Key to Europe

by Juliette Beaulaton

Today, the Irish people go to the polls to vote for a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution.

The eighth amendment was voted into the Irish constitution in 1983. It equated the life of the “unborn” with that of the mother, stating that “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”.

This amendment to the Constitution led to a complete ban on abortion in Ireland. Today, abortion is still illegal in nearly all circumstances, except in case of direct and substantial risk for the woman’s life. Women and people helping them access information or an abortion face prosecution and up to 14 years in jail.

Because of this incredibly restrictive regime, abortion has been outsourced to other countries, particularly the England, or has been taking place behind closed doors. On top of creating a truly unfair system were the most vulnerable women are left with no choice but to pursue unwanted or dangerous pregnancies, this abortion ban is putting women’s health in danger by preventing them from accessing the information and the care they need.

As the political debate is escalating and Irish people are making up their mind, we need to remember that because of this highly restrictive regime, women are being denied care, leading to tragic cases of maternal death.

Today, the Irish people have the opportunity to give women back their right over their own life and body, their right to be advised and to access medical care.

Why does this concern us?

Because this debate is also about trusting young women and giving them the right to determine the course of their own life. The reason leading to and the consequences of an abortion can be extremely different from one woman to another. That is why every woman should have access to the information they need to make a decision, and why states have to ensure that they receive the support they need whatever this decision is.

While Ireland is an extreme example, resurgent threats to women’s sexual and reproductive rights have emerged in Europe. Europe is still home to highly restrictive regimes such as Malta, Poland and Northern Ireland, and in December 2017 the Council of Europe published a report to warn against the wave of “retrogressive restrictions” that are threatening women’s health and well-being and the backlash against access to abortion in some EU member states.

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