Repeal The Eighth
Last week I was asked to give my reasons for voting yes to repeal the eighth amendment tomorrow from the perspective of a practising GP with a view to having them printed in a local Roscommon newspaper as part of the Together for Yes campaign. They were hastily cobbled together and by no means comprehensive but they were not printed in the end so I am going to print them here this evening as if it only inspires one more person to vote yes it will be worth it.
(You may or may not be aware that Roscommon – my home county – has a reputation for being the most conservative county in Ireland after Roscommon-South Leitrim gained notoriety for being the sole constituency to vote no in the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.)
I am a doctor from Roscommon and I am voting Yes on May 25th.
I am not pro-abortion, I am pro-choice.
The prevailing situation for pregnant women in Ireland is complicated, messy and dangerous and doctors are not permitted to treat women in need of care. I am one of over 1,500 practising doctors in Ireland who has signed a petition calling to repeal the Eighth Amendment which currently prevents us from providing full and appropriate care to our patients. So, my Yes is because I believe that women and couples in Ireland deserve access to safe, appropriate and quality healthcare.
I have thankfully never been in a situation where I’ve had to make such a decision, but I have friends, one of whom was carrying a baby with fatal foetal anomalies, who have had to travel to Liverpool and London to obtain terminations. I have seen first-hand how further anguish was added to an already devastating situation by the added stress of having to travel to receive appropriate health care.
The eighth amendment is not serving anybody at the moment and needs to be repealed. It is widely acknowledged that abortion is a reality in Ireland. Between 2012 and 2016, 18,112 women gave Irish addresses at abortion clinics in England. That figure does not include the many Irish who offered a fake address, nor those who travelled elsewhere to access terminations.
We are currently either exporting the problem or allowing it to happen at home with medications purchased online and without medical supervision. Many women are unable to travel for a multitude of reasons; some have refugee status, many cannot fund the trip and others cannot take the time away from work or their other children. Many elect instead to order abortifacient medications online from unknown, unregulated, anonymous sellers.
The shame and heartbreaking isolation of this act means that women taking abortifacient medications may delay or completely avoid seeking emergency care when potentially life-threatening complications such as bleeding or infection ensue. The threat of a 14 year prison sentence if they are discovered means that many suffer and put their lives at unnecessary risk because they cannot access medically supported and legal terminations in Ireland. Many never disclose their actions to a friend or family member and often not to their GP. This greatly undermines the long-term doctor-patient relationship, as well as preventing us from providing the best possible medical care to our patients at their acute time of need. This has to stop.
Our vote on the 25th of May is really about whether we will capitalise on this opportunity to regulate the terminations that are already happening in Ireland or continue to endanger the health of Irish women. By retaining the eighth we are only allowing young, vulnerable, isolated women in often impossible situations to continue to attempt unsupervised terminations.
A crisis pregnancy is a devastatingly lonely and stressful experience for women because they find themselves having to make a very difficult, unexpected decision, under time pressure and often on their own. I’ve seen women from all socio-economic groups from all over the world with all sorts of backgrounds and have never witnessed any of them take the decision to terminate their pregnancy lightly. When taking their medical histories, women are invariably ashamed to divulge that they have undergone a termination. The current legal situation is adding extra layers to the already enormous psychological stress.
The debate on abortion is legitimate and I respect certain arguments from those campaigning to retain the eighth amendment but it comes down to respect and options for all. In daily practice, my priority is treating the patient who presents to me. The reality is that it is possible to ‘love both’ but often unfortunately impossible to prioritise both. Retaining the eighth is merely abdicating responsibility and continuing to turn a blind eye to the plight of women. There is an urgency in repealing this amendment and exposing and regulating this complex area of women’s health which has been largely shrouded in secrecy to date. In keeping with every other area of medical practice, it needs to be practiced openly and in an evidence-based and safe manner.
I would urge people to vote Yes with a view to safer and more compassionate health care in Ireland.
I have dedicated my professional life to healthcare. I would not be advocating a Yes vote if it did not align with my professional ethos. For these reasons and many more, I ask you to join me in voting YES on the 25th of May. The girls and women of Roscommon and of Ireland deserve better.10