Athena Talks
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Athena Talks

A Fetus Is Not Equal To A Woman

In Ireland a corpse has more body autonomy than a pregnant woman.

The point at which a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus becomes a “human” is a subjective matter, however what IS indisputable is that the person who is pregnant most certainly is a human.

There is no social, legal or moral consensus on at what point “life” begins. Historically the fetus has not had separate rights, and abortion has been around for about as long as humans have. Even the Catholic Church allowed abortion for most of it’s existence (up until 1869).

Likewise there is no universal agreement on the point at which a zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus becomes a “human”. International human rights organisations rightfully recognise the pregnant person as human and state that laws and policies pertaining to abortion regulation must not interfere with the woman’s human rights — including the right to life, health, privacy, freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment and discrimination.

Irish abortion laws however, disproportionately protect pre-natal “life” over live women’s human rights. Possible/potential future “humans” are given legal precedence over the fully grown women and girls without whom they wouldn’t survive.

Article 40.3.3, known as the Eighth Amendment, states: ‘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.’

Under this Article the zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus is accorded the same rights as living humans only insomuch as it forces the pregnant person to remain pregnant — but the zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus is not eligible for any of the legal rights that born, actualised children are entitled to from the state, nor do they qualify for any social or financial benefits for example child benefit/inheritance rights/eligibility for tax credits etc.

So the zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus is seen as being equal to a fully grown human under Irish law — with only one right — the right “life”. Which effectively means the right to be carried in the woman’s body — with or without her consent. This places women (and intersex and transmen) with unwanted pregnancies in the unenviable situation of having something within their body that now has legal rights of it’s own, and a legal right to be carried to term for as long as the pregnant person remains in Ireland.

If this all sounds a bit dystopian it gets worse. The Irish government has taken several pregnant women to court and ensured that the zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus was given it’s own legal representation in court. So a non-existent human/a non viable zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus can AND HAS been legally pitted AGAINST the woman within whose body it resides — before even being born. So we can add the right to legal representation to the list of rights and privileges accorded to the “unborn” in Ireland.

Giving the fetus equal rights to an actualised, living human stems from the condescending and offensive idea that fetuses need to be protected from the woman within whose body they reside. This sexist, offensive and pervasive myth is that women are flippant, irresponsible and incapable of deciding for themselves if and when they are ready to be a parent. And so the “unborn” are accorded privileges before they are even actualised — awarded legal personhood before they are even viable. The Government’s legal right and desire to enforce the “unborn’s” rights puts the pregnant person at grave risk of harm, or even death.

“I worried in case something should happen to me while I was pregnant, the 8th amendment makes it scary to be pregnant. What happened to Savita could happen to anyone… I didn’t know if it came to it would the doctors chose me over the fetus?”

Clare, Ireland.

The pro — forced-birth ideology is based on the idea that women cannot be trusted to make good decisions about what is best for their lives, bodies and existing families. Women, their bodies and their sexuality have historically been policed and punished in Ireland. This historical desire to control women is still very much present in modern day society. The inequality is even enshrined in the constitution. Years ago sex saw women sectioned or imprisoned in a Catholic Laundry. In modern-day Ireland, sex is punishable by child.

Pro-forced birthers argue that the zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus is human. In fact the only person who’s opinion counts with regard to when the fetus is “human” is the person who is pregnant. The pregnant person is the one within whose body the cells are contained and whose life, body, family and finances will be most affected by the pregnancy. This is why their opinion is the only one that matters.

Pro-forced-birthers say that they know what is best for pregnant people. They are mistrustful of women and do not respect them. Some assumptions can be made about people who mistrust and have no respect for an entire gender — it is sexist and ignorant to assume all women are stupid and sly. (And yes, I know some pro-forced-birthers are women — and my answer to that is -internalized misogny.) How can we trust a person who is sexist and ignorant when they express supposed “concern” for a zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus? How do we know their motives are not just rooted in a desire to control or punish women? Or just rooted in fundamentalism, bigotry and ignorance even?

Does anything have a right to reside in the body of another human? Especially against the wishes of the person whose body it is. How did Ireland sway so far from compassion, equality and human rights as to enshrine the“right to life” of a zygote/blastocyst/embryo or fetus into legislation? That women and girls with their rich, varied, complicated lives, connections and families are legally equated with a nonviable bunch of cells is offensive and demeaning. It paints a distressing picture of how little regard Irish politicians have for the women and girls of Ireland. This has not gone unnoticed internationally and Ireland has repeatedly been called out for it’s humans rights abuses against women.

Whatever your views on Ireland’s abortion laws it is undoubtedly a violation of a person’s bodily rights to force them to remain pregnant against their will. Enforced pregnancy is extreme. It is inhumane. It is also the current reality for the women, intersex and transmen of Ireland.


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Taryn De Vere

Taryn De Vere

Joy bringer, writer, podcaster, mother of 5, colourful fashionista