The argument that the life of a woman is lesser than that of an unborn child is an argument that no woman should ever have.
Despite this, it is the argument sweeping across Ireland ahead of this Friday’s referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983. The Eighth Amendment was introduced to prevent challenges to existing Irish laws which would allow a woman to have an abortion.
Thousands of women in Ireland travel elsewhere to have legal abortions – some circumstances are choice, others are instances of rape, others are instances of the unborn child being a threat to the life of the mother. All instances considered, none are exceptions to Ireland’s extreme and restrictive constitutional law.
The Eighth Amendment currently says, “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”. It pays no regard to the life of the woman who is pregnant – exactly the way it was intended at the time the amendment was passed.
Sadly (and expectedly) this debate has drawn the most ignorant and bigoted people out of the woodwork to argue for the “No” Campaign. News sites and social media are littered with people trying to force women to feel shame, embarrassment and self-loathing for wanting to have a say over their own reproductive choices. While we know that this constitutional change needs to happen through a referendum, we also need to accept that this is an incredibly damaging argument to be having.
I am the Minister for Women in the most progressive, pro-choice jurisdiction in Australia. I am proud of that – but I know more work needs to be done.
We still see reproductive coercion, we still see inadequate funding for women’s reproductive services by our Federal Government and we still see other states allowing abortion to remain a criminal act. Women in Tasmania are being flown to Victoria for abortions because the Hodgman Liberal Government closed the last specialised abortion clinic in the state.
I am heartbroken for these women – and I am heartbroken that women feel too scared to say they want an abortion, for fear of public persecution. I want to tell all women who are experiencing trauma and hardship in this debate that I stand with you. Making a choice about having a child can be one of the hardest things you may ever have to do, but it should be your choice.
This morning I walked through the gates of the Victorian Parliament and was greeted by mostly men protesting legal abortions in Victoria. This happens every sitting week. Some hold placards, some hold cloth signs. Some say “abortion hurts women”, others say “pro-women is pro-life”. Thanks to our Safe Access Zones, I’m pleased that that these people are at least protesting on Spring Street rather than at clinics which provide terminations.
My message to those protestors – and those in the Irish No Campaign is this: you are not pro-women if you are not pro-choice.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000
For more information on reproductive health, please visit 1800 My Options.