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repeal the 8th

Why women don't deserve to be labeled as 'hard cases' or 'easy cases' in the abortion debate

“Such categorisation is too simplistic and robs the debate of the nuance it deserves.”

WITH THE REFERENDUM on the eighth amendment a week away, the debate is intensifying as both sides appeal to the significant cohort of voters that remain undecided.

On Monday night, Claire Byrne Live hosted a raucous live debate on the issue that saw audience members applaud, whoop, and jeer as the panel discussed abortion. It was an unedifying spectacle, to put it mildly.

During this debate, the issue of abortion being permitted in ‘hard cases’ arose again and again. The hard cases, we were told, were fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest. The Yes side argued that bad law had created these hard cases while the No side accused the Yes side of exploiting these hard cases for sympathy.

I have an issue with the term ‘hard case’. For one thing, it’s an abstract term that conveniently belies the fact that there are people behind these hard cases. It reduces personal traumas to a philosophical debate and allows the No side to disengage from the very real women and couples who have been forced to travel to terminate their pregnancies in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, and incest.

The fact of the matter is that 141 Irish women who received diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormality traveled to the United Kingdom in 2016 to terminate their pregnancy. An untold number have traveled to terminate pregnancies conceived from rape or incest.

In writing these these people off as ‘hard cases,’ the No side are robbing them of their humanity and treating them like a nuisance. They concede that these cases are unpleasant and pose a moral dilemma, but refuse to offer any solution. It’s a cop-out, plain and simple.

Moreover, the term implies that there are ‘easy cases’ when no such binary exists. Getting an abortion is not like getting a manicure. No woman wakes up one morning and flippantly decides to terminate their pregnancy. Instead, it’s a decision that’s typically born of agony and desperation.

Take, for instance, a young student who finds herself pregnant after a contraception failure. She is certain that she isn’t emotionally, physically or financially capable of continuing with the pregnancy, and will do just about anything to end it. Is this an easy case?

Consider a woman who is in an abusive relationship and falls pregnant. She does not wish to continue with the pregnancy for fear that it will allow her abuser to exert even more control over her and prevent her from leaving the relationship. Is this an easy case?

Think about a vulnerable woman living in direct provision who needs an abortion. She has no supports in Ireland and traveling to the United Kingdom is logistically impossible. Is this an easy case?

How about a woman with a disability for whom pregnancy could result in a further disability or even death? Perhaps the option of travel isn’t available to her and she must risk taking an abortion pill with no medical supervision. Is this an easy case?

Or how about a mother-of-three who can’t cope with an unplanned pregnancy and has decided that an abortion is best not only for her, but her family as a whole. Is this an easy case?

Women don’t deserve to be labeled as ‘hard cases’ or ‘easy cases’. Such categorisation is too simplistic and robs the debate of the nuance it deserves.

Instead, they should be spoken about in real terms: as women who, for whatever reason, have needed an abortion and have not been able to access one in Ireland.

These women are not a theoretical concept to be argued about ad nauseam or treated as a point-scoring exercise. They’re our mothers, partners, sisters, daughters, nieces, friends, and colleagues. It’s time we started treating them as such. God knows we’ve put them through enough already.

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