The 8th Amendment is dangerous and oppressive – Ó Ríordáin

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
17 January 2018

I am an Irishman.

Son of a woman forced to leave the Civil Service when she got married.

Grandson to women who were born with no right to vote.

Brother to a woman born the year the 8th amendment passed – when as Emily O’Reilly put it – ‘The Masterminds of the Right’ got their way. And the year Sheila Hodgers died, denied cancer treatment because she was pregnant.

I am an Irishman.

I live in a city dotted with physical reminders of Magdalene laundries, in a country with deep secrets of baby plots, mother and baby homes and sexual abuse and violence. Where older women bare the mental and physical scars of ‘churching’ and symphysiotomy.

I am an Irishman.

Television images of my childhood were of violence, emigration, unemployment and occasionally of women who shouldn’t be believed. It wasn’t that simple in the land of the whispering corners – it was really Joanna Hayes’ fault; it was really Anne Lovett’s fault; it was really Annie Murphy’s fault; the girl in the x case – it was really her fault. And the law was there to prove it.

I am an Irishman.

I sit in a parliament still overwhelming male, led by a government which is overwhelmingly male, reported on by a media which is overwhelming male, who say there are two extremes to this debate on the 8th Amendment.

There are not two extremes to this debate. There is only one. The extreme that demands of all women, in every circumstance, always, to be forced to take a certain course of action. The other side – my side – does not demand that of any woman.

I sit in a parliament dominated by parties who speak of republicanism, who glorify post-colonial victimhood, but who cannot genuinely appreciate that we have perpetuated this injustice to ourselves, by ourselves alone, in contradiction of the human rights norm of every western democracy.

I am an Irishman.

I will never be told by any doctor, any nurse, any medical professional that protecting my life or my health is ‘constitutionally complex’ or ‘legally uncertain’. I will never have to employ legal representation from a hospital bed. No-one will ever equate my life or health to something unborn. Because I am an Irishman.

I am an Irishman.

So I know that fundamentally this debate centres on a distrust of women.

But I can’t fathom the intense loneliness and abandonment thousands of women have felt over the years as they wait at airport departure gates, or at ferry terminals, to travel abroad to terminate their pregnancies. And many have remained silent, because of the whispering corners.

I am an Irishman.

So I struggle to imagine the anguish and torture in a young woman’s mind as she handles an abortion pill she ordered online, as she sits alone in her room, consumed with the reality that she can’t tell anyone – not a friend, a doctor, even a soul mate.

Those woman are Ireland. As much as our music, our sport and our dance. They are to be trusted. To be empowered. Their constitution must protect them in every single way, as much as it protects Irishmen.

I am an Irishman.

And recent years I’ve heard the names haunt the corridors of this building. Savita Halappanavar. Louise O’Keefe, Mairia Cahill, Miss A, Miss B, Miss C, Miss D, Miss Y, Amanda Mellet, Siobhan Whelan.

I am an Irishman.

And yes, there is much to be ashamed of, and much to be proud of. Because I did not always subscribe to this point of view. It has been inspirational women in my life and in my party – the Labour Party – who have helped to bring me to this compassionate position. And they have reminded me that there were always voices who would not be silenced. From Evelyn Owens to Mairin de Burca, Mary Robinson to Ivana Bacik, women who stood for and stand for a different Ireland.

I am an Irishman.

And I stand in awe of mná who will not be silenced anymore. They speak through The National Women’s Council, Terminations for Medical Reasons, Amnesty International, through Repeal groups in every corner of this country. Also individuals who place themselves at the centre of a whirlwind of abuse like Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle – because they are not going to take it anymore. And the women who contact politicians like me in confidence about their stories.

I am an Irishman.

I want a constitution that liberates not imprisons. A society that inspires compassion, not blame. A state that lives to up to the Republican gospel of the Proclamation that spoke to Irishmen and Irishwomen.

And puts to rest finally this dangerous and oppressive amendment.

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