The vote on May 25th is not one that is for or against abortion – it is about giving women choice. No one will be forced to have an abortion if we vote Yes. But women will be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy if there is a NO vote, for the sole reason that they are poor and unable to travel.
The real issue is whether we will seek to punish women or endanger their health in the mistaken belief that this might reduce the abortion rate.
But the evidence shows that legalising abortion only makes it safer – it does not necessarily increase the rate.
The Guttmacher Institute had shown that the abortion rate for countries where it is prohibited is 37 per thousand of women of childbearing age. But where abortion has been legalised it is only 34 per thousand.
The abortion rate was 16 per thousand in 1973 when it was legalised in the USA but this declined to 15 per thousand today.
Abortion rates in the developed world are falling consistently. They have dropped from 46 per thousand of women of reproductive age in the period 1990- 1994 to the current level 27 per thousand women in the period 2000 to 2004.
The main reason is improved use of contraception. Abortions arise from unwanted pregnancies and if contraception is used more widely these are less likely to occur.
Ireland’s current legal regime means that those women who cannot afford to travel are more likely to access abortion pills on line – without medical advice or support if necessary.
A No vote will create circumstances where some may damage their health rather than seek medical advice because they face a criminal sanction.
There is no doubt that that those who shout ‘baby killer’ will seek to have the jail sentences imposed on women to make an example of them.
We need to face reality in 21st century Ireland. That means ending a regime where a woman is regarded as a potential criminal for making choices that she thinks are appropriate for her.