‘I have been a midwife for 30 years and am voting Yes’
The Eighth Amendment does not change the reality of Irish abortion, merely where and how it happens
After reflecting long and hard about the impact of the Eighth Amendment on women’s health, I have decided to vote and advocate for the removal of the amendment on May 25th. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
I have worked in midwifery for more than 30 years. For 13 of those years, I worked as a specialist sonographer scanning pregnant women. As a midwife, I work with a wonderful team every day to provide the highest level of safe and compassionate care to women and babies. In my role, I am supporting women in all circumstances to the best of my ability.
Abortion has been one of the most emotive and divisive issues in Irish society during my lifetime. After reflecting long and hard about the impact of the Eighth Amendment on women’s health, I have decided to vote and advocate for the removal of the amendment on May 25th.
Reaching this decision has not been easy. I have struggled with it as have most undecided citizens. But my view is influenced by my years of experience in midwifery in Ireland.
A journalist I heard recently speaking about the referendum said she saw the debate focusing on the “convinced shouting at the convinced”. That has certainly been my experience when watching recent TV debates on the subject.
It is very difficult for the undecided voter to make up his or her mind in this conflicted environment. There may be those who decide not to vote at all on what is a vital issue for Irish society. Given this, I felt it was important as a senior midwife to present my personal experience of relating to women in a crisis pregnancy to help those still unsure as to how to vote make up his or her mind.
In preparation to vote on Friday, I had to honestly ask myself if the current status quo should be retained. If the referendum is not passed, women requesting termination of pregnancy cannot seek professional care in Ireland and cannot have their choice or decision respected.
We all know they may purchase unregulated medication online or travel to other countries, sometimes putting themselves in danger by doing so. For too long our society has ignored or hidden the health needs of a large number of women due to restrictions imposed by the amendment.
We know that many women decide to continue with a pregnancy if there is a fatal foetal anomaly and receive extensive support in our units under the principles of perinatal hospice care.
It disturbs me when I hear comments from some people who talk about the floodgates opening for terminations
However, many travel to the UK and beyond to seek terminations for many personal reasons. I have met many of these women, especially when I was working in ultrasound. From the outside, it is difficult to comprehend the challenges faced by women who made the decision to “travel”, a euphemism we all understand in maternity services as referring to going abroad for abortion.
There are heartbreaking stories we hear every week about women or couples who desperately wanted their baby but decided to terminate the pregnancy due to fatal foetal anomaly, and some of those stories have been published. These women and their partners need to be looked after in Ireland while they are going through some of the hardest times in their lives.
Two years ago, I visited Liverpool Women’s Hospital and on the tour of the unit a midwife showed me into a room, saying in a very matter-of-fact tone: “This is where your women come to be looked after.” That filled me with shame, that we continue to somehow pretend it is not happening and prefer to export the problem.
It disturbs me when I hear comments from some people who talk about the floodgates opening for terminations. There have always been a small minority of unwanted pregnancies throughout history. The Eighth Amendment does not change this reality, merely where is happens – and now it is happening in Ireland, in unregulated and unsafe circumstances, with the abortion pill. Education on sexual and reproductive health for young people is sadly deficient and this needs to be addressed as a societal issue.
Women who decide they cannot proceed with a pregnancy for whatever personal reason need support from us, not judgment. We need to trust women to make their own decisions, in line with their own values, hopes and circumstances. The Constitution should have no role in this matter.
We cannot continue to be hypocritical and ignore the clear and present reality of the existence of abortion in our society. I can’t keep turning a blind eye to this very human experience. I hope that others will share my view.
Mary Brosnan is director of midwifery and nursing at the National Maternity Hospital and adjunct associate professor at the school of nursing and midwifery and health sciences at UCD. She is a Florence Nightingale Foundation Scholar 2018.