25 May 2021
By Elaine Murphy
The vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment was a momentous day for women’s rights in this country – but much work remains to be done, according to Social Democrats Social Justice Spokesperson Holly Cairns.
“Today is the third anniversary of the vote to amend the Eighth Amendment – a vote that dismantled decades of stigma, fear and pain.
“The landslide vote, which had one of the highest ever turnouts in a referendum, proved definitively that the Irish people trust women to make decisions about their own healthcare. Compassion trumped shame.
“It many respects, it was a vote that signified so much more than the Eighth Amendment itself. It represented women’s voices finally being heard, in a country where they had so often been silenced; the power of a grassroots political campaign that refuses to be ignored by the political establishment and a further societal schism with the theocratic chains of our repressive past.
“Most women now have the right to free, safe and legal abortion in this country. Most, but not all. Three years on from that historic day, there is more work to do.
“Some women, who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, are still forced to travel to the UK – even now, during a pandemic – for treatment, because their cases are not captured by our legislation.
“This is hugely distressing for those women and their families. We must review why this is the case and how we can help these women avail of treatment in their own country.
“Part of the reason may be that doctors can still be jailed for up to 14 years for performing an abortion if it is retrospectively found to have been offered in breach of strict legal provisions. This can have a chilling effect, meaning doctors adopt an overly cautious approach in their treatment of women for fear of prosecution. This draconian provision in the legislation needs to be excised.
“Rights without access are meaningless and almost half of maternity hospitals do not yet offer full abortion services. This must change. There can be no postcode lottery when it comes to accessing healthcare.
“Meanwhile, a 2018 pledge by former Minister for Health Simon Harris that safe zones, free of anti-choice protestors, around maternity units would be created, remains unfulfilled. We must act to introduce these safe zones and protect women. There should be no further delay.
“Today, we remember the hundreds and thousands of Irish women who suffered during the 35 years in which the Eighth Amendment was in place and pay tribute to those who campaigned for its removal.
“However, we must not forget the central message of that campaign: trust women. Women are the best arbiters of their own healthcare decisions. They just need to be empowered to make those decisions – and the legal framework must facilitate that”