U.S. abortion opponents often point to Ireland as the ideal when it comes to “protecting women” via quality abortion restrictions. They cite that the maternal mortality rate shows how high quality the care is that is given to pregnant people, and tout the country’s in essence complete ban on all abortion as a key factor in that outcome. They rallied in opposition when Ireland’s laws changed to allow abortion in cases where a pregnant person’s life was in danger either because of health issues or threats of suicide, terrified that the new loopholes would allow abortion to occur willy nilly.
They need not have worried. When faced with a true threat of suicide, the state still forced the person to remain pregnant and give birth.
The woman in question didn’t discover she was pregnant as a result of sexual assault until into her eighth week of pregnancy. By that time, she had already moved to Ireland from her home country and, as a foreign national, had no ability to leave the country again in order to travel to England, as most women do when they want an abortion. She was told that she would be helped with travel, but it could take six weeks, according to her interview with the Irish Times. But she had no money to pay, and the state would not cover the costs, leaving her eventually 16 weeks along, still pregnant, still unable to leave the country to obtain an abortion, and now suicidal.
After her first attempt at suicide was interrupted, she was sent to a hospital for evaluation, but was told she was too far along for an abortion, even if she was intending to take her own life rather than remain pregnant. “The next day, around 10am, I was taken in a taxi to another hospital,” she told reporters. “…When we got there I thought they were going to help me. They brought me to a room where they did a scan and the pregnancy was 24 weeks and one day …They said they could not do an abortion. I said, ‘You can leave me now to die. I don’t want to live in this world anymore’.”
Instead of help, she was under constant surveillance, never left alone. She stopped eating and drinking in another attempt to kill herself, but was told after a few days that her abortion had been approved so she needed to stop her strike to have enough strength for it. When the day they promised came, however, they told her she would have a C-section instead, and the fetus would be delivered at 25 weeks, just a week or two past the blurry line of viability. Once delivered, it would be taken by the state, and that was the only “help” they could offer someone like her.
She told the Irish Times she “had not wanted a child of the rape to come into this world.” Instead, the hospital argues that it was carrying out her wish for an abortion, but that it had no way to do it other than via C-section. “It is important to note that a pregnancy can be terminated by way of delivery through Caesarean section, as it was in this instance,” they responded.
The timeline of this incident is the most important issue. Between making the pregnant person believe she would get help until she was too far along, then teasing her with claims they would allow her the abortion in order to force her to stay pregnant the last few weeks they needed in order to get the fetus past the line of viability so it could possibly be born alive and survive, it’s clear that their interest throughout was to do whatever was necessary to avoid an abortion and instead produce a live birth, regardless of the desires, physical or emotional health of the person who was pregnant (and how it may affect her to always know that child may be out there, a constant reminder of her assault). A coerced C-section is the delivery type at that point most likely to result in an unharmed, live baby, regardless of how that physically harms the pregnant person, who not only has to recover from major abdominal surgery, but could potentially lose the ability to have a vaginal birth in the future.
While what happened in Ireland seems extreme, it is also the ideal for those who are currently pushing a number of our own abortion restrictions in the United States. As we see so-called “Personhood” bills grant legal protection to fertilized eggs, and “heartbeat” bans eliminate access to abortion from less than 2 weeks after a missed period, new bills being passed in legislatures and challenged in the courts offer no exceptions for sexual assault victims and no opening for an abortion if a pregnant person would rather kill herself than remain pregnant or give birth.
Even our newer bills, such as 20 week post conception bans, offer no “health of the pregnant person” loopholes, because far right lawmakers claim that “health” was so vague that “you could drive a Mack truck through it.” Would those same lawmakers believe that suicidal attempts are enough to justify an abortion to save a person’s life? Considering the number of them touting the idea that abortion itself makes people suicidal, it would be simple enough for them to justify erring on the side of caution and a live birth.
Ireland had made it clear in their latest case that despite any new law on the book, their hospitals and medical practitioners will continue to force people to remain pregnant through delay tactics, tricks, coercion and whatever else they can think of until they can remain relatively confident that a live birth will result, and that they will then risk the health of the pregnant person to bring that live birth about. When they have finished, then they can at least tell themselves with a clear conscience that regardless of the law being in place, they never truly terminated a pregnancy.
That’s an ideal that many abortion opponents in the U.S. want to emulate, and that’s an idea that should terrify us all.
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