A protester's sign at a pro-choice rally in Dublin William Murphy

If I were to draw a diagram of female reproductive organs as they exist in Ireland, I would include not just the ovaries and the fallopian tubes, but the Irish constitution.

I know that my body is not really my own. It belongs to the state.

“You cannot take your own moral compass and brand it onto the bodies of your fellow citizens”

This is because, even if your child will not survive its first breath outside the womb, even if you’re raped, even if your unborn fetus is the product of incest, or even if you are dead, you cannot get a legal abortion in Ireland.

I wish that were hyperbole, but Irish doctors kept a rotting body ‘alive’ because that body was host to an unborn fetus. The doctors deferred to the eighth amendment of the constitution, which affords equal rights to the mother and the unborn child. Only when the high court ruled that the brain-dead woman’s life support could be switched off could the doctors allow for her body to be returned to her grieving family.

The eighth amendment can make some people feel a lot less like people, and a lot more like incubators.

The Irish people suffer from the fact that none of our political heavyweights has ever seriously articulated the case for liberal government, for a government that doesn’t stick its head into your private life and look to legislate for personal morality.

Historically, the Irish political classes have excelled at ‘holier than thou’ brinkmanship. Quite literally. The church and state are still very much entangled in Ireland.

However, I have no issue with whatever anyone believes, as long as those beliefs do not take away from the freedoms of anyone else. It follows that I have no qualms with anyone who follows the teaching of church on the issue of abortions, but that I have serious qualms with anyone who wants to legally impose that teaching on me.

If you cannot convince someone that life begins at fertilization, and therefore that abortion is evil, you cannot expect to win this moral argument by legislative force. A liberal democracy should not base its laws on the moral teaching of one religion. It has to tread lightly, so as not to stomp on a pluralist society which allows for people to make their own choices. The state needs to be wary of its unusual capacity for violent interference in the lives of its citizens.

There is no single authority, religious or otherwise, that has the final say on when life begins; it’s a philosophical and moral muddle.

An assertion that human life begins at fertilization is an arbitrary assertion. Given this flimsiness, you cannot take your own moral compass and brand it onto the bodies of your fellow citizens.

“Irish people must not grow complacent, but must work to expand access to free, safe, and legal abortions elsewhere in the world”

Potential to become life does not equate to life itself. That is why nobody seriously considers translating the Monty Python sketch ‘every sperm is sacred’ into law. It’s not just because it would be impossible, not to mention pretty icky, to police.

As it stands, the eighth amendment does not prevent Irish abortions in practice. Since 1980, over 150,000 terror-stricken individuals have had to travel across the sea for safe, legal abortions.

If they couldn’t afford that, and abortion is very much a class issue, many resorted to incredibly dangerous, incredibly traumatic, means of procuring terminations. Today, many trust themselves to the dark web. And as soon as you take a punt on pills procured from the dark web, you risk 14 years in prison, should this ever be reported to the police.

Instead of being able to have a serious discussion about their health with a GP, young people have had to interpret the medical mysticism that criss-crosses the walls of public bathrooms.

It’s not good enough and I encourage your outrage, but not your condescension.

In the early 90s, the current Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, then a journalist, ridiculed ‘Irish Mullahs’ for their draconian views on abortion. His unhelpfully haughty analysis neglected to mention that Northern Ireland, which has so often bristled at the thought of divergence from Britain, also has an outright ban on abortion.


Mountain View

We should be more concerned about Northern Irish abortion laws

In May, the people of Ireland will have to vote to repeal the eighth amendment, and to put to bed the view that we are a fixedly antediluvian nation. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the government has pledged to put legislation allowing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

If (and I’m now nervous that, like Hansel and Gretel, the trail of conditionals I’ve scattered is not quite as secure as I might like), this legislation becomes a reality, Irish people must not grow complacent, but must work to expand access to free, safe, and legal abortions elsewhere in the world, and we must work so that liberal voices continue to shape national politics.

But then again, these are big ifs