The Eighth Amendment was never really about abortion.
That might seem a strange thing to say in the only country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion, but the fact that 23,000 pregnant Irish women did not have access to a 20 week ultrasound scan last year shows we care in Ireland as little for the unborn as we do for the born.
Last month, Dr Peter Boylan and Dr Louise Kenny of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists told the Oireachtas Health Committee that without those scans, women are receiving “inadequate or inappropriate care” and this can have “devastating consequences”.
Dr Boylan gave the example of babies with undiagnosed structural anomalies such as cardiac defects. Without a 20 week scan, he said, those babies “will be born outside centres of paediatric surgery and will require emergency ex-utero transfer to Dublin immediately after birth.
“For some babies, this will significantly decrease their chance of survival.”
Another tragic consequence of the lack of ultrasound scans means that the opportunity of in-utero foetal therapy is missed and babies die of potentially treatable conditions. A lack of ultrasound also has detrimental effects on maternal health.
The fact that Ireland treats pregnant women and unborn babies as shoddily as it treats all other citizens flies in the face of oft-repeated claims from anti-abortion campaigners like Cora Sherlock, who said last year “Ireland had a phenomenal record in protecting women’s health and protecting maternal health right up to 2013, when abortion was introduced to this country, very tragically”.
Now, where to even begin with that? The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act was the most draconian abortion legislation imaginable, and it’s the reason that 11 or 12 Irish girls and women are still forced every single day to travel abroad for a termination.
The real question here is does/did Ireland really have a “phenomenal record” in maternal care?
A 2007 World Health Organisation report on maternal mortality rates – deaths per 100,000 live births – is at the heart of claims about Ireland’s “phenomenal record”.
That study showed that, appallingly, 900 mothers die in every 100,000 live births in sub-Saharan Africa. In Latin America, it’s 130. In east Asia, that figure is 50. In the rich countries of the developed world, nine mothers die in every 100,000 live births.
In Ireland – astonishingly – it seemed that only one mother died in every 100,000 live births.
What could be our secret? Surely, ran the “pro-life” thinking, it must be that we have a constitutional ban on abortion!
Hardly. There was a very good reason we were allegedly nine times safer for mothers than richer countries with health systems where little girls don’t have to go on television to beg for operations.
Ireland was not recording maternal deaths on Irish death certificates as being caused by childbirth.
Think about that. As O’Toole points out, “Savita Halappanavaar, for example, would be recorded as having died of septicaemia.” She did die of septicaemia, of course. You just wouldn’t know – unless you knew – that Savita died begging for an abortion.
We have, since 2009, joined the UK’s Confidential Maternal Death Enquiry system and we now have accurate statistics.
In Ireland, we record between 9 and 10 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Those figures tally with other rich, developed countries, and are, O’Toole notes, “crucially, in the context of the abortion debate, pretty much the same as those in countries such as the UK that have liberal abortion laws.”
Ireland was never going to legalise abortion in Ireland in the 1980s, but a lunatic fringe of Catholic extremists hijacked the public discourse, and bullied both Charlie Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald into an abortion referendum.
You have to understand the religious mania, and those apocalyptic, end-of-days times of Kerry Babies and moving statues and poor Ann Lovett.
In 1982, one young TD referred to the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey a letter from a Mayo priest saying “the sooner (the Eighth Amendment) is added to our Constitution the less chance there is of the ‘free thinking’ public’s ideas getting a stronghold on our youth”.
That TD was Enda Kenny.
The abortion referendum was to serve as Catholic Ireland’s line in the sand, a bulwark against the rising tide of liberalism. Contraception, divorce, homosexuality and all the other battles have long-since been lost, as has been the war itself.
Three and a half decades later, a dozen or so Irish girls and women a day are still forced to travel abroad for terminations.
Another aspect of the Eighth, often overlooked, is its effects not just on unwanted pregnancies but on wanted pregnancies too. AIMS points out that its ramifications “on abortion and the maternity continuum are inherently interlinked. The HSE directly citing (the Eighth) as a barrier to consent once a woman/person becomes pregnant, effectively (ensures) that every pregnancy in Ireland is potentially affected.”
And that goes back to the real point of the Eighth: the denial of women’s bodily autonomy. In case they get any “free thinking” notions.
Anyway, if abortion really is murder, I’m still waiting to see “pro-life” pickets at ports and airports to save those babies-since-the-instant-of-conception-until-the-moment-of-birth babies.
If Ireland really cared about the unborn, we wouldn’t deny so many expectant mothers ultrasound scans and we really would have a “phenomenal record” of maternal care.
The fact is the Eighth Amendment was never really about the unborn, or abortion at all. It was and it remains all about a squinting windows, sex-obsessed desire to control and shame Irish women and to deny them bodily autonomy.