Women’s Rights and Anti-Abortion Laws in Ireland

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For most, pregnancy is an enjoyable, exciting and enlightening period for both men and women as they nurture and observe a tiny life grow within the body. Whether the pregnancy is planned or unplanned, a decision is made cautiously by the involved parties. Couples or individuals alike use this time to gather a support network for the upcoming and life-changing new chapter in their lives, along with preparing for their new arrivals – a time which shall be filled with unimaginable demands.

That being said, it is commonly agreed that pregnancy can be one of the loneliest and most difficult experiences of a woman’s life. Physically, emotionally and mentally, the female body is pushed to its limits throughout a nine-month period, switching between severe sickness and financial worries as well as sometimes creating strenuous and frail relationships with partners, families and even friends.

Across the world and through many cultures, religions and traditions, the right to abortion has been intensely controversial and a highly political and taboo topic.

At present, the laws in Northern Ireland state that abortion is, overall, still illegal unless the woman falls into one of the following categories: necessary in order to preserve the life of the woman; there will be adverse, permanent or long-term effects to the woman’s mental or physical health if the pregnancy is not terminated; or the pregnancy must be under nine weeks and four days for the abortion to take place.

Cases of rape, foetal irregularity and incest still list the requirement for abortion as illegal. This does not omit the right to request information regarding abortion, travel to another country to undergo a safe abortion and free post-abortion medical check-ups.

Pro-choice groups in Northern Ireland have recently reignited hope for the overturning of the Eighth Amendment Act which makes abortion illegal, due to a referendum in the Republic of Ireland asking if the country’s abortion laws should be reset in the future.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which still maintains abortion laws; the rest of the UK abolished such laws in the 1967 Abortion Act when doctors were given the right to perform legal abortions on women who had chosen to discontinue a pregnancy due to personal circumstances. The law was initially passed as there had been a surge in maternal deaths through illegal and unsafe abortions which were sometimes even performed in the women’s own homes.

Since then, the Abortion Act has not been re-evaluated and reformed to include Northern Ireland, and there are some who believe abortion needs to be removed from the criminal code and treated like all other medical procedures in the UK.

Pregnancy leaves women feeling exhausted and emotional. The strain of understanding that there is a life growing from within and being unable to complete the pregnancy due to personal reasons means abortion is, obviously, not a decision which is taken lightly. An unplanned pregnancy is a difficult topic, and those who choose to terminate usually go through bouts of deep depression, regret and emotional instability.

Whether the reason is down to a pushy partner who does not wish to have a baby, financial restraints which mean the option is almost impossible, or through the desire to pursue a high-powered position within a career, the option to abort may be straightforward but never easy for both partners. Women deserve support when going through such a traumatic experience, and it is unfortunate to say that Victorian-era laws in Northern Ireland do not protect females through their time of need.

Those of Northern Ireland who take the gruelling decision to cease a pregnancy must take matters into their own hands and this can have devastating effects. One option is for them to travel to abortion clinics in other parts of the UK to undergo this procedure. However, it can be agreed that this option is not always accessible or safe. A plane ticket and accommodation in another city is, understandably, not always affordable, and the plight of fear and desperation can cause danger. Another option is ordering illicit drugs through the Internet, which are not regulated by medical experts and can result in death if abused or used incorrectly. It is horrifying that this is a very real and current option for people in Northern Ireland, and women are being constantly penalised for making a decision on their future.

It has been reported in the Belfast Telegraph that children as young as thirteen have travelled to England to have abortions. The article goes on to reveal that voluntary group, The Abortion Support Network, obtained statistics by the Department of Health in England which show that in 2016, 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales for abortions.

Global Seven News

Thomasina Jordan-Rhodes

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