Every socially progressive issue comes in increments: emancipation, universal suffrage, civil rights, etc. have all progressed through intermittent concessions. It is a societal constant which has been observed throughout history. As a whole, society is unable to accept rapid change, even if it is for the better. Thus it is the case with abortion. I have no doubt that Ireland will provide choice to women in the future, but it won’t happen immediately; it will come in dribs and drabs. The first drib is the legislation for the X-case, it has taken 20 years and the unfortunate death of Savita Halappanavar but it is the first step towards full access to abortion. What I intend to discuss here is the drab: medical terminations.
Every year, hundreds of expectant mothers receive the terrible news that the child they are carrying is either dead or dying. Many pregnancies suffer complications and the foetus is deemed not viable for life due to fatal abnormalities. As there is no hope for the baby’s survival, an induced miscarriage or a termination is expected. However, due to the laws in Ireland these options are not available. The only options available are either to continue to carry the baby, which will inevitably die either within the uterus or immediately after birth, or travel to a hospital in the UK which specialises in medical terminations. These two options are both quite harrowing. Imagine the first if you will: being forced to carry your child knowing it is never going to live, explaining to your loved ones/co-workers/children that your baby is all but dead, however, you still carry it and it still grows inside of you while you wait for a miscarriage that can arrive at any day. This surely borders on a from of mental torture which no woman should be forced to endure. Unfortunately the second option is not much better: being forced to travel to a hospital in the UK to have the medical termination. Medical terminations are a traumatic experience and one should have the support of family and loved ones, but this option means women are obliged to leave their family and support network to seek the help they need; no doubt adding to the anguish of losing the child. It should also be noted that this costs around €2.800, a sum of money not every family can afford. So many women who cannot access such funds have no choice but to continue carrying their child until it eventually dies in their womb.
These women are experiencing a traumatic event. The support which is required to navigate such a difficult period should be available in their own country. Instead, Ireland’s archaic laws deny them any option of help or support. They are abandoned during their time of need and are left with only two options, both of which are devoid of empathy and compassion. It is important to remember that these women wanted their children, so they do not take the decision to terminate lightly. It is an option that must be considered in order to preserve both their physical and mental health. It is a difficult decision, but facing the mental and emotional anguish of carrying a dead or dying foetus for an undetermined length of time while knowing it has no chance of survival is simply too much to bear. Termination is also emotionally draining but it is simply the lesser of two evils. Yet it is needlessly worsened by the unavailability of medical terminations in local hospitals. Women are forced to abandon their family and friends and travel to alien surroundings where they can safely terminate the pregnancy without having to wait for an inexorable miscarriage. The pain and emotional anguish these women face due to Ireland’s strict abortion laws is detailed in several testimonies on the Termination for Medical Reasons website which I implore you to read. As each woman details their individual ordeals there is a common trend of despair, sense of loss, grief and anguish as they choose one of the two options which are needlessly trust upon them.
Why anyone would oppose allowing women to have terminations on these grounds seems beyond my comprehension. Every Pro-Life organisation has the life of the child at the hearth of their opposition to abortion. They believe life begins at conception and any abortion from that point kills a baby. They oppose abortion because they believe they are defending the right to life of the unborn child. However, surely this argument is negated when it comes to medical terminations: there is no life to protect. The foetus is either dead or dying and it has zero chance of surviving outside of the womb; hence the welfare of the woman should take priority. To deny medical intervention which would help the women facing these scenarios simply because her life isn’t in immediate danger is, to put it frankly, barbaric. To protest against medical intervention using an excuse which is no longer valid is callous and it displays a lack of concern for the woman. If legislatures and Pro-Life organisations cared about the mental well-being of Irish women they would support the legalisation of medical terminations; there simply is no reason not to.
I have emailed all pro-life organisations in Ireland asking for their official stance on medical terminations, I will do a follow up post when they all reply.