Every Woman

Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Ireland’s largest women’s membership organisation, advocates for the pursuit of a consensus that prioritises the healthcare needs of women and girls.

Every Woman needs access to the right kind of care for her. Last week, the National Women’s Council of Ireland launched Every Woman, our model for affordable, accessible reproductive healthcare for all women.

As Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, I work on a whole host of issues relating to women’s equality, and women’s health, including their reproductive health, is part of that. Access to abortion when a woman needs it is a core part of a woman’s healthcare.

I know that for many people, abortion is not the biggest issue on the political agenda, and that, few people think about abortion and pregnancy care until, for some personal reason, they need to.

A woman who needs care does not consider it a political choice or position. The women I meet every day tell me that abortion should not be a political debate. They say this is simply about providing for what a woman needs.

In order to do what is right and what is needed for women, we need to build a sensitive and inclusive consensus that acknowledges people’s experiences of pregnancy and family life. We need to think about how diverse these experiences are, and how complex they can be.

Every pregnancy is different and every decision is deeply personal. We need to face, with openness and honesty, complex issues relating to life choices, fertility and pregnancy care.

To do this, we need to stop talking around restrictions, and start talking about needs. Until now, all discussions on the Eighth Amendment are framed in terms of restriction of reasons for needing to end a pregnancy, rather than based on the realities of women’s experiences and their needs.

There is a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year. We need to work towards a positive consensus that prioritises the healthcare needs of women and girls, while also providing suitable controls and protections for GPs, doctors and midwives.

If our starting point is identifying and providing for the real needs of women and girls, we can then build on that, design appropriate controls that will ensure accessibility and standards of care.

Rather than restricting access to abortion in Ireland, we need to ensure the provision of integrated reproductive healthcare, providing accessible care for all women and girls while also reducing the need for abortion care.

As it stands, the Eighth Amendment is a barrier to caring and compassionate healthcare.

Every Woman includes a proposal for way forward. It advocates for a complete removal of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. What women need is legislation that will allow for the availability of abortion in early pregnancy for all women who need it. This would allow for early abortion care on the basis of need, including in the case of rape or incest, and allow medical professionals to care for women and girls in an appropriate medical setting in Ireland.

Where a wanted pregnancy turns into a crisis pregnancy at a later stage in pregnancy, we advocate for legislation that would allow for restricted access to abortion where it is considered medically necessary to protect the mental and physical health of the woman, and where there is a nonviable pregnancy. These ‘protected treatments’ would allow medical professionals to care for women in sometimes extremely difficult and distressing circumstances and support women, couples and families in making these decisions.

We are Every Woman. We are mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, daughters. Every day we care for our families and make serious decisions that will affect our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

We are inviting everybody to join in our conversation about what reproductive healthcare services we need for women and girls in Ireland.

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