Ireland votes to end abortion ban, in rebuke to Catholic conservatism. Ireland votes to overturn its abortion ban, “culmination of a quiet revolution,” prime minister says. Ireland votes resoundingly to repeal abortion ban.
These headlines, announcing the recent Irish referendum striking down the nation’s abortion ban seem to be describing a resounding victory. And, to an extent they are, but the victory they are announcing is incomplete, and calling it “resounding” is extremely naive.
On Saturday, May 26, 66 percent of the 64 percent of Irish voters who turned out to vote cast a ballot against Ireland’s oppressive Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which grants fetuses the same rights as Irish citizens. This amendment, in effect, outlawed abortion in any form. This meant that for decades, the thousands Irish women who found themselves in a position where they felt abortion was their best option were forced to either travel outside of the country or smuggle abortion pills in through the mail service. The repeal of the restrictive law, which pro-abortion activists hope will go into effect within the next six months, means that for the first time in Irish history, women will be able to legally and safely carry out their decision to abort.
That is, of course, only if Ireland follows-up this decision with adequate support for family planning clinics and affordable reproductive healthcare centers. All Ireland has done thus far is strike down the first part of a trifecta of factors that prevent women from being able to freely exercise their right to make their own decisions about their bodies. The other two factors remain: access and affordability.
Access specifically refers to the convenience and availability of abortion. Is the nearest clinic hours away from most citizens? Does acquiring abortion pills require mounds of paperwork or humiliating lectures from doctors concerning potential “emotional” drawbacks? For teenagers, to what extent is parental consent mandated?
The United States, for example, legalized abortion in 1973 following the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. However, as of 2014, American women were traveling an average of 11 miles to obtain an abortion, and that distance has been increasing. The travel time is vastly more severe in rural, conservative regions of the country when compared to urban, liberal regions.
There are also state-specific laws that make abortion difficult to access. Forty-five states allow health care providers to refuse care to a woman asking for an abortion. Eighteen states require women seeking an abortion to receive counseling that works to dissuade them from obtaining an abortion. Twenty-seven states have laws mandating women wait a specified number of hours, frequently 24, between asking for and receiving an abortion. There is also the issue of youth access as currently, only twelve states, including the District of Columbia, have no parental requirement for abortion, meaning teenagers with extenuating home circumstances may find it even more difficult to safely obtain an abortion.
On the other hand, affordability specifically concerns the cost of obtaining an abortion. Although family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood frequently tout affordability as being one of their central principles, statistics show women are still paying staggering prices for an abortion. In 2009, women paid an average of just under $500 for a first-trimester abortion. Adding insult to injury, due to both the generally limited access to good health insurance in the United States as well as privacy concerns, only 12 percent of women used insurance to cover the cost of an abortion, meaning the vast majority pay this fee out-of-pocket.
The situation is similarly bleak in other nations that have legal abortion. In the United Kingdom, two doctors are required to sign off on an abortion, causing extensive delays and wait periods. In Italy, 70 percent of gynecologists refuse to provide abortion services, meaning, despite the fact that abortion is legal in Italy, many Italian women smuggle abortion pills into the country or fly to another destination in Europe to obtain abortion services.
The United States along with these other countries belongs to the long list of nations that, despite having legalized abortion, have failed to ensure that women are truly able to exercise their right to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions.
All this serves to demonstrate one stubborn fact: legalizing abortion does not ensure that all women, regardless of will be able to safely and freely exercise their choice to abort. Until, in addition to being legalized, abortion is provided with reasonable affordability and fair access, a celebration of a complete victory in the area of reproductive healthcare and rights in Ireland or anywhere else is naive.
Contact Claire Dinshaw at cdinshaw ‘at’ stanford.edu.