Women’s reproductive rights, and abortion rights in particular, remain a fraught issue around the world. While the United Nations has asserted that access to abortion is a human right, the provision for abortion care is still highly restricted in places such as Poland, under constant political threat in the USA and women are regularly jailed for miscarriages in El Salvador. Unsafe pregnancies and abortions continue to happen, putting women’s lives in danger. Their inability to access care and make their own decisions regarding their own body means women remain second class citizens in many places around the world. While gains have been made in the last generation, the fight for equality is far from over.
In 2017 Ireland had one of the most abortion restrictive regimes in the world with no provision for abortion except under extremely rare circumstances. This led to many women traveling to the UK to receive abortion care, as well as illegal abortions taking place in Ireland itself. This resulted from a referendum in 1983 which meant that the foetus and the woman were given an equal right to life, meaning that abortion essentially counted as murder. This was bound in law by the 8th amendment.
Since then, the public discourse around abortion in Ireland has been divisive and acrimonious, marred by disinformation campaigns by anti-abortion groups, highly charged religious campaigns, and a general sense of stigma and shame. This was partly informed by Ireland’s historically conservative values, but also by the global argument on abortion and the scare stories emerging from other countries around such issues as ‘abortion as contraception’, very late term abortions and false connections between abortion and infertility.
Because of these myths, the emotional nature of the issue and the spectre of social rejection, Ireland was not a place where it was easy to start a conversation on abortion. From qualitative research, we learned that the Irish public felt they couldn’t speak out on the issue, feeling unable to ask questions, fearing they didn’t have the facts and unsure how their comments would be received. While activist groups on both sides of the debate continued to spotlight their views, the ordinary public felt caught between two polarities, unable to resolve what seemed to be an irreconcilable issue.