As Ireland prepares to go to the polls on the 25th of May to decide whether or not to retain or repeal the 8th amendment, I would like to present evidence against core anti-choice arguments for retaining the 8th and in doing so demonstrate that the 8th amendment is a failure even by its own terms and aims, and that repeal is the clear, compassionate choice for anyone with an evidence based, compassion focused outlook regardless of their views on abortion.
Anti-Choice Argument 1: “We need to keep the 8th amendment because it saves the lives of unborn babies”
ANSWER: According to the World Health Organisation -
“Legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer Abortions…however, a lack of legal access to abortion services is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions.
Conversely, laws and policies that facilitate access to safe abortion do not increase the rate or number of abortions. The principle effect is to shift previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones.
The accumulated evidence shows that the removal of restrictions on abortion results in a reduction of maternal mortality from unsafe abortion and, thus, a reduction in the overall level of maternal mortality”
Or to put it another way, your ‘pro-life’ stance doesn’t reduce the occurrence of abortion, but it does increase the risk to the health and life of all pregnant people.
Anti-Choice Argument 2: “The 8th amendment has never harmed anyone, or restricted their medical treatment while pregnant. Prof Eamon McGuinness confirmed as much in his Irish Times opinion article. And before you mention Savita, the HSE report clearly states that her cause of death was sepsis.”
ANSWER: When you make an absolute claim such as Prof Eamon McGuinness has made, a single example to the contrary is required to disprove it. We have many testimonies from women to the contrary but the key one comes from Professor of obstetrics Louise Kenny, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, who specialises in the management of high risk pregnancies who in her response piece in the Irish Times gives examples and states –
“It is an outrageous lie to say that the Eighth has never changed medical management or adversely affected the outcome of a woman with cancer…It is a fact that the Eighth Amendment casts a shadow over the care of every woman of reproductive age with complex medical needs in this State.”
With regard to the death of Savita Halappanavar the following expert testimonies from The Joint Oireachtas Committee (one from the author of the report into her death) will demonstrate that while it can be truthfully stated that sepsis was indeed the cause of death, sepsis could have been avoided entirely if a termination had been granted when first requested –
“It was very clear the things holding the hands of physicians was the legal issue…
She did have sepsis. However, if she had a termination in the first days as requested, she would not have had sepsis. If she had the termination when asked for it, the sepsis would not arise.
We would never have heard of her and she would be alive today,”
- Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, author of the report into Savita Halappanavar’s death
“Article 40.3.3 (the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution) gives rise to significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and has caused grave harm to women, including death. The two outstanding examples of which I have direct experience are the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 and the case of Miss P in PP v HSE in December 2014.”
- — Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the National Maternity Hospital
The evidence, I feel, is clear and conclusive. The 8th amendment does not achieve its stated aim of reducing abortion occurrence, for as the World Health organisation tell us the same amount of abortions occur regardless and that a removal of legal restrictions will simply shift these abortions from the column marked “unregulated & unsafe” to the one marked “regulated & safe”. That’s all.
More than that, if we are to believe that the impetus for the inception and implementation of the 8th was compassion and a desire to safeguard human life against suffering and death, then its failure is doubled by the evidence of the countless pregnant people who have suffered and in some cases died due to its constitutional interference in the private maternal healthcare of hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens.
Realising that the 8th not only: (a) doesn’t stop abortions, but also (b) negatively impacts the medical care, health, well-being, and in some cases causes the deaths of pregnant people I am reminded of Edwin Starr’s rumination on war asking, “what is it good for?” And in the case of the 8th I can only echo his response, “Absolutely nothing.”
If you would like there to be fewer abortions in Ireland, then prohibition is not your friend, my friend. Pregnant people who do not wish give birth will find a way, and unsafe abortions will be the inevitable outcome. If compassion is truly your guiding principle then look to what actually can achieve your stated goal of a reduction in abortion occurrence. The Netherlands being the prime of example of where a country with some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world have in practice some of the lowest per-capita abortion rates in the world, due to comprehensive sex education in schools, mostly free contraception, and a generally shame free and open culture around sex. If that truly is your goal then there is a proven path to reach it that does no harm to pregnant people.
Time To End The Experiment
You could say that in Ireland for the last 35 years we’ve been testing a theory. That being the anti-choice theory that the 8th amendment can stop abortions happening in Ireland and reduce loss of life and suffering. Well, the results are in: It doesn’t. It can’t. It never could. And in its failure it succeeds only in shaming us all. This disgraceful experiment has cost women their lives. And many more their health, and in every sense their well-being. We had and have no right to use and abuse our fellow citizens in this way. In my view, the harm we have perpetrated can never truly be made right, but we can right our course.
On 25th of May it is our duty to make the choice that the evidence shows truly can save lives, and vote YES for care, compassion, and change.