.
In addition to such harrowing and well-publicised cases, women across Ireland have been unable to access abortion in their own country, irrespective of the reason, and were forced to travel to England for this healthcare service. Repeal of the 8th Amendment makes way for new legislation that can permit abortion in Ireland, and it is anticipated that this may be allowed up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for all causes and selectively thereafter.
But this vote for YES is not just a vote that enables abortion to be legislated for in Ireland – it is a vote for YES for women, YES for their empowerment, YES to bodily autonomy and YES to liberation from centuries and centuries of suppression, repression, abuse and patriarchal religious domination and supremacy. That is a YES that has been long overdue and is well-needed.
That is a YES worth celebrating.
That is a YES that says a BIG FAT NO to the hierarchy and dogma of the Catholic Church, a BIG FAT NO to being controlled by the Pope and the Priests, a BIG FAT NO to the state controlling the bodies of women and their choice to have children or not.
The Pope and the priests will never know what it’s like to have an unwanted pregnancy, or to carry a child that has a fatal condition and will not survive beyond birth, or to be pregnant through rape. They will never walk in those shoes, they will never have that experience and whilst they are entitled to their opinions and views like everyone else, they have no right to impose their views upon women who do live those experiences, and no place delivering that imposition with a large dose of guilt and a bucket of shame on top for good measure. The people of Ireland in saying YES, have also said NO to all of that.
For far too long, the women of Ireland have been second class citizens, bare-foot and pregnant, tied and ruled by their wombs and their menfolk, rather than their own hearts and innate wisdom. Pregnant unmarried girls and women were shamed, locked away in the Magdalene Laundries, their children taken from them for adoption, trafficking, or neglected, abused, dead and buried in nameless pits. Yes, it was all the fault of the women – the scarlet temptress who must have seduced her man, with her eyes if not her legs or breasts, sure how could he control himself and his urges?
It takes two to tango and two to have sex or make love, it takes a sperm and an egg and an incarnating spirit before any child can be conceived. Men and women are both responsible for their part and this age-old habit of blaming the woman for an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is no longer tenable.
No woman grows up desiring to have an abortion, it is not an aim, an aspiration or a desire and for sure if we could all turn the clock back we would surely make different choices that perhaps could have prevented the need for an abortion. But life isn’t like that. It’s not always roses and champagne – thank God or we might have a constant thorny hangover!
Life can be messy and difficult, we can and do and will make choices that are not always in our own best interests, even if we think they are at the time. We can be fuelled by thoughts, beliefs, desires, needs and wants that lurk in our subconscious, hidden from view, but which can lead us to act in ways that are not entirely healthy or honouring of who we are.
We stuff up, we make mistakes, we say yes when we should say no, and we forget…. We are imperfect and always will be no matter how hard we aim or try to be perfect. A futile game that only leads to pain and misery for never being good enough, in our own eyes. And the end result of all that is, that we find ourselves in a situation we would not consciously choose, perhaps for a whole variety of reasons, that can vary with every person, and we have to find our way out of that dilemma, out of that crisis situation.
For an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy that choice can be:
- To have the child and keep it
- To have the child and offer it for adoption or to be cared for by other family members
- To have an abortion
The first two are now uncontroversial in most instances, although not too long ago the unmarried women of Ireland were locked up and undertook enforced unpaid labour for the ‘crime’ of getting pregnant. Now where is that bucket of shame to pour over the church and those who enforced and enacted these prisons for mothers-and-babies?
The third choice has been one that has often been kept a secret, such is the stigma attached to it due to the aeons of religious imposition of teachings that condemn a woman for that choice. But this is fallacious. Whilst the flesh is no more, the incarnating spirit, will incarnate again – perhaps with the same woman or a different one – but there is no death as such, life in the form of the etheric incarnating spirit continues, from lifetime to lifetime.
The choice to have an abortion can be a loving choice for all concerned. We, as in society, have not given enough consideration to the toll that having an unwanted child costs, a child who is not loved and cared for as they ought to be. How many unwanted children, end up in our prisons, perpetrators of crimes, borne out of the loveless environment they incarnated into? Feeling unwanted is a deep wound, a wound that results in isolation, loneliness, emptiness, and of never feeling good enough or loveable no matter what… and all of those unaddressed emotions and tension can lead to people committing violent crimes of one kind or another or being addicted to drugs or alcohol or food to numb the pain and the hurt. Not feeling wanted, not feeling loved, has a cost and ramifications way beyond what we currently perceive or acknowledge.
And that is only touching the surface of what can happen to the child who is born but not wanted, but equally harming are the effects on the woman who has a child she genuinely does not want to have – it is a life sentence even though most grow up to be considered adult and independent by age 18, the family ties and impact go well beyond that. Having a child is a minimum commitment of at least 18 years and for most it is much longer if not lifelong. It comes with huge responsibility and it can definitely be a loving choice to say NO to that if we are not ready, able or capable to fulfil that commitment.
In the modern world, we have the right to decide if and when we have children and religion has been mis-used and abused to prevent women from exercising their own innate wisdom in this regard.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make God love us less – that love is ever-present and constant no matter how many abortions a woman has had, or how many ‘mistakes’ we all make in life.
There is no need for guilt or shame and it definitely does not come from God but the minds of men and women who know not the all-encompassing true love of God. The cycle of life continues – the incarnating spirit will incarnate again. There is always a bigger picture than the one we see with our eyes.
This is not about banging the abortion drum and glorifying it in any way – it is the reality of life that many women do not want to, do not feel able to and cannot face that responsibility of bringing a child into the world, perhaps on their own, unsupported, or for a multitude of other reasons, and they should not be forced to do so nor condemned for that choice. We are all responsible for the choices we make.
It is about presenting a way of understanding abortion, that knows it can be a loving choice, free from guilt, free from shame, free from condemnation whilst also seeking to do all that we can to reduce the rates of abortion.
It is possible to be pro-choice and advocate for everything that will reduce the number of abortions, in a way that is honouring of the woman and without imposing or condemning in any way. We can advocate for better sex education, access to contraceptives and raising awareness around the risks of unprotected sex…. But all of that will still not be enough.
Girls and boys, men and women, will still make choices that are not in their best interests, say yes, when their true answer is no and be driven by desires, needs, beliefs that are hidden under the surface. We need to make what is unconscious, conscious, we need to reflect to young people, to all people, that they are worth caring for, worth loving, deeply so, worth treasuring, nurturing and adoring so that their sense of worth is not dependent on a man or a woman or a sexual frolic and night of passion, that there is a difference between having sex and making love…that there is much more to us, more to understanding who we are and why we make the choices we do, more to making love and more to understanding life and our place in it….
As we empower young people to be self-loving, self-caring and to have deep respect for their bodies and who they penetrate or allow to penetrate them, then just maybe will we make true in-roads to reducing the numbers of abortion, through love, respect, responsibility and choice, not fear, guilt and condemnation.