Misogyny of the Eighth Amendment is still alive in Ireland

“You could mansplain in person, perhaps. Tip around to everyone’s house and have a chat,” Kate O’Connell quipped to Peadar Tóibín during the third and final day of the Select Committee on Health deliberation on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill. The Fine Gael TD had effectively summed up the tone of the amendments brought forward by ten anti-abortion TDs. With the committee stage over the Bill now heads to the report stage and we are one step closer to abortion being more widely available in Ireland.

Of the 180 amendments tabled, both pro-choice and anti-abortion, only one was accepted. This was expected, but for anti-abortion TDs the point wasn’t to get their amendments passed. It was to spend their speaking time rehashing issues that the electorate rejected by voting in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment on May 25th.

In her book The Moral Case for Abortion, Ann Furedi the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) wrote:

“Our ability to make moral judgements, decisions and choices is a precondition of human development in a free society. To deny that women have the capacity to make reproductive choices denies their moral agency; it denies their humanity.”

Allowing pregnant people to make the choices that are right for them was at the heart of the grassroots pro-choice campaign prior to the referendum on the Eighth Amendment and continues to be the rallying cry now.

The anti-abortion campaign sought to deny people that choice based on their collective moral judgement regardless of the feelings of individual pregnant people. As the legislation progresses it is clear that anti-abortion groups and TDs continue to think their moral judgement and sincerely held beliefs give them the right to dictate the care given to all pregnant people.

The ten TDs; Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy-Rae, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath, Carol Nolan, and Peadar Tóibín, who recently resigned from Sinn Féin, hit every note in the American anti-abortion groups playbook. Faux concern that can only be rectified by rolling back access to abortion.

Repeal from abroad Eighth Amendment -

Danny Healy-Rae denied on local radio that he was trying to criminalise women, despite the fact that the amendment in question explicitly states that a person who doesn’t dispose of foetal remains in the required manner shall be “guilty of an offence” and “shall be liable on summary conviction to a class A fine.”

Carol Nolan insisted that she wished to provide women who seek abortions the choice to receive additional information, including about alternative options to abortion, so that consent can be informed. The amendment states that informed consent can be obtained “if and only if” the woman is given this information. There is no choice.

Not for the first time, Mattie McGrath spoke of “botched abortions”, a deliberately misleading interpretation of some people’s experiences following a termination for medical reasons.

Calls were made for doctors and medical professionals who conscientiously object to providing abortion care to their patients to not be obliged to refer pregnant people on to someone who will. Peadar Tóibín spoke about conscientious objection extending to cleaners who would ordinarily work in operating theatres following surgeries. In an attempt to point out the absurdity of it all, Ruth Coppinger asked whether it should apply to the hospital cooks as well.

Non-referral goes against current Medical Council guidelines on conscientious objection. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) even in cases where doctors agree to refer pregnant people on, conscientious objection is still a significant barrier to timely access. This has proved the case in Italy, where abortion is legal but difficult to obtain. The same can be said of the mandatory three-day waiting period.

Peadar Tóibín and Carol Nolan took exception to their amendments being described as misogynistic. But what are clauses intent on controlling women and their bodies if not misogynistic? It is anti-women to insist that you know what is best for a woman while she is pregnant. It is anti-women to want to enshrine those beliefs in law. Politicians may not be deliberately misogynistic, but the thing about misogyny is that it is everywhere, it can be internalised and it is the outcome of their actions and words whether they accept it or not.

Peadar Toibin Eighth Amendment |
Peadar Tóibín

What these amendments have in common, apart from the paternalism at their core, is how they were presented. Carefully framed in a way that meant anti-abortion TDs could ask how anyone could oppose their perfectly reasonable requests. Headline grabbing, but even a cursory glance shows them to be anything but reasonable.

From the moment the overwhelming Yes vote was clear, focus shifted to anti-abortion amendments and ways to prevent women receiving the reproductive healthcare this legislation will afford them. While anti-abortion measures have been pushed in various US states over a number of years, we have been given them all at once. Years of finessing the wording and messaging to spin themselves as pro-woman while supporting actions that are the exact opposite. That the 66.4% who voted Yes saw through this spin hasn’t deterred them.

In Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, Katha Pollitt wrote:

“We need to see abortion as an urgent practical decision that is just as moral as the decision to have a child – indeed, sometimes more moral.”

Placing women and those who can become pregnant at the centre of discussions about abortion, the medical care they receive and the legislation governing their bodily autonomy is essential if we are to be truly pro-choice. Because there is always a reason someone chooses to have an abortion and every reason is valid.

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