Ireland's Abortion Referendum Is Way More Backward Than We Think It Is

The country's 2018 vote is not as liberating as it appears

Next year will mark a milestone for Ireland. The last area of the UK where abortion is still illegal will hold a referendum in 2018 to determine whether or not to decriminalize the procedure. This seems like a big step forward on the surface. Going from illegal to possibly legal is at least heading in the right direction. But when you look at it closer, is it really something we should be celebrating?

Democracy is a good thing. Generally speaking, leaving the choice up to the people works well. Majority rules has worked for hundreds of years, and deciding on the fate of the country and its citizens by way of casting a vote is usually a reasonably fair way to go.

But sometimes, democracy just isn’t appropriate. When there were votes on whether or not to grant gay couples the right to marry, it struck me as morally wrong that human rights could be voted on. Human rights were up for debate, and votes cast by mostly straight people were deciding whether to grant basic human rights to people who should never have been denied them in the first place. In my books, human rights are not granted by majority rules.

Having a referendum on abortion is just that. A vote to grant or deny women basic human rights. A vote on whether they can decide what to do with their own bodies. Arguably, deciding who owns a woman’s body.

That 50% of the votes will be cast by men who, with the exception of some trans men, cannot carry a child, complicates the matter further. I’m well aware that it takes two people to make a baby. In a perfect world, both partners would discuss the choice together and agree on what to do. But that is not always possible, and when it comes right down to it, it is the person who owns the body who gets to make that decision, and that should be the woman herself, not the government.

My heart breaks for men who want the child that their partner chooses to terminate. I’m not heartless on this matter. I recognize how awful that must be and the pain it must cause, but there is no perfect solution when the parties disagree. Which is why it comes down to bodily autonomy. Always.

Making abortions illegal, or conversely creating so many hoops through which women who seek an abortion must jump, does not decrease abortions. Studies show this time and again. It simply increases unsafe abortions done illegally and carrying great risk. It increases endangerment to the mother, and people who are pro-life should care about her life too.

Some women in Ireland are fortunate enough to have the means to travel to other areas of the UK to have the procedure. While preferable to having it done unsafely, this creates even more of an emotional burden on an already vulnerable women.

Women who are not lucky enough to be able to travel so far must take their chances with whatever, or whoever, they can get their hands on. Sometimes this means trying to induce the abortion at home, with tragic results.

Overwhelmingly evidence shows that the way to decrease abortions is to prevent the pregnancy in the first place through quality sex education and access to birth control measures. Both of these things are frequently rallied against by the same people who oppose abortion. It’s a deadly paradox. One or the other needs to give.

While I am uncomfortable with the idea of a referendum on abortion in principle, I sincerely hope that the people of Ireland take the time between now and casting their votes to do some research. Real research, not propaganda or appeals to emotion. Look at the real world consequences of illegal abortion. Look at the difference that access to sexual health clinics and proper education can make on the rate of abortion.

Mostly, look at the women around you and ask yourself if you should really have the right to vote on what they do with their bodies. 

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