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'I was raped. Legislating for abortion in rape cases wouldn't go far enough'

The precedent set by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act would see a raped woman questioned, put on trial, and forced to relive the worst experiences of her life.

TODAY, THE DAIL will vote on the Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill. The vote will fail, because the Government refuses to support the Bill, with Leo Varadkar stating on Friday that the Dail cannot pass a law that would be unconstitutional under the terms of the 8th Amendment – “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Politicians from across the spectrum have identified concerns with the 8th Amendment and Ireland’s abortion regime. Last December, Varadkar stated his belief that the 8th Amendment is “too restrictive.”

Mary Lou McDonald, also last December, outlined that “Sinn Fein has a long standing policy of support for the humanitarian extension of therapeutic abortion in cases of rape or incest”, while Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael, just last Friday supported the provision of termination procedures for those who have survived rape and incest.

Richard Boyd Barrett has said it is “barbaric” to “force a pregnant woman who has suffered rape, incest or abuse, or who knows the child she is carrying will not live, into taking a certain course of action against her will by denying her the right to make her own choices.”

It’s not enough to provide abortion access to certain groups of women

For the record, I am completely pro-choice. I believe that abortion should be available for all women, because I believe that it’s their choice if and when, or ever, they should bear a child.

All of the above politicians (and plenty of others) talk about rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities as though providing abortions to women who have experienced these will solve a major problem – but it’s not enough. They talk about it as though it is the pinnacle of common sense – but it’s not. It is vastly a nonsense proposal as long as the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is the governing piece of legislation around abortion in Ireland.

The 2013 Act requires that panels of doctors examine a pregnant woman who requests an abortion because she is suicidal. A panel of doctors hears her story and makes a decision about what’s going on in her head. If they refuse her request she can appeal, and another panel of doctors can go through the same rigmarole, judging if she’s telling the truth or not; judging if she’s tragic enough to be granted mercy, having explained herself over and over and over again to people who haven’t lived her life, people who haven’t thought her thoughts.

It’s a despicable way to treat a human being in pain. It removes even more power from women who already feel powerless. It pretends to be caring and protective- but it is punitive in the extreme.

Families who face the absolute horror of fatal foetal abnormality, thankfully, don’t have to explain their pain and don’t have to prove it because medicine tells the sorry tale for them. Clare Daly’s Bill requires that two doctors would jointly certify in good faith that a foetus is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality. Relatively simple, no judgement needed. The facts speak for themselves.

What proof would a raped woman have to bring forward?

Rape and incest cases are different. Medical evidence often isn’t available, facts are known to few people and things can get murky. Since the 2013 Act requires a woman to prove she’s suicidal, what proof would a raped woman have to bring forward? Is it only rape if there’s a criminal conviction? In Ireland, just 17% of rape trials ended in conviction in 2014 – that’s just 35 convictions.

We know that sex in Ireland, whether forced or consensual, is doused in shame. We know sex education in this country is appalling and conversations about consent are practically unheard of. We all know rape is more common than we like to think, and we know it vastly goes unreported.

I was 15 years old when I was raped. While abroad, a 16-year-old boy I had a crush on knocked on my hotel door and I allowed him inside. I was pushed onto a tiled floor and silenced with brutal, biting kisses, ignored every time I said ‘No’. It hurt with the fury of hell and no amount of struggling allowed me an escape; he was bigger and stronger and consumed by his own intention, willfully blind to my panic. I remember the piercing, insurmountable pain in my insides. I remember holding my breath.

When he was gone, I cleaned my own blood off the floor, showered for an hour in agony, unable to stop crying and shaking. I lay awake all night with my skin crawling, terrified someone would find out about it, ashamed to the core. I was nauseous for days and couldn’t eat. It stung when I used the bathroom.

The black and blue marks on my thighs faded to green then vanished completely, but, ten years later, it still hits me like a freight train sometimes in the middle of the night. Dating is hard. Letting people into my house, my personal space, is even harder.

The precedent set by the 2013 Act has chilling implications for victims of rape

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland in 2011 reported that 7% of women who had been raped became pregnant as a result. Thankfully I wasn’t one of those, but I hasten to add that I also wasn’t a woman; I was a scared little girl.

There must be thousands like me and we’re letting them down constantly. In Ireland, I expect that any Bill to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest would require some version of proof: the 2013 Act makes that a precedent. If we currently have to prove we’re suicidal, we’ll surely have to prove we were raped. After all, women might otherwise be tempted to lie to get an abortion, right? Wrong. The FBI says that just 8% of rape reports are “unfounded”.

It happens, but only on the same level as false reports for every other serious crime. In short, we are much more likely to disbelieve a woman if she says she was raped than if she says she was mugged, but for no good reason.

Moralising and craw thumping about granting abortions to raped women is useless when it would be in the context of a restrictive regime that puts women through even more degradation. A raped woman would be questioned, weighed and measured. She would be put on trial, forced to relive the worst experiences of her life. Other people would decide for her if she ‘deserves’ an abortion, if she has suffered enough. The idea of it brings me right back into that hotel room ten years ago; it’s despicable.

We systematically judge women before giving them access to medical services

As long as suggested abortion regimes deny any woman autonomy about her body, we are failing in our efforts to make women safe and equal. As long as women will be judged before being allowed to access medical services, we will run the risk of 14 years in prison for importing pills and taking them without medical advice.

That’s what desperation looks like – and we are systematising that desperation. Providing abortions for some women in some predefined situations isn’t an option. It strips dignity away from the thousands of women who seek abortions for their own reasons – reasons that are none of my damn business, and none of yours.

I am tired of people, groups and politicians, talking about protecting women and saving women. It’s perfectly clear that regimes based on judging women and their experiences will do precisely the opposite.

Few people in Ireland appear to have thought about what would happen if we actually did repeal the 8th Amendment. I fully support the campaign to do so, but we haven’t thought about the reality of what would come next.

The author wishes to remain anonymous. For more information and advice contact The Rape Crisis Centre or The Irish Family Planning Association.

Clare Daly’s abortion bill is causing A LOT of problems for Labour

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