Please find below a fantastic interview with Kelsey Koontz by the author of ‘Dinner Party’.
In case you haven’t heard, an important battle for women’s rights is taking place in Ireland right now. We spoke with Kelsey Koontz of Cork Feminista to explain more about the state of abortion rights in Ireland, current legislative restrictions, and their relevance in a recent controversial rape case.
DP: In a nutshell, can you explain the 8th Amendment in the Republic of Ireland?
KK: The 8th Amendment to the Constitution in Ireland was codified after a 1983 referendum which asked the Irish people to vote on the State’s abortion law. Since then, there have been a number of clauses added that add to the complexity of the legislation, but the gist is essentially this: Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless there is a risk to the mother’s life, including suicide. In those cases, a panel of experts beholden to the Irish state will go through the process of deciding just how real the risk is and what course of action to take. Yet, while the procedure may be illegal on Irish soil, it is perfectly legal to seek out information about services in other states and receive an abortion abroad. There are 10-12 Irish abortions happening every day—in the UK. This legislation doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t stop people from getting abortions. It only comes at the expense of the most vulnerable women; those who are unable to travel as a result of their youth, income level, or visa restrictions, which is also true in the most recent case [of a female rape victim being denied an abortion].
DP: Could you talk more about this particular case?
KK: In the most recent case, there are some details and complexities that have yet to be released. But what we do know is this: A young migrant woman who was raped in her home country traveled to Ireland and found out afterward that she was pregnant. At eight weeks, she sought help to end her pregnancy, but of course, the medical authorities rejected her plea. Several weeks later, she was contacted with information that she could travel abroad for the abortion, but the total cost would be 1500 euro—a cost she could not afford. In an interview, she is quoted as saying: “In my culture it is a great shame to be pregnant if not married … I didn’t even know what [the medic] was saying to me…I said to her, ‘I could die because of this pregnancy. I am prepared to kill myself.’” And she actually did try to kill herself, she says, but was interrupted. She went to the doctor afterwards and said she was suicidal and wanted an abortion. He sent her to a psychiatrist, and she was taken to a hospital where she went on hunger strike for four days. At this point, she was 24 weeks pregnant, and the panel of experts assigned to her concluded that although she was indeed suicidal, the fetus was viable, and the only way to terminate her pregnancy was through a caesarean. A child has now been brought into the world with a mother who does not want it and is currently in the hands of the Irish state. Because of the 8th Amendment and its contradictory nature, this woman did not receive the care she needed. She was kept alive, force-fed even, while decisions were being made for her far too late. Her health and well-being were not considered, and the trauma she has endured throughout this pregnancy is unfathomable.
DP: If you live in the Republic of Ireland, what can you do to help out the cause?
KK: For the law on abortion to be changed in Ireland, the people must demand it in a referendum. Pro-choice groups throughout the country are calling for an immediate referendum in this term’s government to repeal the 8th Amendment and to provide fast, safe, and legal abortion for women in Ireland. But to really help out the cause and for any change to be finally realized, it’s all about momentum. The momentum cannot stop. Grassroots efforts need to continue, and they need to grow; there are petitions to sign, letters to write, and protests to attend. In addition, coalitions must be built between and across different pro-choice groups and in different cities to help organize and implement these efforts and to show those in positions of power that the people of Ireland are united in this.
DP: What about those of us who live abroad?
KK: I think support from the international community is extremely important right now! Already protesters in London, Berlin, Auckland, and elsewhere have joined in solidarity, and these efforts have not gone unnoticed. It helps to spread awareness and to make the current legislation on abortion in Ireland a real international concern. Again, grassroots efforts are key. Those who live abroad can get educated on the current situation, share this information with everyone they can, and spread it on social media. They can also write letters to the TDs in Ireland, sign petitions, and even organize their own protest. A great petition to sign right now is this one from the Abortion Rights Campaign.