Role of Church and State in Irish Family Planning

Originally published on http://www.nannyvillage.ie

Role of Church & State in Irish Family Planning

Abortion is illegal in Ireland, but recent moves to resolve the Eighth Amendment are seeking to change this. The Eighth Amendment is the piece of legislation prohibiting the carrying out of abortions in Ireland, and is reflective of the conservative nature of the Irish constitution within which it sits. The Irish constitution is firmly rooted in conservative catholic values, and challenges to the Eighth Amendment also challenge the ideology upon which the constitution was written. Recently, Enda Kenny has spoken about how church has been removed from policy formation; however, it is still firmly enshrined in our law. In fact, the Eighth Amendment was only introduced in 1983, some 46 years after the Constitution.

The current Constitution came into force in 1937, a time in Ireland when the Catholic Church held major influence in policy making and implementation. Under Catholic Social Teaching, the unit of the family took precedence over everything and anything else, and women’s place was established in the home. The social, civil and political revolutions to take place since then have been remarkable with equal pay legislation, free education and contraception bringing the state up to date. Abortion is one issue outstanding, with criminal charges hanging over anyone who has an abortion and not to mention, a whole heap of judgement and guilt.

According to the Irish Family Planning Association, 3,735 Irish women had abortions in the UK last year. This figure has almost halved over the last ten years, with the biggest age group of women being 20-24. This works out at an average of ten women a day travelling across the water for a procedure that we as a society; cannot guarantee they are fully informed about, that won’t have access to post-operative care, and won’t have access to appropriate mental health supports. It is simply not good enough to say, that if we don’t allow it to happen here, it doesn’t happen at all.

It is an especially emotive debate, no one is advocating for babies to be murdered, and in fact, if abortion is introduced, no one is advocating that people go out en masse and get one. It is a simple recognition that if someone does go for an abortion, they have access to health care support, counselling, and are able to discuss their options in an open and honest way. The fact remains, that illegal or legal they are going to happen. Given that the only barrier to travelling for an abortion is the associated cost, which realistically is easily overcome, it is logical to assume that if it was introduced here, the figures wouldn’t rise dramatically.

Scaremongering is rife in the abortion debate, with the pro-life side plastering pictures of unborn babies across town, and the prochoice side arguing about when a baby becomes a baby and not a unit of cells. I don’t know about you, but my baby was a baby as soon as I realised I was pregnant. But similarly, I also want control over my body and how I live my life. The state is overstepping the mark in this regard, women can be trusted with their own bodies. Just because abortion is available doesn’t mean I am going to run out and get one.

If Ireland really wants to move fully into the 21st century, it is going to have to leave the church and it’s own particular brand of morals out of the policy debate and trust and empower women to make choices in a safe and transparent way. Abortion is happening whether we like it or not, it is time for Ireland to face the music.

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