Last month, unless you are living under a rock, you may have seen women lining up in their thousands across the streets of Ireland to march on International Women’s Day.
This national march was to highlight the need for repealing the Eight Amendment within the Irish constitution. The Eight Amendment is an archaic law, owing to a hugely Catholic Ireland, which was signed into law in October 1983. The Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo and criminalises all cases of abortion, except those cases where to continue the pregnancy would result in death.
This means that a fully consensual grown adult woman has the same rights as a 1 day old embryo in womb. It means that the government doesn’t care if you were raped or if the sex was consensual, if you become pregnant, you have to keep the baby or risk being jailed if you were to terminate the pregnancy. The government doesn’t even seem to care if the embryo you’re carrying has congenital defects and may live for only hours after birth. That embryo has the same rights as you, the fully grown adult woman. What about the cases of woman who wish to terminate the embryo and upon being denied that right, become suicidal? In those cases, the woman must go before a group of doctors (up to 6) and then, and only then, the doctors make the decision on whether the pregnancy can be terminated or not.
This constitutional law of ours leaves a woman with very little rights and very few choices, should she become pregnant. You can risk a jail term in exchange for an illegal abortion or as many women do, travel to the UK for an abortion. As many as 10 women a day travel to the UK for an abortion and this doesn’t even reflect on how many woman may wish for an abortion, but due to financial circumstances, are unable. This law treats women like second class citizens in their own country and makes women nationwide, feel like mere vessels for life. And nothing else. You aren’t your own woman or wife or daughter. No, you are a womb and a vessel for childbearing.
Anyone who knows me well, knows I have never wanted to have children. This was a decision that came early to me in my life. I have known since I was 13 that motherhood simply wasn’t for me. This doesn’t mean I dislike children or would ever treat them badly, I simply don’t want my own. I believe most of my family would attest to the fact that I’m a good, loving person and a great aunt to my 13 nieces and nephews. Luckily I am in a loving and stable relationship with a man who also does not wish to have children. I may be saying this in a matter of fact way, but it was not a decision we took lightly.
In fact, at the ages of 17 and 18 respectively, we sat down and had a serious conversation about children and our desires to not have children. We both knew this would be a deciding factor in continuing our relationship. Almost 13 years later and we still have this conversation and our views haven’t changed with age and the desire to bear children is no stronger.
But what do people think of our decision?
Well, unfortunately, in general they are dismissive. I have lost count of how many times I have being told, ‘That’ll change when you’re older’, ‘You’ll get broody when you reach 30’, ‘Sure, how can you know that?’ or simply ‘Oh, don’t say that. That’s awful’. Yes, my decision to not have children is somehow awful for other people. And of course, I forgot the classic: ‘Who’s going to look after you when you’re older’.
Now, as a nurse, I see more and more how people can’t afford the time or money to look after their elderly parents and they often end up alone, in a shelter or nursing home and with rare visits from children. Obviously this is not always the case but I see having children just to look after me when I’m older as a completely selfish reason to have children. S o this is where being deemed ‘a vessel’ comes into play.
In my job as a nurse, and as a private patient, I have spoken to a number of gynaecological doctors about the possibility of tubal ligation. Tubal ligation is a surgical procedure that ‘ties’ the woman’s Fallopian tubes, thus preventing eggs from reaching the uterus for insemination. I have being taking oral contraceptives for approximately 13 years and besides not liking the side effects they cause, would like to stop taking them due to possible risks such as blood clotting and stroke.
I have asked for tubal ligation. I was told no. Not maybe or we need to talk about it. I was told no. I was even told ‘That’s not your decision’. It’s my body but somehow not my decision. I was told that because I was under 35 and have not had any children, they would not carry out the procedure. When I argued that I knew of many childless men under the age of 30 that had received a vasectomy, I was told, ‘Ah sure that’s men. You’re a woman and it’s different’. Unfortunately I am not alone in this. One friend of mine, on requesting the same procedure was told ‘But what if you meet a man that wants children?’. This is like saying, I don’t care what your opinion on this is because there is a possibility a man MIGHT want to impregnate you in the future.
This is why the Eight Amendment needs to be repealed. So that women like me can feel like we are being treated as something other than a carrier for a child. Not a body but a vessel. We need it so that women who become pregnant can choose what they wish to do with their own bodies. We need it so that women can choose their own life paths and not let someone in the government decide they aren’t important enough to choose this for themselves. We need it so that we can teach the next generation of women that we are just as important as anyone else in this world and that we are not the second class citizens our government seems to think we are. We need it to improve women’s health, both physical and mental. We need it so that women can have access to safe abortions without having to travel out of their country and without family or psychological help. Simply put, we need to repeal the Eight Amendment of the Irish Constitution.
Chat soon, Mar x