What I Want From the #RepealReview: A full-throated defence of abortion rights

Paula Dennan, ARC co-convener, is wearing a blue REPEAL necklace and has multiple Repeal the 8th themed badges pinned to her navy jacket.

Paula Dennan is a founding member of Kerry for Choice and the current co-convener of the Abortion Rights Campaign. 

What do I want from the #RepealReview? The same thing I, and thousands of people, spent the years before the referendum shouting for at protest marches; free, safe, legal, local, and accessible abortions for everyone who wants or needs them when they need them. 

But isn’t that what we have now, I can hear some of you ask? Anti-abortion politicians, campaigners and commentators would have you believe we do. Anyone paying attention to abortion access in Ireland will rightfully disagree with this assessment. 

Figures show that more than 13,000 people had an abortion in Ireland between 2019 and 2020; the figures for 2021 are not available yet. There are still too many barriers to accessing abortion care. We know that people continue to travel for abortions because our legislation has failed them. The figures for people giving an Irish address while having an abortion in England or Wales during 2019 and 2020 (again, the statistics for 2021 are not available yet) are 375 and 194, respectively. These figures do not account for people who didn’t give their Irish address or travelled to different countries.

In Kerry, where I campaigned with Kerry for Choice, most people can now have their abortion here at home. Before the referendum, at least one pregnant person left Kerry every week to have an abortion abroad. The figures show that less than ten people travelled from Kerry to England or Wales for an abortion in 2019 and 2020

By home, I mean Ireland but not necessarily Kerry. University Hospital Kerry is one of the maternity units that does not provide a complete range of abortion services, so people who need an abortion between 9-12 weeks have to travel outside of the county for care

Leaving the county might not sound like a huge deal, but if you are reliant on public transport, it is almost impossible to organise in a way that does not take up your entire day. Before the Government introduced telemedicine during the pandemic, people needed to make this journey twice in three days thanks to the medically unnecessary mandatory waiting period.

The HSE confirmed that four more hospitals would offer abortions up to 12 weeks before the end of the year, but it is not clear whether UHK is one of them. Combined with only 10% of GPs in Ireland being abortion providers, we have a two-tier system based on a geographical lottery. 

Progress is happening, but it is slow. 

If you wonder why people are pushing for better abortion access when you thought we sorted it in 2018, this is why. We did not sort everything in 2018, and the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act desperately needs improvement. 

The review provides the opportunity to fix the barriers to care and issues within the legislation that pro-choice campaigners warned about from the beginning. Yet the process is framed as a review of the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, and changes to the policy underpinning its operation are not a guaranteed outcome, although they are needed. 

In May 2018, Ireland made international headlines for overturning our abortion ban. As we witness the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., a ruling that, despite being an ocean away, played a significant role in the introduction of the Eighth Amendment in 1983, I want Ireland to make international news once again; this time for a full-throated defence of abortion rights. I want the legislative review to result in the complete decriminalisation of abortion and the expansion of abortion services to remove all barriers for people who need abortions. 

Until this happens, I will continue to shout at protests alongside people who believe that abortion must be available on-demand, without apology and free from shame or stigma

‘Roe is the floor, not the ceiling’ has become a rallying cry in the U.S. It is a reminder that Repealing the Eighth Amendment was only ever the beginning. Attacks on our hard-won reproductive rights must not be allowed to gain any more traction than they already have.