THE upcoming referendum on May 25 will ask us to decide if the Eighth Amendment should be removed from the Constitution and replaced with the sentence: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”
We will be asked to tick a Yes or a No box.
But of course it is not.
The facts are there: In 2016, 241 Cork women travelled abroad to access abortion services. The overwhelming weight of medical opinion says the Eighth Amendment harms women.
Fifty-three Cork doctors have already publicly stated their support and we expect many more will join us. We’re calling for a Yes vote so that we can provide safer, more compassionate healthcare to our patients.
Right now, doctors’ hands are tied by the Eighth Amendment, sometimes in the most terrible of circumstances, like that of Michelle Harte, who became pregnant while receiving treatment for cancer, was denied an abortion in Ireland despite medical advice to have one, and was forced to travel to the Britain whilst severely ill to access abortion services.
The Taoiseach has been clear: A Yes result will mean a doctor-led, safe and legal system.
Those are the facts. But when we go to vote on May 25 we’ll think with our heart and our head.
Some will be drawn towards the No box. They have seen the posters. They think of their own children and grandchildren, of joyous baby showers, pink or blue balloons, teddies and babygros.
The posters don’t include the mothers’ faces though. We have no idea how the woman is feeling.
Is she watching the ultrasound screen with tears rolling down her face because she has been told that while the baby’s heart is beating now, as soon as he is born he will be unable to breathe, no matter how much the doctors try to help him?
Is she shaking, frightened, alone, terrified of telling her abusive father?
Is she retching daily, not just because of morning sickness, but because of the endless vivid flashbacks of her rape?
Is she, like Michelle Harte, receiving treatment for cancer and suddenly facing the harrowing prospect of an early, painful death because her chemotherapy must stop to allow the pregnancy continue?
This might make a person’s hand hover over the Yes box.
And then they think, but what about this notion of ‘unrestricted’ abortion? What about all those women who will callously, carelessly, heartlessly have abortions just because a pregnancy would get in the way of their frantic social life and busy career?
The hand drifts back to the No box. We shouldn’t allow that to happen.
I have never met one of these heartless, socialite career women. But they must be out there, because we keep hearing that they are going to arrive at the abortion clinics in droves. Or silly girls who will have repeated abortions because they are too drunk or dopey to sort out their contraception needs. I’ve been a doctor for 18 years and I haven’t met any of them either.
What I have experienced in 18 years of medical practice is the reality that life is complicated; I believe the majority of Irish people understand this too.
Imagine if your daughter, sister, partner or mother was pregnant as a result of rape, or had got the devastating news that their happy pregnancy involves a fatal foetal abnormality, or that their pregnancy could cause serious health problems.
You would want them to be able to access safe and legal healthcare in their own country.
You would want them to be cared for and supported at home in Ireland.
Voting No will not stop abortion from happening. We know that 241 Cork women travelled abroad to access abortion services in 2016 and undoubtedly hundreds more have done so since.
Women will continue to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, every day. They will continue to travel, often alone, often scared, often shamed by their actions because their community refuses to acknowledge their plight.
They will continue to go, though, because for them it is the right decision.
People who vote Yes will know that they have shown compassion, understanding, respect and support to women facing one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.
We can all decide which box to tick on Friday, May 25. I and the Cork doctors signed below will vote Yes to repealing the Eighth Amendment; Yes to a safer, more compassionate Ireland.
Dr Cathy Burke; Dr Keelin O’Donoghue; Dr Diarmaid Quinlan; Dr Eimear McCarthy; Dr Rachel Quigley; Dr Liz Barry; Dr Mike Thompson; Dr Claire McCarthy; Dr Emma Kenefick; Dr Carol Sinnott; Dr Ciara Nolan; Dr Aideen Phelan; Dr Aine Murphy; Dr Mary Favier; Dr Frances O’Mahony; Prof Louise Kenny; Dr Noirin Russell; Prof Richard Greene; Dr Sheila Rochford and Dr Paul Ryan.