We should all be engaging in Ireland's referendum over abortion

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Founder of The Health Diary, Molly Gorman, encourages students to take a much more active engagement with the upcoming referendum on abortion on Ireland, which is taking plce Friday 25th May.

Ireland has a long and brutal history entailing an abuse of power and control over female sexuality by the patriarchy. The unchallenged dominance of the Catholic Church saw women’s bodies become an object that was to be an emulation of the Virgin Mary – pure, chaste and domestic. Furthermore any woman who broke the Catholic moral code was deemed to be a sexually transgressive ‘other’ or ‘deviant’.

As a post-colonial nation, the church’s control over women’s bodies has revealed Ireland’s determination for a national identity which retains a sense of moral superiority over their Protestant colonisers. Subsequently babies born out of wedlock were denied succession rights. Contraception was illegal for the most part of the twentieth century despite the rise in illegitimate births and most importantly, abortion has been illegal in Ireland since the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act.

Historically abortion, or the lack of it, has played a crucial role in the drive for women’s liberation. The ban has resulted in many tragic deaths – from Ann Lovett in 1984, a 15-year-old girl who gave birth to a still-born baby in a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Lovett died of a haemorrhage, having told no one she was pregnant, fearful of the stigma and shame attached to being an unmarried mother. In 1992, a 14-year-old girl, known as X, was raped and denied an abortion in her home country.

More recently the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, to which many of the pro-choice campaigners in Ireland have brought to the forefront of their campaign, was another tragedy that could have been avoided. Halappanavar was an Indian dentist living in Galway with her husband. Due to an inevitable miscarriage, Halappanavar asked the staff at Galway University Hospital for an abortion to which she was denied, being told that Ireland was a Catholic country. Halappanavar died from a septic miscarriage and has since been symbolic of the ongoing shortcomings of the punitive abortion ban.

Ireland has a long and brutal history entailing an abuse of power and control over female sexuality by the patriarchy.

Ireland is now the sole western democracy which does not permit abortion. It is important for us to engage with this debate, both women and men, to allow Irish women to make their own choices in their home country. Instead, Irish women who fall pregnant unwillingly are forced to travel to England if they have the money to do so. Ironically since the 21st century Ireland has undergone a massive social transformation through the election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach - the first leader of Ireland from a minority ethnic background who also came out as gay, something which a century ago would be unthinkable. Ireland was also the first country to legalise gay-marriage.

When the Eighth Amendment was constitutionalised in 1983, the referendum was described as ‘bitter’, ‘divisive’ and the ‘second partitioning of Ireland.’ This referendum is set to be even more so. The pro-life campaign has a lot of support. The traditional mind-set which has been embedded so deeply in Irish morality and culture could be powerful enough to invoke a No majority, despite the waning power of the Church. Support for pro-choice seems to be more popular inevitably in urban areas like Dublin, however the polls are fairly unsure of the final outcome.

We should be engaging with the abortion referendum in Ireland because the repeal of the Eighth Amendment is so personal and emotional for millions of women across Ireland who have experienced some form of trauma and pain as a result of the abortion ban. By repealing the Eighth at least some form of justice can be given to all of those women in Ireland who died and suffered under the cruel potency of those who denounced them as sinners for embracing their sexuality and their bodies. By giving women the power to use their individual conscience, to make the decision that is best for them, they have the power that women and young girls like Lovett and Halappanavar did not. The referendum will take place on May 25th and could mark a milestone of social progress for a nation whose women have suffered for so long.

Molly Gorman

Featured Image: Unsplash / @irenedavila


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