Why I’m Marching: The Fight Continues

In anticipation of the March for Choice on September 28th, we are inviting our supporters to share what this year’s march means to them as part of our ‘Why I’m Marching’ blog series. If you would like to contribute, please email us your written submissions (up to 700 words) or video blogs (up to 1 min, incl. captions) to [email protected]. Feel free to include a short bio and picture of yourself. #ARCMarch19 #NoOneLeftBehind

Today’s blog comes from Steph Hanlon (she/her). Steph is an activist with Carlow Choice and Equality Network. She is a feminist and disability rights campaigner who has been fighting for abortion access in Ireland since 2014. Steph lecturers in Social, Political and Community Studies in Carlow. Her research interests are in human rights, social policy, immigration and gender.

Abortion Rights in Carlow and Kilkenny: The Fight Continues

One year on, serious barriers remain for those requiring access to abortion services in Carlow and Kilkenny. The negative realities of Irish abortion provision after the referendum have been met with inadequate responses from those responsible. The HSE has responded to criticism of counties with no access to say that it is ‘satisfied with the geographic spread’. This does not reflect the experiences of pregnant people in Kilkenny and Carlow who must source the money for buses to other counties, or planes to other countries.

The area of Kilkenny is one which has seen a culmination of impediments to abortion access. Currently there is only one health clinic between Kilkenny and Carlow that has opted in to provide abortions to patients, and this is located outside of the city, in Graiguenamanagh. People in Kilkenny have to travel over 30 minutes to get to the town; for people in Carlow (where there is no abortion service), buses are infrequent, and taxis cost €45 – €60 for a one-way trip. The health clinic has been subjected to three incidents of intimidation and harassment, including nuisance calls, picketing and targeting patients.

Minister for Health Simon Harris promised draft legislation by the summer which would see buffer zones implemented – something which pro-choice campaigners have been calling for and have fought to have implemented in other parts of the world. The continuing lack of said legislation allows for the continued traumatisation of people outside hospitals and local GP services. In some of these areas, such as small rural towns, the inability to access advice or services privately and without exposure to these protestors is enough to force some to travel.

The maternity unit in St Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny became the centre of controversy when the existing four obstetricians said it was not an “appropriate location” for abortion services when a letter, sent to the Ireland East Hospital Group Chief Executive said it was “decided unanimously that the hospital is not an appropriate location for medical or surgical terminations”. One of the consultants who signed this letter was a prominent anti-abortion campaigner during the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in May 2018. In another letter to GPs, it was stated that: “…if a patient is moribund or with haemorrhage or sepsis, she will be dealt with in an appropriate manner.” No one reading those words could miss the significant similarities to the case of Savita Halappanavar, a woman dealt with in the way doctors deemed appropriate when abortion was limited, and who lost her life because of it. Though all maternity units have been directed to provide terminations when a women’s life is at risk, and this statement reflects the idea that an abortion will only be granted when a woman is at death’s door is a another sickening example of how the demands of the Repeal movement, which drove the massive vote for Repeal, have been ignored.

Activists in Carlow Choice and Equality Network and Kilkenny for Choice have made a video to highlight this issue and have set up an online petition to St. Luke’s Hospital. During the referendum, the voices of vulnerable people who faced extra barriers to abortion were magnified. There is a huge disjuncture between the demands of the referendum and the reality of access to abortion for pregnant people in rural Ireland. These barriers are doubled for more vulnerable groups, who, as always, will be the most affected. The hangover from the 8th amendment will continue to exist as long as there is institutional obstruction and refusal of care for routine healthcare procedures. It will continue to exist as long as pregnant people are made to jump through hoops because of citizenship status, disability, ethnicity or geographical location.

Why I’m Marching for Choice

We’ve not long passed the one-year anniversary of the landslide vote to Repeal, but the enduring impact of the 8th Amendment still lingers; while the amount of people travelling to Britain is thought to be down by two thirds, one third are still travelling because of institutionalised barriers to access within the system.

In rural Ireland, whole counties remain without access and the patchy provision of ultrasounds to date a pregnancy means that for those in counties that do have GPs who will perform abortions, their pregnancies cannot be dated in time to ensure they fall within the legal 12-week limit. It is women who fall outside of the 12-week limit, but aren’t dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality, who are among those who must travel to Britain for terminations.

The three-day wait period, lack of access to ultrasounds, and the 12-week limit come together to make abortion access difficult under the new law for many women across Ireland. What makes the situation more galling is that the government insists on the three-day period as a ‘time to reflect’ on the decision. The idea that women should have to take a three-day reflective period before a termination when no other medical procedure provided by the HSE requires it is nothing short of patronising and demeaning, and a purpose-built barrier to access.

Abortion should not be a privilege. It should be a right. It should be free, safe and legal for everyone. We removed the 8th Amendment but the fight for abortion access is far from over.