The ROI Abortion Referendum – Where to Next?

In early 2018, the Republic of Ireland voted by a substantial margin to legalise abortion and bring the legislation in line with that of other Western nations. This was a remarkable shift in public opinion, only 20 years before the country was very opposed to the idea, with most people following the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Now that Ireland is much less religious (it is the fastest secularising country on earth, according to one metric), the possibility for less prescriptive and fundamentalist policy is possible. Scandals have rocked the church and destroyed many people’s trust in the institution and a new generation of young, aspiring, well educated, and liberal Irish people are taking giant leaps away from the restrictive policies that Ireland had employed.

Where to Next?

Abortion supporters have hailed the vast change in attitudes and the resulting legislation as a hope for many other countries that are either very religiously dominated or emerging from years of religious social control. If it is possible in a country that in living memory was almost completely dominated by the Church, it should be possible everywhere else.

Campaigning North of the Border

Northern and Southern Ireland have a troubled past and a peace that is holding fast but can still be threatened. Like the ROI, Northern Ireland has lost much of its religious impetus of late. The scandals that broke the back of the church in the ROI were scandals north of the border as well. Trust in the morality handed down by the church has been destroyed by the way they hid sexual abuse cases and corruption. No longer following the church, people are starting to see more nuanced arguments for the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

The UN has condemned Northern Ireland’s abortion legislation, saying that it violates women’s rights. Pressure from inside the UK is mounting, especially with the weak coalition that has been formed with the DUP and the Tories. There is a chance Westminster might step in and impose a rule, though this would not be politically very wise.

Obvious Resistance

The movement for a change in abortion policy in Northern Ireland is growing. It was given an enormous boost by the abortion referendum in the ROI and the momentum is looking hard to stop at this point.

Around the World

Abortion legislation is never set in stone. There is considerable resistance from religious and moralising groups over the matter, and some of the tactics the groups are becoming more serious and like the resistance groups in America, who have picketed and sometimes abused women outside abortion clinics.

Donald Trump has made it clear he is in support of repealing the Roe Vs Wade legislation that was introduced in the 1970’s that made abortion legal and more accessible. The ROI referendum is a strong indicator of public support but when faced with leaders like Mr. Trump, public pressure is unlikely to succeed.

There are dozens of countries around the world where abortion is illegal. Many of these are developing and poor nations, still legislating on the religious and moral grounds that are popular with poorer voters (if they have a chance to vote). As countries become more wealthy and stable, generally religiosity decreases. The battle for rational and humanist policy in these countries is a long one, and many organisations and NGO’s are fighting hard to raise awareness and access to abortion around the world.

Hope for Women’s Rights

The Irish referendum has conclusively proven that a country can alter its perspective on a highly emotive issue in a relatively short time. Campaigners have used it as inspiration and impetus to continue the fight for the reproductive rights of women. It is easy to forget how long and hard people fought for these rights and how the fight continues. The referendum looks to many as a solid step in the right direction.

ROI Legislation

Now that women in Ireland no longer have to travel to other countries in Europe (usually the UK) to obtain an abortion, the number of abortions is going to increase in Ireland. This could be perceived as a bad thing, but alongside the rising number of abortions will be the falling number of women who have risked their fertility or their lives with unreliable and botched abortion treatments.

Women in the ROI can now attend a clinic and obtain an abortion for a relatively low price (or for free) and in complete safety. There is still opposition from religious groups in Ireland but they are a much weakened force. The stigma of abortion still has some way to go before it is substantially reduced, but as the availability of abortion increases and the number of high profile women who have had one and can talk about it rises, the ROI is becoming a safe place for women who have to make a very difficult choice.

Poor women who could not afford to have an abortion in another country are free to make that difficult choice in safety and with support from their families, friends, and medical professionals.

How to Get an Abortion Safely

Abortions are in most cases very safe procedures, when done properly. The risks to health and life from illegal abortions obtained in backstreet conditions are substantially higher. Thankfully, in the UK it is possible to obtain an abortion legally and safely.

Abortions on the NHS

96% of women have their abortion on the NHS. There are clinics and hospitals that offer abortions all around the country, so the pregnant woman will not need to travel very far. Legal abortions can only be obtained in a hospital or licensed clinics because of the risks of the procedure. Medical staff in hospitals and clinics are there to support the woman, whatever her choice. They understand the difficulty of making that decision and are there to help.

Consultation

The first step in getting an abortion is to talk to your doctor or by getting an appointment at an abortion clinic. The attendant physician will talk to you about your mental health, physical health, medical history, reasons for wanting an abortion, and how you might respond to it. The pregnant woman is physically examined and a team of doctors will discuss the case individually to assess the legality and appropriateness of an abortion. The legal conditions for getting an abortion are very clearly stated and the doctors will try to avoid an abortion if they can.

Counselling

Pregnant women who seek abortion are always offered counselling. The prospect of having a baby is terrifying to many (probably most) people, and avoiding the lifetime of responsibility that comes with having a baby seems sensible to women who are struggling. With appropriate counselling, many women choose to keep their baby and look after them, or give them up for adoption. If the woman decides to proceed with an abortion from rape, counselling is offered to help them through what is a universally upsetting process. Supporting women through the process is seen as vital to keeping her healthy and safe.

Appointment

When the woman has decided to get an abortion after the consultation and counselling, an appointment will be made for the woman to attend the clinic and get an abortion. Most abortions are chemically induced with a dose of hormones that cause the body to reject the foetus and miscarry. Alternatively, there are surgical options, in which the pregnancy can be extracted with suction (vacuum aspiration) or with forceps.

Vacuum aspiration is used up to 14 weeks with a local anaesthetic. This has a quick recovery time and a reduced risk of complications. At 15 weeks, sedation is necessary.

After 15 weeks and before 24 weeks, a general anaesthetic is used to put the woman under for the surgical removal of the pregnancy with forceps. This has a longer preparation and recovery time than chemical or vacuum aspiration.

Aftercare

Once the pregnancy has been terminated, the body is in a delicate state. Most women feel some vaginal pain and experience bleeding. This usually goes away in under two weeks.

Continual monitoring of symptoms is essential to keeping the woman safe. In around 1 in 10 cases of abortion there is an infection of the cervix or womb. This is usually treatable with antibiotics and can be spotted by smelly vaginal discharge, pain that cannot be managed with over the counter painkillers, excessive bleeding, fever, feeling unwell, or lumps in the bloody discharge.

After an abortion, the body experiences wide hormonal swings as it readjusts itself. This is usually manageable but can result in severe mood swings. If a woman has experienced conditions like bipolar disorders or depression, she may be at risk of depression and mood swings.

An abortion is a traumatic event. Many women feel regret and sadness after having an abortion. The counselling offered to women in the UK is effective at helping women (and their partners) through this time.

Discussing an abortion with friends and family is a good way of getting the support for this difficult procedure. While many people do not fundamentally agree with abortion, most people are supportive of the rights of a woman to decide what happens in her own body. In the past, stigma and shame stopped women from getting support during this process and increased the risks as a result.

Unsafe Abortions

Abortions are offered for free in the UK and in some other countries. Although the vast majority of abortions are straightforward procedures, occasionally there may be complications. If the abortion has gone wrong somehow and you are asking what is medical negligence and is it the reason for my botched abortion you should get advice from a medical negligence solicitor.

In many countries the only option is to obtain an illegal abortion. This could involve unsafe surgery or taking drugs that are of uncertain quality or quantity. This puts the pregnant woman at substantial risks. Because of the risk of prosecution in many countries, many women do not go to hospital with their symptoms and can suffer ill health, loss of fertility, or even death as a result.

Some women do not meet the criteria for a legal abortion in the UK and seek illegal abortions. This is dangerous because it not only risks prosecution for the destruction of a child (maximum sentence: life in prison) but has the same risks as women in prohibitive countries experience. If anything goes wrong you won’t be able to take legal action whereas if medical negligence is committed in a legal abortion you could claim compensation.

If you have had an abortion and are concerned about your symptoms, you should contact the clinic or hospital you got the abortion from immediately.