As we come up to the referendum which will decide whether or not the 8th Amendment of Bunreacht na hEireann is repealed, there is a whole lot of information being thrown our way. In 1597, Francis Bacon wrote “Knowledge itself is power”, which has been interpreted as saying information is power. However, in the current climate of fake news and scaremongering, the debate as to whether to allow women to decide for themselves what happens to their bodies or to leave it up to the state rages on. What is clear is that the funding for the campaign is unequal, with the conservative leave-it-as-it-is side being able to fund a far larger poster and leafleting campaign than the grassroots activism seen on the Repeal side. With increased funds comes the increased capacity to reach more people – and so it is necessary for those on the side of change to ensure that the truth does out, that these myths and lies and fake statistics are called out for what they are.
So, Let’s Get To MythBusting
1 In 5 Babies Are Aborted in UK Each Year & That Would Happen in Ireland Too
The poster campaigns everywhere have this statistic on them. 1 in 5 babies is aborted. This statistic comes from the 2015 UK statistics. The lovely folks over at The Journal have done a Fact Check, and have found this claim to be unproven. Here is some of the research they shared (to see the full thing, go here).
“According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Department of Health statistics, in 2016 in England and Wales there were:
- Live births: 696,271
- Stillbirths: 3,112
- Abortions: 190,406
This means there were, according to these statistics, 889,789 recorded pregnancies in total (if we add together live births + stillbirths + abortions), of which 190,406 or 21.39% ended in abortion. However, the above statistics do not include the rate of miscarriage.
The HSE says that an estimated 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. But it also says: “…the figure could be significantly higher because many miscarriages are thought to occur before a woman realizes that she is pregnant.” The majority of miscarriages happen during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy….”
In looking at the pregnancy and conception rates in the UK in this time period, and taking into account that they ignore the miscarriage rates, these figures cannot be considered completely accurate. No entity has come up with an accurate figure considering the whole picture, as there is no mandatory reporting of miscarriage statistics like there are for births and legal abortions. Therefore the information being touted on these posters too cannot be proven.
Abortion Increases A Woman’s Risk of Suicidal Ideation
The Youth Defence website states “Abortion… has been shown to negatively impact on women’s mental health.”. It informs the reader that there is no statistical proof of any women committing suicide because of pregnancy, and that abortion is not considered to be a cure for suicidal ideation. However, it also tells the reader that “Numerous peer-reviewed medical studies have found an association between abortion and suicide. Many others have found an association between induced abortion and depression, which is a major risk factor for suicide. In fact, between 10 percent and 30 percent of women suffer serious, prolonged negative psychological consequences after abortion.”
However, this does not take into account the feelings and emotions felt by women regardless of the choice they take. Regret of an abortion is definitely a real thing, but so is the absolute relief a woman in a crisis pregnancy feels after obtaining an abortion without distress or difficulty. The numbers they are reporting for suicidal ideation caused directly by abortion don’t take into account various other factors leading up to the crisis pregnancy. Papers like this one from the American Psychological Association state that there is no proof that the abortion itself is the cause of this suicidal ideation. However, the same research does show an increase in these feelings after exposure to stigma, needing an element of secrecy about the procedure, anti-abortion campaigners and shaming for their decision. The figures back up a trend of there being an already-present psychological difficulty (whether ongoing or dormant) with those who report suicidal ideation afterwards, which would suggest that it is not the act of the abortion which creates this outright. In fact, there is a noted decrease in the rates of maternal suicide in countries where contraception, legal abortion and lack of stigma about same are practiced. Research by the HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme in 2010 showed that 87% of women in Ireland who had an abortion said it was ‘the right outcome’ for them.
‘Post-abortion syndrome’, a condition imagined and coined by American anti-choice campaigner Vincent Rue, is not recognised by any medical or psychological organisation. ‘PAS’ is listed neither in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders nor the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, arguably the two most authoritative manuals that classify mental disorders. It simply does not exist, and to attest that it does and talk about the harm it causes is at least scaremongering and at the most, complete abuse of the vulnerable people they are advising.
Our Restrictive Abortion Regime Is What Is Keeping Our Abortion Rate Low
This is only true if you consider our on-our-own-land abortions, because of course if you ban something and make it a crime liable to spend 14 years in jail, you won’t really want to do it in your own backyard. This discounts completely the number of women who travel on a daily basis outside of our country to obtain a medical procedure which is freely available elsewhere.
Furthermore, statistics have proven that restrictive abortion laws don’t actually reflect a reduction in the overall abortion rate. In countries where abortion is freely available, it is notable that the rate of abortion is much lower than in countries where it is illegal. In Western Europe, the rate is 12 per 1,000 women, as compared to the overall abortion rate in Africa of 29 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. In the African cases, the vast majority of abortions are illegal and unsafe, yet the rate is steadily higher than their legalized counterparts. The Southern Africa subregion, dominated by South Africa, where abortion was legalized in 1997, has the lowest abortion rate of all African subregions, at 15 per 1,000 women in 2008.
The Irish abortion rate at present is difficult to put a figure on. In 2016 alone, the numbers from the IFPA state that 3265 women traveled to the UK to obtain an abortion, and 1642 pill packages were sent from Family Planning Services in the postal system. This does not include figures of those who traveled to other countries, or those who gave a fake address thus not disclosing their Irish citizenship. However, as the numbers we see traveling are indicative, we can assume that the only major change that will be made if legalized would be the less trauma, cost and stress felt by the women needing that service.
Making Abortion more widely available will result in its use as a method of Contraception/Birth Control.
Many anti-choice groups claim that the legal availability of abortion “on demand” causes women to stop using any form of contraception, instead opting for a trip to the clinic if it all goes wrong. There is nothing to back this statement up. If you look at the figures in countries where abortion is legal and available to those who need it, there isn’t a huge spike in those who opt for an abortion.
The Guttmacher Institute has found that 51% of abortion patients in 2008 were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, most commonly condoms (27%) or a hormonal method (17%). No contraception, with the exception of abstinence, is 100% effective even with perfect use, and even less effective with “normal” (imperfect) use. Punishment of sexual activity by means of not being allowed to deal with a crisis pregnancy is inhumane.
Making Abortion more widely available will result in lots of women choosing Late Term Abortions.
Ah, the floodgates response. We had it with the divorce referendum, and here with the abortion debate we have the same cries. If we legalise abortion, it will mean women will wake up 6 months pregnant and decide “I feel like aborting my baby today”, toddle off to the clinic and that is that. That is what the posters are telling us – that if we vote to repeal, 6 month abortions will be widespread. Except, the research really doesn’t back that up.
As it stands, the research shows that late term abortions make up a very small quantity of total abortions carried out. The Guttmacher Institute released a study earlier this year, stating that just 1.3% of terminations were carried out after 21 weeks, with just 5.1% being carried out after 16 weeks. The vast majority of abortions happened in the first 8 weeks (66%).
The reasons for late-term abortions tend to be restrictive. In Ireland, if a woman receives an anatomy scan, it is carried out at about 20 weeks. It is in this scan that foetal abnormalities may be discovered, many of them not possible to be seen in earlier scans. Some of these may be Fatal Foetal Abnormalities, which mean that the foetus is unlikely to live past birth, and will be in a lot of pain until then. It is not possible to have pregnancies of these foetuses terminated legally in Ireland, meaning many women and couples are forced to travel to the UK to have their pregnancy induced early. The need to travel lengthens the wait to have the procedure performed; even with the speediest referral, simple things like getting time off work and getting money together, as well as a waiting list to be seen can delay the procedure.
Outside of FFA, financial reasons can hold women back from accessing late-term abortions in countries where they are not available and covered by public healthcare or private insurance. Although many countries do not allow for social reasons to delay a termination, in those that do, the cost of acquiring an abortion rises as the pregnancy goes on (as it progresses from a pharmaceutical to a medical procedure abortion). It can take time to get funds together to travel and to pay for the procedure. However, in countries where abortion is available legally, this is not a factor. In those countries, we see the majority of uptake of this service at the earliest possible stage.
In any case, the proposed legislation (which is NOT what we are voting on) about legalizing abortion does not allow for late-term abortion (after 20 weeks) and will only allow for health reasons and FFA after 12 weeks. This tactic is scaremongering and nothing else.
Abortions Lead To Women Facing Health Complications in Future such as Infertility, Uterine Rupture.
Youth Defence literature states a number of different health complications to women who obtain abortions. Included in these are a higher risk of Breast Cancer, Uterine Rupture, Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage in future pregnancies.
However, the statistics in various studies tell a different story. A study in the American Journal of Public Health from 2013 surveying the safety of aspiration abortions (not medication abortion) found that their safety levels are high. Overall, complications were rare (Table 2). Out of 11 487 aspiration abortions, 1.3% (152) had complications, and 96% of these (146) were minor complications with only six major complications in this survey. This included 2 uterine ruptures (0.0174% of those surveyed), 3 infections (0.026% of those surveyed) and 1 haemmorage (0.0087% of those surveyed). Let’s compare this to the evidence with non-complicated childbirth. A 10-year Irish study by Gardeil et al showed that the overall rate of unscarred uterine rupture during pregnancy was 1 per 30,764 deliveries (0.0033%). This increases steadily in women who have previously had caesarean sections, in particular those who undergo a trial of labour or a VBAC. In a study by Yokoe et al in 2001, in The US, 5.5% of vaginal deliveries and 7.4% of cesarean deliveries resulted in a postpartum infection. These varied from infections of surgical wounds, mastitis, and endometritis to other minor infections. For post-partum haemorrhage, the figures from the Royal College of Gynaecology are similar. 5% of women experience PostPartum Primary Haemorrhage (losing between 1-2 pints of blood in the first 24 hours) after birth, with 0.6% experiencing severe primary hemorrhage. Secondary PPH, which occurs between 24 hours and 12 weeks after birth, affects just 2% of women.
There has been much research done on the links between breast cancer and abortion, and nothing concrete has been found to link the two, in fact, the research has overwhelmingly not found a link. There is also no proof to claims that abortion will damage your future fertility if performed to normal medical standards.
Furthermore, in a look at morbidity rates between childbirth and abortion, legally obtained abortion was found to be much safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion. There is an 8.8 in 100,000 risk of death in childbirth, compared with a 0.6 in 100,000 risk of death in the case of abortion. However, it is unlikely that any GP will ever sit a pregnant woman down at her booking-in meeting to discuss if she wishes to continue on these grounds, it just wouldn’t happen.
With those “facts” in mind, and the images they are using, it is worth questioning just how “compassionate” they are being to the living women, men and children of this country. They say that their ends justify the means, but surely a humane group wouldn’t seek to hurt women? If they truly loved both, would calling women who have undergone trauma murderers and shamed them publicly be top of their agenda? I don’t think so. I don’t think the actions of Love Both and groups like them are defensible, frankly. They openly abuse and belittle the choices women make and speak of women as if they have no thoughts of their own. They don’t trust women to learn the facts, know their own minds and do what is best for them. Their own moral agenda comes out on top of their priority list, instead of what is best for everyone in the situation.
So, what can we do to change the status quo?
Make Sure You Can Vote.
If you’re an Irish citizen living in Ireland, you have got a vote. If you are living abroad but intend to not spend more than 18 months away from Ireland, you can vote (in person, not as a postal vote). Check if you’re already on the register by using CheckTheRegister.ie or give your local Council a call if you’re unsure. If you are not on the list, or need to change your address, you need to fill out either an RFA2(new application) or RFA3(change of address) form, get it signed by a Garda at your local Garda station and return it to your local authority. Application forms for inclusion on the Electoral Register, Special Voters List, Postal Voters List and the amended Electoral Register are available on checktheregister.ie. Forms are also available from all local authorities, post offices and public libraries. Make sure to get it in by Tuesday, May 8 to ensure you’re on the supplemental register and able to vote.
Take Part In Campaigns
The Together for Yes campaign is a huge nationwide campaign with grassroots volunteer activists leading the way. Whether it’s buying badges or tshirts, going out canvassing with them, hanging up posters or joining fundraisers, getting involved in the campaign will strengthen it. We have strength in numbers and need as many people mobilised as possible.
Talk To Your Family and Friends Who May Be On The Fence
This campaign will be lost or won on the basis of real stories being shared between real people. Talk to your parents, siblings, grandparents – anyone who can vote in your vicinity. Have important conversations – they may be difficult, but often explaining the real answers to questions they may have and giving them stories of the effects of the 8th Amendment can bring an understanding to the topic that they may not have had before.
Report Illegal Postering and Campaigning
The website Fix My Street has been set up to report, view or discuss local problems. This includes posters which have been erected illegally.
Any article or advertisement must carry the name and address of the person:
- Who is promoting or arranging the meeting or event being advertised, or
- In any other case, on whose behalf the article or advertisement is being exhibited
The Road Traffic Acts contain requirements in relation to maintaining clear lines of sight for road users which may impact on where posters can be placed, e.g. not on road signs, at traffic junctions or on roundabouts where they may cause road safety risks. It is an offence to erect any sign or notice that makes a traffic sign less visible to road users (Road Traffic Act 1961, Section 95, Subsection 14).
For more information, this FAQ from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is very helpful.
Where Can I Find More Resources?
The Together For Yes website is a great resource with lots of information and talking points available to all.
The In Her Shoes Facebook page is a culmination of anonymous accounts of how the 8th Amendment has affected them – it makes for heartbreaking reading, and gives a much fuller picture of the impact that the law is currently having.
More facts and mythbusting can be found on the Abortion Rights Campaign website here.
I hope that on May 25th, the people of Ireland will make the right choice – and give women the power to make choices for themselves.