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What a Country With (Almost) No Legal Access to Abortion Looks Like


Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence stated at an anti-abortion luncheon that legal abortion would end in the United States “in our time”. Since January 2011, state politicians have imposed 401 new restrictions on abortion access —restrictions which force women to delay abortions, make abortions more financially and logistically difficult to obtain, and perpetuate feelings of shame surrounding abortion. The Trump administration has declared itself to be staunchly pro-life, meaning that the future of safe and legal access to abortion in the United States looks grim, to put it lightly. Pence’s comments might leave you wondering: what does a country without legal access to abortion look like? The answer might surprise you.


Ireland ranks seventh on the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Index (just for reference, the United States ranks at #49), has progressive laws concerning transgender rights, and was the first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2015. It’s a member of the European Union and has, for all intents and purposes, a comparatively good track record concerning women’s rights, especially in the past two decades.


Despite all of this, Ireland’s abortion laws are abysmal. The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution “equates the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus”. In fact, all cases of abortion are criminalized unless it is likely that the mother will die as a result of the pregnancy. So what does this mean for Irish women? And what could a similar end to abortion access mean for American women?


1. Women who are victims of rape and incest may not legally procure an abortion.

The 2013 statistics from Rape Crisis Centres show that 197 of the women and girls who utilized their centers were pregnant as a result of rape. Of these 197, 25% went on to procure abortions—meaning that they either had to travel outside of Ireland, exorbitantly increasing the financial burden of abortion, or they had to take the risk of procuring an illegal abortion in Ireland. In 1992, the Irish High Court actually prevented a 14 year old rape victim who was in danger of suicide from travelling abroad to procure an abortion. In the United States, it is estimated that anywhere between 3,200 and 50,000 rape-related pregnancies occur each year, according to statistics from 2015. According to the same statistics, 50% of American women who discovered they were pregnant as a result of rape decided to terminate the pregnancy. If our laws were like Ireland’s, that means that anywhere from 1,600 to 25,000 women who wished to terminate rape-related pregnancies would be legally unable to.


2. Women whose fetuses would not survive outside the womb may not legally procure an abortion.

Irish abortion law forces women to carry fetuses which would have little to no chance of survival outside of the womb to full term. In 2014, 140 women travelled outside of Ireland to procure an abortion due to congenital conditions. It’s estimated that some 6% of abortions that take place in the United States are carried out because of the diagnosis of birth defects in the fetus.


3. At least 150,000 women have had to travel outside of Ireland to procure an abortion since 1980.

This speaks for itself. In 2014, an estimated 10 women  A DAY travelled out of Ireland to get an abortion. In 2016, 3,265 women travelled to the UK to procure an abortion. There aren’t any numbers regarding how many women travelled to other European countries or those who managed to obtain abortion pills in Ireland, but it’s safe to assume that women have had to resort to these measures as well. However, it is known that Irish Customs seized 1017 abortion pills in 2014. In the United States, some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor or low-income. The cost of an abortion in the United States is burden enough, due to the Hyde Amendment, but adding the cost of international travel to the cost of an abortion would exorbitantly increase the financial burden upon abortion patients. In many cases, it would be impossible for many women seeking abortions to receive the care they need.


4. Women have died in Ireland due to their inability to legally procure abortions.

In October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, died of blood poisoning in an Irish hospital after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week long pregnancy. Another woman died on her flight home from the UK, where she had undergone a termination of her pregnancy. Restriction of abortion rights has historically led to ‘backstreet abortions’ in Ireland, which are incredibly unsafe. Danger to women’s lives due to a lack of medical care is a universal truth.


5. People who procure abortions illegally can face up to 14 years in jail.

Doctors who perform illegal abortions may also face jail time, and people who aid in the procuring of abortions can also face criminal charges.


6. Only imminent or substantial risk to the life of the pregnant woman allows her access to legal abortion.

Under The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013, women who may die as a result of their pregnancy can legally procure an abortion in Ireland. Risk of suicide is considered to be grounds for an abortion, but women seeking abortions due to risk of suicide must submit assessments by up to 6 doctors to get an abortion.


So this is what reality is like for pregnant Irish women who wish to terminate their pregnancies. Luckily, after decades of fighting for abortion rights, Ireland will hold a referendum this year to decide, by popular vote, the status of the Eighth Amendment.


The opposite trend is occuring in the United States, where we see our abortion rights continuously being chipped away. Where Ireland progresses, the United States regresses. Mike Pence’s recent comments are extremely troubling, especially when considered in comparison with current Irish abortion laws. As our abortion rights in the United States increasingly come under fire, it’s important to look at how abortion rights are challenged internationally in order to better understand the obstacles we currently face, and those that we may face in the future. Let’s make sure that Pence is wrong, and let’s make sure that future American abortion laws never look like Irish abortion laws do today.


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Carolyn is a student of History and French with a passion for social justice, learning, art, and music. She's a member of the Voices for Planned Parenthood, the Phi Alpha Theta honor society and the Phi Eta Sigma honor society. She plans on studying abroad in Dublin in the spring and backpacking around Europe all summer. Carolyn can almost always be found somewhere in Milne Library with a big cup of tea and a large stack of books.
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