EVERY woman needs access to the right kind of care for her. This is the message the National Women’s Council of Ireland are bringing to Cork, with the launch of Every Woman, our model for affordable, accessible reproductive healthcare for all women.
As Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, I work on a whole host of issues relating to women’s equality, and women’s health, including their reproductive health, is part of that. Access to abortion when a woman needs it is a core part of a woman’s healthcare.
I know that for many people, abortion is not the biggest issue on the political agenda, and that, few people think about abortion and pregnancy care until for some personal reason, they need to.
Every week, four women from Cork need to think about this. Their contraception has failed, or they have been diagnosed with a non-viable pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different, but for whatever deeply personal reason, these women need abortion care.
For women and girls who need to end a pregnancy this means that they have later abortions as they must travel outside of Ireland, often at high personal cost, in secrecy and without any support. The unavailability of the option of ending a pregnancy also has an unequal impact on women who have the right to travel within the EU and those who may be refugees, undocumented or require visas.
We know from these women that abortion should not be a political debate, but simply about providing for what a woman needs. For them, and for all women in Ireland, the issues arising from the Eighth Amendment must be solved.
We believe that medical professionals in Ireland should be able to care for all women who are pregnant in this country and we look for your support in achieving this.
In order to do what is right and what is needed for women, we need to build a sensitive and inclusive consensus that acknowledges people’s experiences of pregnancy and family life. We need to think about how diverse these experiences are, and how complex they can be.
No woman has an abortion unless she needs to. We need to face, with openness and honesty, complex issues relating to life choices, fertility and pregnancy care.
Part of this means that we need to start from a point where we talk about the needs and experiences of women, and not from a point of restrictions.
There will be a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year. We need to work towards a positive consensus that prioritises the healthcare needs of women and girls, while also providing suitable controls and protections for GPs, doctors and midwives.
Any model for healthcare must start with identifying and providing for the real needs of those who are accessing it. If we identify the needs of women and girls, we can then build on that, design appropriate controls that will ensure accessibility and standards of care.
Rather than restricting access to abortion in Ireland, we must ensure the provision of integrated reproductive healthcare, providing accessible care for all women and girls while also reducing the need for abortion care.
Women’s access to reproductive healthcare is fundamental to women’s family and life decisions. As it stands, the Eighth Amendment is a barrier to caring and compassionate healthcare.
Every Woman includes a proposal for way forward. It advocates for a complete removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. What women need is legislation that will allow for the availability of abortion in early pregnancy for all women who need it. This would allow for early abortion care on the basis of need, including in the case of rape or incest, and allow medical professionals to care for women and girls in an appropriate medical setting in Ireland.
Where a wanted pregnancy turns into a crisis pregnancy at a later stage in pregnancy, we advocate for legislation that would allow for restricted access to abortion where it is considered medically necessary to protect the mental and physical health of the woman, and where there is a nonviable pregnancy. These ‘protected treatments’ would allow medical professionals to care for women in sometimes extremely difficult and distressing circumstances and support women, couples and families in making these decisions.
We are Every Woman. We are mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, daughters. Every day we care for our families and make serious decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
We invite everyone in Cork who share our hopes to provide support and care for everyone in our healthcare services, to join us in our conversation around building the best reproductive healthcare services for women and girls in Ireland.
Orla O’Connor is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Ireland’s largest women’s membership organization.