Source: Medium, 13th Dec. 2017
Dear friends, colleagues and fellow citizens,
In 1983, aged 21, I voted against the Eight Amendment to the Constitution designed to ban abortion in Ireland. At the time, a crisis pregnancy was a very real possibility for me. Access to contraception in Cork was a real challenge. Modern methods like the morning after pill weren’t available. Getting condoms or the pill from the clinic on Tuckey Street was marked by the fear of being turned away or even worse the dread of being seen.
I was fortunate. My many scares didn’t result in a pregnancy. I still remember the relief when my late period arrived. With no job and few prospects, I was not economically and certainly not psychologically ready for motherhood. Friends and acquaintances in the same situation weren’t so lucky. Some took a difficult decision and faced the lonely journey to London. Some went with their boyfriends. Others travelled alone coming home to families that didn’t know or wouldn’t understand.
When I emigrated to London, my friends and I joined the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group — a group set up to support Irish women who travelled to the UK for an abortion. We took reversed phone calls from women calling from pay phones in rural Ireland. We met women at train stations. Sometimes it was their first time out of Ireland. We were a friendly face and a familiar accent for women in a big and strange city, making a tough choice. At the time most people in Ireland didn’t realise what a crisis pregnancy meant for women.
Now 55, the fear of a crisis pregnancy no longer looms large in my life. In the 34 years that have passed since the 8th Amendment was approved the situation hasn’t got much better — women still aren’t getting the support they need for the choices they make. Contraception still isn’t freely available. Sex education in schools is being curtailed by religious ethos. We still turn a blind eye to the estimated 4,000 women who travel for an abortion each year. We make criminals of the women who buy abortion pills online. We put their health at risk by denying them access to the medical supervision they need. We threaten doctors and others with 14 years in prison if they dare to help.
Ignoring or avoiding the issue doesn’t make crisis pregnancies go away. I would be so proud to see us finally face up to the full realities of crisis pregnancies for all our daughters. Let’s give them the power, privacy and proper healthcare they need. This includes good sex education, free contraception and access to safe, legal abortion in Ireland.
I’m encouraged that today the Oireachtas Committee on the Eight Amendment has echoed the calls of the Citizens’ Assembly and the thousands of us who marched for repeal in September. The Taoiseach has promised us that the referendum would take place next May. Collectively we must now have the courage to have thoughtful reflections about this public issue that is ultimately a very private matter.
After compassionate consideration over the coming months, I hope that you will join with me and vote for a repeal of the Eight Amendment to the Constitution. We must give the Oireachtas the mandate to legislate for change. The time has come.
Senator Colette Kelleher