Since the USA elected Donald Trump as its next president, liberal talking heads and Twitter personalities have been spending a lot a of time warning each other about the dangers of normalization. Normalization is the process by which certain actions, events or ideologies come to be accepted as a “normal” or even “natural” part of everyday life within a society. “Don’t let this become normal,” we tell each other with grave urgency, where “this” refers to the hurricane of naked corruption and mendacity that defines the political discourse.
Yet while all eyes are on the theatre of the US election and Britain’s shambolic exit from the EU, an ongoing and utterly abnormal crisis is becoming increasingly normalized. Europe is currently experiencing a refugee emergency on scale that has not been seen since World War II. In 2015, over one million refugees crossed into Europe – roughly half of them from Syria – and conservative estimates for 2016 show that this number will be similar or higher. Pictures of overcrowded dinghies adrift in the Mediterranean Sea were once a source of shock; now they’ve become par for the course. “Refugee crisis” has become a minor note in 2016’s relentlessly tragic news cycle. And the longer it drags on, the more entrenched the apathy becomes.
I am writing to you as a private citizen of the Republic of Ireland to express my strong support for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of our country’s Constitution.
Like every other woman of child-bearing age in our country, I have never been afforded the opportunity to vote on my reproductive rights. The Eighth Amendment was signed into law five years before I was born. I am now twenty-eight years old. I have recently moved back to Ireland with the intention to settle here permanently, after five years of living and working abroad – the inevitable consequence of graduating at the height of a recession. Despite all its flaws and faults, I love my country and I believe in our ability to constantly better ourselves as a nation. If I ever decide to raise a family, I want to do it on Irish soil.
However, while living abroad as an Irish citizen, our country’s blanket ban on abortion has been a source of shame for me. I spent two years working in a United Nations organisation in Geneva, Switzerland. I was there in 2014, when the UN Human Rights Committee conducted its fourth periodic review of Ireland. A committee of eighteen human rights experts formally called for Ireland to hold a referendum on abortion.
Working within the UN system, many of my colleagues became aware of the findings of the Committee’s report as a matter of course. Several dropped by my desk to ask me to clarify the criticism: surely Ireland didn’t have a blanket ban on abortion? Even in cases of rape? What about fatal foetal abnormality? I was forced to explain, many times in the course of one week: “Yes, my country would force a rape victim to carry a resulting pregnancy to term. Yes, my country would force a woman to carry a dying foetus to term, even if her health is at risk. Yes, abortion is still a criminal offence in Ireland.”
Many of my colleagues came from countries plagued with their own state-mandated human rights abuses. They were all uniformly shocked that Ireland, a so-called “developed” country was still, in 2014, dragging its collective feet on such a basic issue of human rights.
That was 2014. It is now 2016 and nothing has changed. I am intimately familiar with the varied and valid criticisms that can and should be levelled at the United Nations, but the fact is that Ireland remains a member of this organisation by choice. It is both arrogant and ludicrous to claim membership in a group while disregarding its most basic tenets.
I also want to strongly affirm my belief that abortion access should not be restricted to cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality, and that whatever legislation replaces the Eighth Amendment should reflect this. I do not believe a woman’s right to access abortion should be offset by how much she has suffered. Like many women in my generation, I am single, sexually active, and unsure if I ever want children. I do not believe that consensual sex is the same thing as consenting to becoming pregnant, nor do I believe that childbirth should be treated as a sort of fitting punishment for women who openly enjoy sex. This insidious line of thinking is preserved and perpetuated by the Catholic Church, an institution with an utterly dismal track record of abusing the women and children unfortunate enough to fall into its care.
I do not believe abortion is murder. Nor do I believe that the majority of self-identified “pro-life” advocates believe that abortion is murder, as most, when pushed, will not agree that 200,000 Irish women should currently be serving life sentences in prison for this crime.
I believe that women are the experts on their own lives and their own bodies. I believe that the decision to end or to continue with a pregnancy belongs to no one except the pregnant person.
Above all, I believe that in a country founded on the principle of fair representation of the interests of all its citizens, I should have the opportunity to express my views by voting in a national referendum. I believe that democratic process on this issue is long overdue. It was overdue two years ago when I had to explain, shame-faced, to colleagues from all over the world, that pregnant people in my country do not have the right to basic bodily autonomy.
I sincerely hope I never have to feel that kind of shame again.
Thank you all for your time and your consideration.