Today, Ireland will head to the polls and decide whether or not to repeal the country’s 8th Amendment, an old-world law which prohibits women from seeking abortions in virtually any scenario. Should the “Yes” vote succeed, the 35-year old rule will be overturned, yet as recent polls have shown, that kind of success is far from guaranteed in a country where the Catholic Church still has massive influence. All in all, the situation is a baffling highlight of the unsteady march towards progress and equal rights in societies across the world.
For decades, Irish women have been traveling to England seeking safe abortions. Lonely, expensive, and intimidating, the reality is if you’re wealthy, there will always be an alternative. If you’re young and poor, with an inflexible job, paying for an expensive medical procedure and taking the time off from work to recover just isn’t an option.
Just as dismal in the United States was news of the Trump administration proposing to restrict conversations, that is, medical advice, related to abortion at federally funded clinics. Under the proposed rule, clinics receiving Title X funding, a 1970’s program for family planning help, would be prohibited to “encourage, promote or advocate abortion as a method of family planning.” Trump’s so-called “domestic gag rule” would actually expand a 1980s-era policy, enacted by President Regan. The “global gag rule” restricts federal aid from going to any overseas medical organizations should they provide abortion services, or even counseling. The rule, also know as the “Mexico City Policy” was reinstated by President Trump in his first week in office, but the “domestic gag rule” has long been a wet-dream for staunch anti-reproductive rights organizations. For Planned Parenthood, the new rule would effectively cut off federal funding to the woman’s health group, which provides medical support to nearly half of the 4 million women seeking care under the federal program.
In debates over abortion on both sides of the pond, the well-being of the women having these unborn babies is, laughably, the last question to be raised. As Ireland and the U.S. reckon with laws and lawmakers that conjure up an old world of servitude and female domination, Sally Rooney in the London Review of Books, this week, puts the actual issue at hand into stark perspective:
If the foetus is a person, it is a person with a vastly expanded set of legal rights, rights available to no other class of citizen: the foetus may make free, non-consensual use of another living person’s uterus and blood supply, and cause permanent, unwanted changes to another person’s body. In the relationship between foetus and woman, the woman is granted fewer rights than a corpse. But it’s possible that the ban on abortion has less to do with the rights of the unborn child than with the threat to social order represented by women in control of their reproductive lives.
As we speak, Irish emigrants across the world have traveled home to ensure that women’s rights in that country may finally rise from the dead. In the U.S., the 2018 midterms can’t come quickly enough.