Ireland’s historic chance to trust women

Ireland’s historic chance to trust women
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In a moment when women globally are reclaiming their voice and power, Ireland faces a historic chance to overturn a law that hurts so many women. On May 25, the Irish people will decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment, which equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or fetus and criminalizes abortion except if continuing a pregnancy would result in certain death.

Living in Ireland as a graduate student in my early 20s, I found Ireland’s harsh abortion ban paradoxical and out of sync with an Irish society so committed to social justice and compassion.

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As a working class kid used to hustling my way into funding my studies — including receiving a George J. Mitchell scholarship in large part funded by the Irish government — I was struck by how my Irish classmates had similar stories of growing up with limited means or one generation removed from hardship.

 

I felt at ease in a society that valued humility and hard work. They shared my Catholic values of a preferential treatment for the poor. I was also struck by how many saw equal healthcare and education as a right. They demanded a government that looked out for the wellbeing of its citizens.

But I could not square this deep commitment to equality and justice with a law that took away a woman’s fundamental right to make her own ethical decisions about how, when and whether to have children. A law that forced women to find the money to travel abroad if they needed to terminate an unexpected pregnancy.

Today, many Irish citizens are asking themselves this question — can we continue to justify a law that has hurt so many? Indeed the 8th amendment carries a dark history. Over the past 35 years, a litany of tragic situations have brought into question the morality of this law, from the X case to that of Anne Lovett to the persecution of Joanne Hayes. 

More recently, the shocking death of Savita Halappanavar shook the consciences of the Irish people, begging the question once again — how many more women must suffer before this law is overturned?

Across Ireland, we are seeing democracy in action as local Repeal the 8th chapters have sprung up from Donegal to Dingle calling for an end to this unjust law. I have watched from afar with excitement and solidarity as women marched for repeal across Ireland on Women’s Day and as politician after politician comes out in favor of repeal.

Critically important, Catholics in Ireland are coming to terms with the notion that Ireland’s proud Catholic tradition is not at tension with repealing this law. Quite the contrary, as Catholics revere individual conscience as the final arbiter in moral decision-making and respect a secular state that allows all citizens to make their own ethical decisions.

More and more Irish Catholics, after seeing the case of Savita and others, have concluded that even if they personally object to abortion, they support a woman’s right to choose based on her own beliefs and circumstances.

I am hopeful that this is a watershed moment for Ireland. As someone who first came to Ireland seeking to understand how they have found peace after conflict, I am eager to see Ireland once again stand as a model for other nations to reconcile religion and good policies that respect the inherent dignity of every woman.  

As women across Latin America and particular El Salvador continue to languish in jails under draconian abortion laws, and women in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo die every day from unsafe abortions, I pray that Ireland can lead the way and show how we can safeguard the rights of women and put compassion, equality and fundamental freedoms first.

Cynthia Romero is the director of communications at Catholics for Choice where she serves as spokesperson and manages press and digital communications to elevate the voice of Catholics that trust women to make ethical reproductive decisions. She served in President Obama’s administration at USAID, held roles in various human rights advocacy organizations, and has a Bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and an M.A. from Queens University Belfast.