Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar. An unnecessary tragedy, her untimely death sparked a needed national conversation about anti-abortion laws in Ireland and provoked world-wide outcry at the religious undertones which still affect women's rights in my country.
Also yesterday, an Abortion Pill train made it's way from Belfast to Dublin, echoing the Contraception Train that took the same route in 1971 to deliver condoms to the Republic of Ireland at a time when they were illegal. Access to contraception is no longer an issue in Ireland. But the right of a woman to choose what to do to her body is one which continues to be denied - often with harrowing consequences.
I have never been in the situation of having to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and as such, can only hypothesis what I would do in that situation. This guesswork at my response has changed over the years in line with my changing circumstances. As a woman of 24, while the situation wouldn't be desirable as part of my current life-plan, I would not terminate the pregnancy. I do not know if I would have made the same choice as a teenager. What I can say, unequivocally, is that it's a situation that all women are entitled to have a choice about.
The definition of when life begins is a highly personal question. For some, it is at the moment of conception. For others, a fetus is a collection of indistinguishable cells that has the potential for life, but is not yet that which it could be.
The question of who an abortion is right for is a deeply sensitive one that needs to undertaken in private discussion; by the woman in question and ideally, the man who impregnated her. They may take into consideration whatever religious beliefs they have, their moral standing on the issue, and a whole host of other factors that deserve to be included in the discussion. The State, however, has no right to be included in that conversation - and yet it insists in not only being included, but being a dominant presence in any potential course of action.
The continued illegality of abortion in Ireland has not meant Irish women don't get abortions. In the last 30 years, over 150,000 women have traveled abroad to have an abortion. Shamefully, the Irish government has been happy to maintain the status quo on the issue for fear of upsetting various conservative dispositions. Instead, we export our abortion problem.
I take exception to the so-called "pro-life brigade" - from the basic insinuation that as a woman who believes in the right to choose, I am somehow "anti-life" - to their insistence that women's physical and mental health are put at risk so that Ireland can retain it's "Abortion-free since... Always!" bumper-sticker as if it's something to be proud of. It's not. It's shameful. Embarrassing. Problematic. Infuriating. Dangerous. Restrictive.
In the case of Savita, Ireland's legal restrictions on abortion meant a young woman's life was snuffed out in her prime. Since then, there has been some change around when it is appropriate for a doctor to legally perform an abortion in Ireland as a result of her death, but the process is still marred with difficulty and confusion.
Time and time again, from the X case to the more recent Y one, women are subjected to inquisition's and inhibition's on what they can do with their own body. In my country, the government is not only comfortable with forcing a suicidal pregnant woman who wants an abortion to be questioned before a panel of doctors to assess whether she is entitled to the procedure depending on her mental state, they feel entitled to do so.
The women who advocate to allow abortion in Ireland are doing so in order to afford women the choice they deserve. It is not up to any individual or institution to judge another for the decisions they make about their own life. To restrict a choice just because you don't agree with the outcome is not only restrictive, it's totalitarian. My forefathers fought for all citizens on the isle of Ireland to have freedom. With freedom comes choice. Until women are given full access to all choices and options on this issue, we will be shackled.