Monday, 30 April 2018

The 8th amendment is a mental health issue

Tomorrow, I'll begin work on a mental health awareness campaign for another year. The aim is to wear a symbol of support and hope; show a willingness to talk about mental health and end the stigma around mental illness. But this May the message could easily be lost amongst terms like '1 in 5', 'My Body My Choice' and 'Repeal the 8th'.

You see May is also about another huge issue in Ireland – Repealing the 8th amendment of the Irish Constitution to allow for legislation to be brought forward for access to abortion. At the moment, a woman in Ireland can only access an abortion if there medical practitioners agree that their is an immediate risk to her health. As a result, roughly 9 women travel from Ireland to the UK for an abortion EVERY DAY, and another 3 women order pills online each day.

Both issues will be competing for national attention during the month of May. But to me both issues are inextricably linked.

You cannot support a woman’s mental health by forcing her to travel abroad for help and support.

You are not protecting a woman’s mental health by forcing her to take abortion pills alone, in secret.

Support for mental health includes promoting a person’s autonomy. Allowing them to make the decisions they need to make for both their physical and mental health with help, care and support. You hear a lot about self care in the field of mental health, but by restricting a person’s choices, you’re not supporting them.

By forcing someone to remain pregnant against their will, you’re detrimentally damaging their mental health and causing emotional distress. By calling them criminals, you’re chipping away at their mind and sense of self.

If you are someone who is already struggling with a mental illness, the 8th amendment means your only option is to keep the baby, or seek illegal help. At a time when your number one focus should be looking after yourself and recovering, you now have the added pressure of pregnancy with no choices or other options freely available.

The lack of safe and accessible abortion has been linked to increased risk of suicide. By denying them a choice, girls and women can feel left without options or without hope.
  • PS. There is no correlation between abortion and increased mental health problems.
  • Research stating abortion damages a person’s mental health or causes mental illness has been proven to be unfounded and inaccurate.
  • Research actually proves no link between having an abortion and developing mental health difficulties. (Source
  • This one’s been fact checked by enough journos thanks very much. 
Keeping the 8th means forcing women to try to access the care and support they need in secret and in fear. For those who can afford to travel, it comes with a huge price tag - one that could take weeks of saving to get to, or growing debt to repay after. Debt is a well-known contributor to mental health problems.
From Chris Noone
Keeping the 8th means forcing women to carry a fatal foetal abnormality to term, despite the heartache and severe mental toll it entails to know your baby isn’t going to survive. These are much wanted babies, but rather than allowing women to try again, they're forced to stay pregnant.

Keeping the 8th means forcing rape victims to carry the product of their rape for nine months. Pro-lifers call this ‘healing’, I call it traumatic mental torture.

Keeping the 8th means forcing a woman to remain pregnant unless a number of medical professionals agree that her life is at immediate risk (e.g. when a woman is about to take her own life). Keeping the 8th often means forcing a woman to suicide.

Abortion is a reality for Irish women – it’s happening both on our shores and abroad. But keeping it illegal means that you don’t value a woman’s physical or mental health. It means that you're denying her proper and safe medical supervision, aftercare and support. It means you’d rather see a woman suffer than make a decision you don't personally agree with.

But because she suffers in silence, you can pretend that it’s not happening. You can pretend that you don’t know a woman this has affected. That her forced pregnancy ‘helped her’. That she's okay now. That there are no mental effects of this. But she aches and she hurts.

Beibhinn Farrell, a psychotherapist, says this all much better than I ever could in her post 11 reasons why saving the 8th does not protect women or babies based on scientific facts.

The referendum on repealing the 8th amendment is taking place on 25 May. Make sure you're eligible to vote by 8 May at Check the Register.

Find out more about the campaign to repeal the 8th from Together for Yes.

Find out more about how the 8th amendment affects mental health from Psychologists for Choice.

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