Ireland overturned the Eighth Amendment of its constitution May 25, effectively ending one of the world’s most restrictive bans on abortion and allowing room for more progressive laws to emerge in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the United States seems to be moving backwards. The Supreme Court this week refused to hear a case against Arkansas, which bans medication abortion — paving the way for the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.
But in Ireland, about 66 percent of citizens supported overturning the ban, including the thousands who traveled home from abroad since absentee ballots were not accepted. The activity surrounding Ireland’s vote and the decision that ultimately sprang forth shows that it is possible for a country to mobilize in favor of women’s reproductive rights.
At a time when the United States appears to be regressing while other countries are progressing, U.S. citizens need to consider the role abortion plays in women’s health, safety and autonomy, and advocate for what is truly best for women.
Reasons for abortion ranges from person to person — some women do not feel they are prepared to carry a child to term, or fear it will interfere with the lives they are building. A 2005 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the main reasons women cited for ending pregnancies included inability to financially support a child and interference with the woman’s education, work or ability to care for those who depend on them.
Abortions are also necessary for women’s mental health and safety. About 1 percent of all abortions are sought by women who were raped and less than 0.5 percent by women who seek to terminate pregnancies as a result of incest, according to the Guttmacher Institute. While that may sound low, the numbers are still in the thousands — and it is not uncommon for mothers to neglect or abuse children born of rape and for these children to develop mental health issues as a result. Abortion services can prevent women who have been assaulted from continuing to have to live through their trauma and forcing them to have a child they resent.
Some people encourage stricter use of birth control to prevent abortions, but abortion already exists as a last resort for most women. Fifty-four percent of women who received abortions in 2000 said they were using a contraceptive measure in the month they became pregnant and at an average price of up to $800 per medication abortion, the procedure is too costly to even consider as a primary method of birth control.
Those who argue that women could just wait and then give the baby up for adoption when it is born do not take into account the physical and mental toll that carrying a child for nine months requires, including decreased lung capacity, lower back pain and postpartum depression. Pregnancy also requires financial investment — if you don’t have health insurance, the average cost of prenatal care is about $2,000. Natural birth alone can cost $9,600, if it’s uncomplicated.
Women who have no access to abortion are likely to turn to unsafe methods that damage their health. A 2015 Women’s Health policy report estimated that about 100,000 Texan women in the state’s 18-49 age range at the time had attempted a self-induced abortion at some point in their lives. This information came two years after Texas passed a law prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks and the number of abortion care facilities in Texas subsequently dropped from 42 to 19.
Stricter abortion laws lead to more unsafe abortions. In Uganda, where abortion is only permitted to save the life of the mother in certain circumstances, thousands of women attempt to induce abortions themselves. About 93,300 women were treated for complications from unsafe abortions there in 2013, and a 2010 report by the Ugandan Ministry of Health estimated that 8 percent of maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortion methods.
Reasons for abortion are personal and the United States’ increasingly strict laws show no respect for women’s sexual freedom. Women have no control over American men’s reproductive rights but men can easily make decisions about women’s bodies. The all-male Freedom Caucus panel in 2017, where men discussed rollbacks on women’s healthcare and maternity services, is a primary example of this.
But the vote in Ireland should give people hope and encourage action for the future of the United States. In repealing its Eighth Amendment, which gave an unborn fetus the same right to life as its mother, Ireland removed a law that prohibited abortion in most or all circumstances.
Abortion shouldn’t be a dirty word. American women who take advantage of access to safe abortions are making a decision that allows them to live a full, healthy life and the country they live in should respect and value that.
Denying American women widespread reproductive rights creates scores of pregnant women who are unprepared and unwilling to undergo a pregnancy — which will only lead to unsafe methods that are potentially fatal, not only for the embryo, but for the mother as well.