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Nollaig na mBan 2017: 'Do we trust Irish women to make the best decisions for themselves in pregnancy?'

On Nollaig na mBan, a day when traditionally women celebrate their Christmas, 12 women are travelling abroad for healthcare that is unavailable to them here, writes Orla O’Connor.

Orla O'Connor National Women's Council of Ireland

NOLLAIG NA MBAN, or Women’s Christmas, is a day where traditionally women get together and celebrate their Christmas, while men take over the housework and care work.

This year, as Nollaig na mBan falls the day before the Citizen’s Assembly meet to discuss the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, it presents us with an important opportunity to discuss the progress we need to make for women’s reproductive health in 2017.

The decision before the Citizens’ Assembly on the future of the Eighth Amendment is a critical one for women now and for our daughters into the future.

Deciding when to have a child

All our lives are complex. Our decisions are based on a whole variety of circumstances: our backgrounds, our future aspirations for ourselves and the people we love around us. The decision to have a child is one of the most significant decisions a woman will make. It will affect everything about her future thereafter.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) wants women to be able to make that decision with the fullest range of choices and supports possible. We firmly believe abortion, the choice not to proceed with a pregnancy, to be one of those choices which should be available in Ireland.

Throughout the NWCI’s 44-year history, there have been many debates on the topic of abortion which we have listened to and participated in. We fully understand the complexity of the issue and how women’s and men’s views change in different circumstances.

Ireland Abortion Anti-abortion protesters filling Dublin's major thoroughfare, as they march against Ireland's abortion bill. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Stigma and shame around reproductive rights

As Director, I have heard women talk, for the first time, of how they felt having to travel to the UK, about how they cannot talk to families and friends about the experience because of the shame and stigma they feel, and how they might be judged.

That is not an Ireland I want for young women and it’s not an Ireland that the NWCI believe that the majority of people in Ireland want for themselves and their children.

The Constitution is our nation’s overarching statement of our values and of the ideals for Irish society. It should be a cornerstone in the protection of women’s rights in Ireland. The Eighth Amendment is a clear statement of how – currently – we do not value women and the decisions they make for themselves and for others around them.

The Amendment harks back to an Ireland which locked women behind a vast architecture of containment, when they were deemed to not fit strict societal norms of an ideal woman or mother. Women, men and children are living with the consequences ever since and we can see the trauma unfold, inquiry after inquiry.

Do we trust Irish women?

At the heart of this debate are the following questions: Do we as a nation want to maintain the Eighth Amendment, meaning that women will continue to have abortions, continue to suffer trauma, shame and stigma, and continue to be isolated from family and friends at a very difficult period in their lives? Or do we as a nation trust women to make the best decisions for themselves in pregnancy?

And do we want to offer all of the choices and supports to women to make those decisions? If we believe the latter is true, we must remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution and introduce legislation to facilitate those choices and provide those supports.

Like every other day of the year, this Nollaig na mBan, 12 women are in airports, making their way to another jurisdiction for a healthcare procedure that should be available here. This must end.

Orla O’Connor is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

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About the author:

Orla O'Connor  / National Women's Council of Ireland

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