Since the introduction of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, pregnant people have been denied reproductive autonomy in Ireland. Despite sustained pressure on the state to abandon this edifice of inequality, successive governments have resisted change.
Now the majority of people in Ireland, North and South, favour the abandonment of the Eighth Amendment and the provision of free, safe and legal abortion access for all those residing in Ireland, north and south.
Because of the groundswell of pro-choice activism over the past few years, the state has been forced to concede, and Leo Varadkar has announced that there will be a referendum on the question of the Eighth Amendment some time in 2018. This is a victory for pro-choice activists, demonstrative of our collaborative strength and ability to drive change.
However, now is not the time for complacency. In order to get the best deal for all pregnant people, we must press for equal access to abortion, regardless of circumstances. The state must make provision for an abortion service that is accessible to all. Anything less than free, safe and legal abortion would only continue discrimination against the most oppressed members of Irish society.
Historically, the state has demonstrated a clear resolve to maintain economic barriers to abortion access. Although travelling to access is an option, travel is only available to those who have the means to do so.
Over the past decade, the number of people in Ireland in low-paid and insecure jobs has escalated. The rise of precarious labour and unemployment has made instability a perpetual presence in the lives of an increasing number of people in Ireland. For many people in low-paid jobs, the cost of travelling abroad to access abortion is simply too much to afford. Doubly, for those unemployed the prospect of accessing abortion abroad is too heavy an economic burden.
Many in these circumstances who want to access termination take safe, but criminalised, pills. However, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act means that those who take these pills are at risk of a fourteen-year prison sentence. Here, the state has demonstrated its clear resolve to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are unable to exercise reproductive choice. Those who can go abroad, can. Those who can’t are forced to run the very real risk of a prison sentence.
Now that the majority of people agree that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed, there are many competing visions of what a potential future abortion service in Ireland should look like. We want to ensure that working-class, unemployed and migrant pregnant people can access the best deal. In order to fully break with the current inequality of abortion access in Ireland, which is engendered by the callous nature of free-market capitalism, we need to abolish the Eighth Amendment.
In addition to this, we must ensure that what follows is the provision of a service that is equalised. First and foremost, abortion access must be free and equally accessible to all, regardless of their personal situation.
Abortion is a personal choice. We believe in the ability of individuals to make their own reproductive choices. Only following the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the provision of free abortion access can all people in Ireland exercise their autonomy and make those choices for themselves.