Voices: Abortion debate in Ireland

DUBLIN – Sue Jordan was 16 years old when she stopped eating. She had to stop her stomach from growing. She couldn’t tell a soul about the baby growing inside.

Eight months into her pregnancy, she told her family. The same night, she packed her things and left.

“All hell broke loose,” she said.

She knew what the stakes were: the stigma, the shame, the Magdalene laundries where they sent fallen women — the prostitutes, the disabled, the single mothers like her. Two years before she probably watched the news when 155 bodies were uncovered on the convent grounds.

That was 1995 and 12 years after Ireland passed the eighth amendment to its constitution. Abortion was already illegal; the 8th made anti-abortion part of the constitution, part of the fabric of Ireland. A requirement.

Now Ireland is on the verge of a referendum vote on whether to repeal the eighth. On May 25th, Ireland could legalize unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks after years of being one of the only developed countries to outright ban terminations. And Jordan is at the forefront of the country’s abortion-rights movement.

Someone recently told Jordan, now 40, that she could be the poster child for the anti-abortion movement. She successfully navigated a career while raising her two children. She put her two sons through college. But she sees her luck and privilege as clearly as she sees the work left to be done.

“I now know what it takes to be a single mother in this country,” Jordan said. “It almost broke me many, many times.”

A protest breaks out between the Maynooth University Pro-Choice Society and Irish Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, an anti-abortion organization. Student protesters, Niamh Codd and Jen Keane-Molloy hold a “pro-lies” banner in front of ICBR posters that read “Ireland’s next child abuse scandal might not be so easy to cover up.” The posters depict graphic images of what ICBR describes as aborted fetuses. The Director of the ICBR, Jean Engela, is pictured far left.

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Ireland is grappling with its identity as the vote on the eighth looms. The country is 85 percent Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.

Repealing the eighth, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote in December 2016, would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right.”

Divorce in Ireland wasn’t permitted until 1995. Information about abortion was censored for decades. But despite Ireland’s Catholic identity, most activists say abortion isn’t a religious issue.

Instead, both the anti-abortion and abortion rights activists argue it’s a human right issue.

The letter from Catholic bishops emphasized the human rights and downplayed theology, and Pope Francis has stated publicly he doesn’t think abortion should be the Catholic issue.

So to say Ireland is Catholic country may be a misconception about an entire country and an entire religion. But is it a modernizing country stepping away from a Catholic past, and if the eighth amendment is repealed, what will it mean for the identity of Ireland?

The abortion debate is woven into the fabric of Ireland. The fabric is not the Catholic church but the constitution. A constitution is a blueprint for what values a country holds most dear.

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right,” according to the eighth amendment.

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Here are audio stories of women on both sides of the abortion debate. In their own voices, they’ll describe their views on abortion, their beliefs and their own experiences.