May 22, 2018 | 5 minutes read

Repealing the 8th Amendment – The battle for bodily autonomy

Repealing the 8th Amendment – The battle for bodily autonomy

Content Warning – Abuse, rape, trauma, misogyny

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” ⁃ The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution

This weekend, Ireland faces a prospective change; a chance to give its citizens bodily autonomy by repealing the eighth amendment. Under capitalist affirmation of patriarchy, women*[i] are relegated to the role of reproducers of labour-power, daily and generationally, as such, it is necessary for them to maintain control over the bodily autonomy of women*.[ii] The campaign to repeal the 8th has been a long road,  starting in 1983 when the amendment added into the constitution. Almost 30 years later in 2012, Savita Halappanavar died of a septic miscarriage at University Hospital Galway after it was deemed that her life wasn’t in danger and she was denied an abortion. Savita certainly wasn’t the first or last to suffer under the 8th ammendment, and six years of work from the #repealthe8th movement have given Ireland a much needed referendum on the 25th May 2018.

Around twelve women* travel abroad from Ireland each day to access abortion services; over 18,000 have travelled to the UK in the past four years alone for an abortion. These numbers don’t account for those travelling to other countries, giving fake addresses or (illegally) taking abortion pills in Ireland. The women* of Ireland are forced to travel to a foreign place, often flying there and back in the same day, to access healthcare that British women* have easily available to them. The trauma of the procedure, the effects it has on a person’s body, are all amplified by the fact that Irish women* have to fly home afterwards in great discomfort, knowing that their country has been silencing them.

“While 12 women travel daily to a foreign land scared and alone, Remember we also have five women a day taking abortion pills at home”[iii]

For the 12 women* a day who scrape together for flights and fees to travel abroad for an abortion, there are also those for whom this is inaccessible. The women* who can’t afford it, the scared teens from abusive homes who can’t admit to it, the women* attempting to buy abortion pills off the black market – an offence which carries a 14 year sentence, the price of attempted equality. Police raids looking for illegal abortion pills may sound like dystopian fiction, however, this was the reality in Ireland as early as last year. Women* buying abortion pills to induce miscarriage, all the while terrified of being reported to the authorities and facing a prison sentence and a forced pregnancy; raids on anti-choice charities accused of hiding abortion pills.

The 8th amendment’s hold over the women* of Ireland is coming to an end. The Repeal the 8th movement advocates for the continued dismantling of men dictating what women* can do with their own bodies; it requires the separation of Church and State. Savita begged on her deathbed to be given an abortion, and was told “this is a catholic country”. The laws of Ireland have resulted in the deaths of women*, in bodies that have been seen by the Catholic Church and the ruling patriarchy as their possessions. For too long, the life of a woman has been classed as lower than a foetus – a full grown woman with a life, with a job, with a family – worthless, compared to the potential of an undeveloped cluster of cells. The Save the 8th – Love Both campaign, in this sense, contradicts itself with every rally and canvass. How can a woman be loved equally to a potential baby when she has no say in her own body, when Irish law dictates that if one of the other has to be saved, it will not be the mother? How can both be loved when women* are forced to bring unwanted children into the world – whether they were survivors of rape, whether they will be born into an abusive household, whether they will be born into poverty with a mother desperately fighting to feed them, knowing from the beginning that she could not afford this, she could not provide for an extra mouth, and yet she was forced to. To love both is to allow women* the choice in what their bodies should go through, to allow them to decide whether they are ready for a child, whether they can care for it.

“In the nine month occupation that is a pregnancy, the embryo has no agency, of course, and no intention to harm. But an absence of intention does not confer any rights. Just because someone does not mean to use you does not give them the right to use you. Does it?”[iv]

With or without the 8th amendment in place, abortions still happen within Ireland and to Irish women*. Whether travelling abroad, accessing dangerous back street abortions or obtaining pills, abortions happen every single day to Irish women*. To keep the 8th amendment will not stop this – it will simply mean that Irish women* continue to put themselves at risk to access abortion. Does that sound like loving both?

To remain complacent on this matter is to choose the side of the oppressor – a non vote is a vote for no! A man choosing not to vote because “this is a woman’s issue” should check his privilege. After a history of men taking control over women*’s bodies and rights, now is the time for them to step up and dismantle this.

“‘We are not witches but if the church and state insists Then let us be the descendants of all the witches they could not drown’ ‘A body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body is a body Not a house. Not a city. Not a vessel, not a country The laws of the church have no place on your flesh A veterinarian will abort a calf if a cow is falling ill. How is it that livestock is worth more to this land than ya? Eleven women every day leave Ireland seeking an abortion abroad. We ask for the land over the water. Home over trial. Choice over none. For our foremothers, ourselves, the generations yet to come Witches or women – these are our bodies which shall not be given up’”[v]

We recognise that repealing the 8th Amendment will not grant women* equal status to men. It is just one battle to alleviate the oppressed, one battle which we win so that we are no longer treated as the less-than-human reproducers of labour. This will be a blow to capitalism, a blow to the British rule of the occupied six counties in the north of Ireland, where, as a result of continued separation of the six counties, women* are still unable to have abortions. Repealing the 8th will be a victory for the oppressed, and should be a battle-cry for the left.

[i] We recognise that this is an issue which effects not only women, but also trans men and other pregnant people, as such we use this asterix to include all pregnant people’s right to bodily autonomy

[ii] Vogel, Lise, Marxism and the Oppression of Women (1983) pg. 152

[iii] Jade Farrelly

[iv] Anne Enright, “The Question of Consent” in Repeal the 8th, Una Mullally (ed.)

[v] “We Face This Land” by Sarah Maria Griffin