Sunday 23 October 2016

Carol Hunt: Linehans' sad story shows why a vote on abortion is now vital

Graham Linehan and his wife Helen attend an Amnesty International event in Belfast calling for a change to Ireland's strict abortion laws
Graham Linehan and his wife Helen attend an Amnesty International event in Belfast calling for a change to Ireland's strict abortion laws

When will the hypocrisy end? When will an Irish government face reality and admit that Irish women have abortions, every day, for all sorts of reasons, none of which are your business or mine?

Yesterday Graham and Helen Linehan become the latest couple to sacrifice their privacy and lay bare their own tale of personal heartbreak for public scrutiny.

No-one in a civilised society should have to do this. But they felt they had no choice.

Increasingly people, good people - ordinary people, people like you and me - are starting to tell their stories, not because they want to, but because they feel that they have to.

If anything is ever to change in a country whose abortion laws show such contempt for women, a human face has to be put on the people who suffer because to them.

Helen Linehan was 11 weeks pregnant in 2004 when she and her husband Graham found out that there was something wrong.

Doctors told them that there would be no chance that the foetus, who had a condition called acrania, would survive longer than an hour after birth.

They then decided that the best option for Helen and her unborn baby would be a termination. "It was terribly sad and devastating," Helen said. "But it was handled well."

Luckily for the Linehans, they were living in London at the time, where they received the care and compassion due a heartbroken couple in such a situation. Even so, it was still a very difficult time.

"It was very traumatic knowing that this little flutter in my tummy wasn't going to survive," " Helen said.

But if this had happened today in Ireland, where they now live, Helen could be facing a 14-year jail sentence for procuring an illegal abortion.

"This, said Graham, who says he is a proud Irishman, "is just something you can't be proud of. It's barbaric...Irish politicians need to treat this as the emergency it is".

Why is it that, where women and pregnancy are concerned, the majority of Ireland's politicians remain in the Dark Ages: heads down, eyes closed, desperate to pretend that the avalanche of women heading off with shame and suitcases, to foreign clinics every year, don't exist?

Are they so scared of the small, but very loud, anti-choice lobby groups? Or do we have disproportionate amount of politicians who are totally against abortion, no matter what the circumstances?

Some of these politicians may not agree with women who choose abortion but the women are choosing it regardless. And in all but two per cent of cases they say that it was the right decision for them and that they do not regret it.

A blanket ban on abortion in Ireland does not magically prevent abortions occurring, it just adds layers of suffering onto what is already a difficult and emotional time.

You'd have to wonder if this is the actual point of it?

The law in Ireland currently ensures that women are forced to wait longer to access abortion, that they have to travel alone or, in cases where they cannot afford to travel, they risk ending the pregnancy with pills bought on-line.

Refusing to acknowledge that this is the reality for so many thousands of Irish women is cowardly in the extreme.

All recent opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority in Ireland wants a referendum on repealing the eight amendment to the Constitution. This is the amendment that equates the life of a women with that of a fertilised egg.

It was passed, amid hysterical fear-mongering, back in 1983. No woman whom it currently affects was old enough to vote on it.

No one is suggesting that politicians who describe themselves as 'pro-life' need to vote against their conscience. They are entitled to vote any way they choose in a referendum.

All the people of Ireland are asking for is the chance to have that vote, to have their voice heard, to be allowed an exercise in democracy.

All we want is a referendum on repealing the eight amendment. Surely we have that right?

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