Our model for reproductive health and the Eighth Amendment

We will only achieve our model for reproductive health if we:

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  • Prioritise funding and planning for comprehensive reproductive health services.
  • Ensure the health and well-being of a woman or girl is prioritised over the forced continuation of a pregnancy. Treatment must not be denied or delayed because a woman is pregnant.
  • Recognise abortion as a necessary element of
    obstetric care.
  • Acknowledge that women and girls need to end pregnancies for many reasons and that those reasons should be respected and remain private.
  • Remove criminal sanctions for people seeking to end
    a pregnancy.
  • Allow medical professionals to provide quality,
    non-judgmental services within the public health system.

We aim to ensure comprehensive, quality, universal reproductive healthcare services for women and girls in Ireland. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is a fundamental barrier to achieving this.

Equality – Caring for all women who are pregnant in Ireland

Women’s access to reproductive healthcare is fundamental to women’s family and life decisions and essential for women’s equality. Currently, the Eighth Amendment is a barrier to ensuring that all of women’s healthcare needs are provided for in this country.

The Eighth Amendment is based on a belief that a woman’s egg, from the very moment it has been fertilised, is a human being and has an equal right to life as the pregnant woman or girl.

The Eighth Amendment gives legal status to the fertilised egg which means that when pregnancy care decisions end up in Court, the woman and her pregnancy have separate legal teams.

We all know that many women will think of their future baby from the very moment they know they are pregnant. We know that women and men can feel the loss of a wanted pregnancy as a deeply upsetting bereavement. We also recognise that a fertilised egg may develop into an independent, full human being that will have every protection, medical care and support available, like the woman who was carrying the pregnancy.

However, we do not agree that at any stage while a woman is pregnant, the developing pregnancy should be given considerations that are completely independent from or superior to the life, health and well-being of the woman who is pregnant. Our position is informed by best medical practice and our knowledge of the impact of the Eighth Amendment on women who face an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy that has turned into a crisis pregnancy.

The Eighth Amendment allows only one circumstance to legally end a pregnancy in Ireland and that is if the pregnant woman will die as a direct result of the pregnancy continuing. While over 800 pregnancies, including ectopic pregnancies, are ended in Irish hospitals each year because the pregnant woman would die as a direct result of the pregnancy continuing, the law prohibits doctors from intervening in many other cases.

This means that some women’s medical treatment is being denied or delayed to protect the developing pregnancy or due to understandable caution on the part of the woman’s medical team.

Unlike in any other medical decision, the parity given to a woman’s pregnancy prevents doctors in Irish healthcare facilities from putting their patients’ health and wellbeing first.

The Eighth Amendment also means that a woman who has a pregnancy with a fatal condition is obliged to continue with the pregnancy to the end. Doctors in Ireland face a 14-year jail term for ending such a pregnancy early. We do not agree that any necessary medical treatment should be conditional on whether a woman is pregnant or not. It is impossible to imagine any other group in society having their healthcare limited in such a way in the Constitution.

Yet the Constitution allows these treatments if they are performed in another country. For women and girls who need to end a pregnancy this means that they have later abortions as they must travel outside of Ireland, often at high personal cost, in secrecy and without any support.

The unavailability of the option of ending a pregnancy also has an unequal impact on women who have the right to travel within the EU and those who may be refugees, undocumented or require visas.

We believe that medical professionals in Ireland should be able to care for all women who are pregnant in this country and we look for your support in achieving this.

No one makes pregnancy decisions lightly

We are mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, daughters. Every day we care for our families and make serious decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
Recent debate regarding the provision of abortion care in Ireland has focused on restrictions, conditions and limits. We need to acknowledge that each person or couple choosing to end a pregnancy has real needs and their own reasons, before placing restrictions and sanctions in criminal law. We also need to acknowledge that the majority of women having abortions already have a family of one child or more and are using contraception.

The best, considered decisions will happen in a supportive, trusting environment where the privacy regarding that decision is protected in the same way the relationship is between doctor and patient.

We want all pregnancy options to be considered in an informed, caring and non-judgmental environment. Where a woman decides to end a pregnancy, she should be cared for and be automatically given access to free contraception and adequate family planning information. To ensure standards, oversight and accountability, we believe services should be regulated and incorporated into existing public healthcare facilities, the same as any other
medical treatment.

Every pregnancy is different, every decision is personal

The variety and complexity of real life is nowhere more apparent than when it comes to pregnancy options and obstetric care. We must aim to design reproductive healthcare services around the lives of women and girls that offers them care and choice at every stage of their lives.

Given the unpredictable and exceptional aspects of many pregnancy experiences and the need for legislators to be able to respond to technological and medical advances, we believe that the Constitution is an unsuitable place for limiting or regulating provision.

Reducing the need for abortion

The Eighth Amendment has had no measurable impact on rates of abortion in women from Ireland. The number of NHS abortions attributed to women from Ireland in the three years prior to the introduction of the Eighth Amendment (1980-1983) is similar to the past three years (2013-2016).

Achieving comprehensive reproductive health provision as outlined in our model could reduce health problems, including sexually transmitted diseases, crisis pregnancies, reproductive cancers, unsafe abortions and sexual violence. In addition, providing all the elements of reproductive healthcare, particularly effective contraception options, could reduce the need for abortion.

Internationally, it has been found that laws and policies that provide for safe abortion do not increase the rate or number of abortions. Instead, they allow for legal and safe abortions, rather than the previous clandestine procedures. In Ireland this applies mainly to women who secretly order abortion pills online without medical supervision or women who travel home from abroad without having had the necessary aftercare.

States that have achieved significant reduction in their abortion rates have done so through a combination of legislation and ensuring that the women who have abortions are offered contraception, information and services. We want to achieve this for women in Ireland.

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