Abortion laws in Ireland: Why my Irish pride is wavering

I have always been proud of being Irish. We boast the world’s sexiest accents and are thought of as one of the most friendly nationalities. Every St Patrick’s day I revel in telling people it’s ‘Paddy’s not Patty’s’. Conor McGregor has inspired my new appreciation for MMA, and I pay more than I’d like to admit to buy Irish butter in supermarkets. In 2015, my little Irish heart swelled as we became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote with a record-breaking turnout from young people. It looked like we were on our way to becoming a liberal, kind place – where our economic recession, catholic-church led, conservative history was truly behind us. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Homelessness is still on the rise, with the number of homeless children at record heights. Ireland has been named as the worst country in the EU at tackling climate change. Singled out for its housing crisis, Dublin has just been ranked fifth last on a list of the best cities to emigrate to. And Irish women are criminalised for seeking an abortion.

In 2012 Savita Halappanavar died from blood poisoning at University Hospital Galway. According to family members, she had asked for an abortion that could have saved her life. She was denied access to safe abortions because current Irish law places the life of the foetus before that of the mother. 

In 2014, ‘Miss Y’ arrived in Ireland, claimed asylum and found out that she was pregnant from a rape that had happened before she had left her home country. Described as vulnerable, stressed and suicidal, Miss Y was not allowed to leave the country, she was not granted abortion and gave birth through Caesarean section one day after being described as an “ongoing suicidal risk” by a psychiatrist.

Irish abortion laws criminalise women who attempt to terminate their pregnancy. Public healthcare does not offer sufficient options to pregnant women and groups such as the Iona Institute and Youth Defence are giving platforms where they spread misinformation and perpetrate further shame on women are simply considering their options.

Irish Family Planning Association Chief Executive Niall Behan has said that “The State’s abandonment of pregnant women, forcing them to seek care outside Ireland, is cruel and inhumane. It harms women’s health and well-being and is a form of reproductive coercion.” Current minister for health, Simon Harris has also stated, “sat in far too many rooms with women who have found this country to be cold, neglectful, lonely and isolating”.

Our state needs to help people who need it most. The 3000 Irish women who travel abroad for abortions are a privileged minority who can afford to do this. IFPA’s Behan says “We know from our services of women forced to continue pregnancies against their wishes, and increasing numbers of women are accessing the abortion pill online without proper medical supervision.”

Ireland and Malta are the only two countries in Europe where abortion is illegal.

In fact, only 25% of the world has highly restrictive abortion laws, most of which are in developing countries. That there are still Irish people – smart, educated, open-minded people, who don’t see forced pregnancy as a breach of human rights is beyond comprehension. It is frustrating that the place I’ve grown up in, and in whose population has been privileged to have access to excellent education and public services is so far behind the rest of the modern world. By ignoring the rights of half of its citizens how can Ireland, a developed country, be considered to be thriving?

The problem seems to stem from an outrageous sense of entitlement that religious and right-wing activist groups believe that they should have a say in the lives of often vulnerable women. I cannot begin to understand those who think a Pro-Life mindset is extremist. Surely, making a woman give birth to a child when she does not want to, no matter what the circumstance is more extreme than giving her safe alternatives. Surely, the highest form of hypocrisy is removing the right to agency over a woman’s own body. I’m not sure where this hubris comes from but it’s not exclusive to Ireland. In America, Planned Parenthood struggles with funding cuts from the current GOP.

What is the eighth amendment and why are we trying to repeal it?

In 1983, Irish citizens voted to add the eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution which reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” Basically, the Irish state sees an unborn baby as equal to the mother carrying it.

In recent years calls to repeal the eighth amendment has gotten louder. In 2018, Ireland will have a referendum to do so. As of yet, it has not been said if we will be voting for it to be removed completely or replaced. The conversation continues and it is not a pleasant one. In my attempt to share my love for Ireland with people I meet in the UK I can’t help but feel sad and disappointed in my country. I can’t be proud of a place that doesn’t trust me to make a decision.


Official UN human rights bodies, as well as independent human rights experts, recognise that governments violate the rights of women when they make abortion services inaccessible. I cannot stress the importance of the vote in 2018. With Brexit looming, we still do not know how difficult it might be to cross to Britain once they leave the EU. Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, Professor Fergal Malone has expressed his concern about Brexit and about the insufficient aftercare available to those who travel for an abortion. He has spoken about one patient of the hospital, “who died following a complication from a surgical termination of pregnancy while travelling between Ireland and a centre abroad.” He says that “Forcing patients to travel between two jurisdictions, particularly when dealing with travel between islands, will inevitably increase the risks to mothers’ physical health and well-being.”

The mistrust of women to make their own decisions being shown in Ireland is shocking. If men could get pregnant we would not even be having this debate. Even the suggestion of taking away a man’s freedom of thought is laughable. It’s a joke because it’s so clearly wrong.

That abortion will be forced upon anyone who does not want one is fear mongering! Women will still give birth. We will still be loving mothers and grandmothers and wives and daughters and sisters. There will still be children who are adopted and fostered and cared for by guardians who are not their biological parents. Abortions are safe when legal and carried out by professionals who can guide and treat patients with medical expertise and care.

As depressing as this article has been to write, I’m not going to stop here. I’m trying to stay positive. The National Woman’s Council of Ireland, the largest representative organisation for women in Ireland, are calling for the removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. More and more women are coming forward with their stories and hopefully finding support and courage in doing so. The only way we can move forward, and push Ireland to be the wonderful, brilliant country a small part of me still believes it is, is by speaking up and acting out. I hope by now you’re riled up and ready to fight the patriarchy.

So what can we do?

  • Get out of the echo chamber. Have conversations with people who have different opinions with you. Don’t tell them you respect their opinion if you don’t. You can respect them as a person, and treat them with kindness without giving them the appreciation for shit viewpoints.
  • Donate to the Irish Abortion Rights Campaign. https://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/get-involved/donate/
  • Tweet your support and help us to #repealthe8th.
  • Elect women. Elect women of colour, elect less-abled women, elect women from low-income households, elect queer women. I’ve quoted three influential Irish people in this article who have been speaking out about Abortion Rights. They’re all men. Give more women voices and power.

A sense of national identity is important to Ireland, a country who have, only one hundred years ago, fought for our independence. We are taught from a young age to be proud of the place we’re from. It’s sad that at 25 I can no longer tell people that I’m proud to be Irish with conviction. I have been disappointed by state officials, public institutions, policymakers and people. Friends of mine share pro-life articles on Facebook and sometimes I am too sad to even comment. Is pro-life about putting the potentially unviable life of a foetus before the health and possible death of the mother? Is pro-life about telling vulnerable and young women that they must go through with pregnancies resulting from abuse or rape? Is pro-life about taking choice and control from women over their own bodies and giving it to a religious or politically motivated group?

I want to keep telling people about how wonderful Ireland is. I want to go home and feel like my country cares about its people. Let’s make that happen.


*Images Copyright 2017 Manon Deniau


Eleanor Costello

Eleanor is a freelance writer, blogger, instagrammer, communications professional and human. She likes fashion, art and cheese

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