St. Patrick's Day is once again upon us. While St. Patrick's Day is only an official holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador, many people across Canada will be celebrating St. Patrick's in the upcoming days. Canada stands in a significant Irish tradition, as roughly 4.5 million Canadians claim Irish heritage. While this Irish heritage is rightly a source of pride for many Canadians, many of the St. Patrick's Day revellers may not know about the archaic nature of Ireland's law.
Women throughout Ireland are denied access to safe, free, and legal abortions, as abortion is illegal and criminalized throughout the island of Ireland. This includes Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom.
Firstly the hypocrisy of this scenario must be pointed out. Abortion was legalized throughout the rest of the United Kingdom in 1967, however the act that established legal abortion in Great Britain was never extended to Northern Ireland to fall in line with England, Scotland and Wales. This leaves Northern Ireland in a position where abortions are only permitted under the law in cases where the life of the mother is endangered. Abortion is still illegal even in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities. This means women in Ireland have been forced to carry babies to term that they know will not survive after birth.
Abortion law is comparable in the Republic of Ireland as well, which only legally allows abortions when the life of the mother is at risk. This is set out in the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution, which equates the life of the mother as equal to the life of an unborn child. If you are found guilty of having an illegal abortion in Ireland it is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
In both jurisdictions procuring pills online that induce abortion are also criminal, and cases of illegal abortion are actively prosecuted. The current state of the law in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland effectively refuses women and girls one of their most basic human rights, which is to have autonomy over their own bodies. Women in Ireland have died because of a lack of access to legal abortions except in the most extreme circumstances, and will continue to do so until there is a change in the law.
Until Ireland's archaic abortion laws are changed both North and South, women in Ireland will continue to be denied their fundamental human rights.
Many people within Ireland and around the world, including in Canada, are campaigning for a change to abortion laws in both the North and the South. These campaigns often share harrowing statistics, such as the fact 10-12 women per day travel from Ireland to England to obtain abortions. This is a phenomenon that deeply divides Irish women along the margin on class. Women who can afford to travel to England to obtain abortions are able to do so legally. This is in contrast to women who cannot afford to travel, who are consequently forced to either carry their babies to term or obtain illegal abortion pills, for which they risk prosecution. Therefore the lack of free, safe and legal abortions unduly burdens and criminalizes poor women.
The crux of the campaign to change abortion laws in Ireland is that politicians need to trust women. All women have different reasons for pursing abortions, but politicians must trust that women are making the right decision based on their own deeply personal circumstances. While Irish-Canadians should proudly celebrate their Irish heritage this St. Patrick's Day, we should also be outraged what's going on in Ireland right now. As the law currently stands women and girls are losing the right to bodily autonomy upon becoming pregnant.
Until Ireland's archaic abortion laws are changed both North and South, women in Ireland will continue to be denied their fundamental human rights. Therefore as you pour a pint this St. Patrick's Day, take a moment to recognize that while you are celebrating a great Irish tradition, there is also an injustice in Irish society which must be addressed.
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