Referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution

 

Sir, – I have seen the following in my many years of medical practice in different countries: a woman dying from sepsis after an self-induced abortion with a knitting needle; a student who hanged herself rather than tell her family she was pregnant; and women consumed with terror about a possible criminal conviction. This is the reality in countries where abortion is illegal. England protects Ireland in this regard by acting as the safety valve and service provider for Irish abortions. Ireland, please repeal the Eighth Amendment and grow up. – Yours, etc,

Dr MARY E BLACK,

London.

Sir, – I am an Irish doctor who has worked in primary care in the US for 25 years. Abortion is indeed the ugly thing we know it to be. It remains quite controversial here and in the majority of situations is being used as birth control in ending healthy pregnancies that are not desired. It really is a barbaric and uncivilised solution. Ireland is fortunate that citizens get to have a say in how their laws are fashioned. What a wonderful thing if Ireland can take the lead and be a modern, developed society with progressive laws which stop at the line of providing abortion as birth control. – Yours, etc,

Dr DAVID POWER,

St Paul,

Minnesota, US.

Sir, – I have observed a lot of coverage in recent weeks where people state that they are voting for the women in their lives, and the same can be said for my husband and me. But, while we hope that our children will never be faced with a crisis pregnancy, at least we know that they will have the means and support to travel should the need ever arise. They should have this care in their own country – but at least they would be able to access it elsewhere.

The same cannot be said for the marginalised in society: the very poor, the homeless, refugees, the deaf and disabled. Without the ability or the financial means to travel, they are trapped, forced to carry on with a pregnancy that causes much anguish or serious risk to life. Imagine your only means of communication is through sign language, and you need to travel to a country that uses a different sign language; imagine being disabled and unable to travel independently, your right to privacy abolished as you must seek assistance in travelling or communicating.

We are voting Yes because it is time for change. It is time for everyone to have access to the same level of care and privacy in Ireland, without the undue expense and stress of seeking care in another country. – Yours, etc,

JACKIE DAVEY,

Kinsealy,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – The term “social abortion” has been bandied about by the No campaign in recent weeks in a very pejorative fashion. I am left wondering what exactly is meant by this term. Social issues are recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the biggest determinants of health. There is a multitude of evidence in the scientific literature that demonstrates how social issues, for example income equality, negatively impact on health. Compounding this many social factors affect access to healthcare.

“The inverse care law” is a term that has been widely adopted over the past few decades to describe this situation where the availability of good medical care tends to vary inversely with the population that need it most. Equal access to healthcare is one of the biggest social issues in Ireland today, and perhaps the most glaringly obvious example of this is access to safe abortion. This is available only to those who are financially, physically and legally able to travel to another jurisdiction. There have been many women in our society, who gravely needed but were denied access to safe abortion and often the voices of these most marginalised women are not the ones heard. – Is mise,

Dr CAROLINE

McCARTHY,

Castleknock,

Dublin 15.

A chara, – Voting No in no way constitutes forcing anyone to do anything. Rather a No vote is an act of conscientious objection, a refusal to be complicit in other people’s actions. Some women may indeed have abortions, but that does not mean that we have any obligation to facilitate, or endorse it, by making it legal.

If you are against abortion, you have a right to vote No. – Is mise,

MARIA

MHIC MHEANMAIN,

Enfield,

Co Meath.

Sir,– In debates on the Eighth, one convergence, one serious omission and one unquestioned premise can be noted. Both sides agree that no necessary medical treatment can be delayed or withheld because the patient is pregnant. This is an overdue clarification and correction of the “equal right to life” which overlooks that the life of the mother is the condition of the life of the “unborn”.

Autonomy, compassion, trust, love have been invoked but the key measure to support women in a situation of unprecedented pressure to make an ultimate choice in a short timeframe is missing: a mandatory requirement of counselling, paid for by the State, offered by independent agencies from different backgrounds, to work out her own answer at this life-changing moment. Giving access to counsellors at an agency of her choice is a costlier measure of “compassion” than just inserting a “cooling off” period as if this was a reversible purchase decision. But it is the only way to avoid replacing one paternalism with another: with the proposed consent of two doctors who have neither the education nor the time to give space for exploring her unique pressures, conflicts, fears and hopes. Handing the decision on abortion to them treats it as objectifiable, ignoring the decisive role of her own evaluation of her situation and of different courses of action.

An unquestioned premise is that “autonomy” is understood as individual self-reliance which needs no supports from the State.

By contrast, a principled, relational autonomy begins with the rights of the other and works for conditions in which parents’ lives are not disrupted but enriched by a child who will remain dependent on them for many years. How a State can support relational autonomy is evident in examples of affordable childcare, housing and disability services in continental Europe.

In the absence of tangible supports, the Government declaring that it “trusts women” is a poor substitute.

More is needed from the State as the framework of human rights to provide the best conditions possible for protecting the right to life in conflicted pregnancies. – Yours, etc,

MAUREEN

JUNKER-KENNY,

(Professor in Theology,

Trinity College Dublin),

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – It is not the case to suggest that nothing can be done for women with a “fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis” until the Eighth Amendment is removed. This undermines the real alternatives and support that excellent groups such as One Day More are offering women, instead of automatically pushing them along the path of abortion for their unborn children.

This is also disrespectful to Irish women, denying them real choice other than abortion, under the guise of fictitious and non-scientific terms such as “fatal foetal anomaly”.

In my UK maternity unit, women in this traumatic situation were given details for a clinic in London for a “therapeutic” abortion. No counselling was offered in the hospital, as it was presumed that women would make the “sensible” decision and abort. Even the UK NHS website offers abortion as a first choice for “foetal abnormality”, without any reference to counselling. Ireland has real alternatives to abortion in such difficult circumstances.

The Irish need to vote No, to ensure real support for women diagnosed with unborn children that may not survive outside the womb, obtain real support, not simply “therapeutic” abortion. – Yours, etc,

MARIA HORAN,

Milton Keynes,

UK.

Sir, – On Friday I will cast what I consider to be the most important vote of my life: whether or not to remove all constitutional protection for unborn life and to allow for legislation governing the termination of pregnancy in Ireland.

Generally when the stakes are so high I would consult with the professionals and experts in the field: in this case the lawyers, the doctors, the obstetricians; those at the coal face. However, it seems to me that for every obstetrician advocating a No vote there is another telling us to repeal; for every lawyer presenting the case for Yes, we are met with another articulating the reasons to vote No. It seems to me that perhaps they are not speaking as professionals at all but instead as individuals who are ideologically in favour or opposed to abortion and indeed sometimes dishonestly using their powerful professional positions to further what is ultimately no more than their personal opinion. Is it any wonder we have such a large cohort of “undecideds”?

In the absence of clarity from the professionals, I urge readers to download the proposed legislation (General Scheme of a Bill to Regulate Termination of Pregnancy), read it for themselves and decide. This legislation makes it clear that this referendum is not about the heart-breaking “hard cases”, and I am confident that, except for those who wish to see abortion on demand in Ireland, readers will vote No. – Yours, etc,

EDEL CROSBIE,

Malahide,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – While Ireland still has a long way to go when it comes to how we treat mental health, it is encouraging to see the increased openness surrounding the issue. People are less afraid to talk about their experiences, and we can only hope that this will continue to have a positive ripple effect and be of help to some who might otherwise have stayed silent and not reached out for help. It is particularly upsetting, therefore, to see the No side actively discredit mental health in their campaign. They belittle people’s conditions and experiences. They fight to retain an amendment which forces women to come off medication against the advice of their doctors. They ignore how damaging it is to force someone to continue a pregnancy and become parents against their will. A No vote would undo so much of the work that has taken place in the last years to destigmatise mental health issues. It would effectively be a message to those who suffer from them that they don’t matter. – Yours, etc,

INGRID SEIM,

Cork.

A chara, – I am not a doctor, lawyer, politician, publicist or priest. But I seem to remember a phrase in vogue two years ago about cherishing all the children of the nation equally. – Yours, etc,

TONY JORDAN,

Sandymount,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Kevin Dowling (May 21st) suggests that we vote No and “when the dust settles, we could then set about finding truly compassionate solutions for women, men and unborn children who are involved in crisis pregnancies”.

I ask voters to look at a past of incarcerating young single mothers and taking their children away from them, at 35 years of insufficient supports for lone parents and parents of children with disabilities, and at the current homelessness crisis with 1,700 families in emergency accommodation, and ask themselves if they think that waiting for the dust to settle is the solution. – Yours, etc,

AOIFE DERMODY,

Cabra,

Dublin 7.