The Dáil should listen to the voters, not generate red tape that could stop vulnerable people getting the care they need

Dublin Castle on 26 May 2018. ‘In May 2018, after 35 years of harm and hypocrisy, the Irish people delivered an unequivocal mandate.’ Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

In 1983, as the Irish electorate voted in favour of a constitutional ban on abortion, campaigners warned in bold print: “This Amendment Could Kill Women.”

It did.

Following the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar’s death in 2012, Irish politicians were forced to legislate on a 20-year-old supreme court decision, one that consecutive governments had conspicuously kicked into the long grass. In 1992, a judge had ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim had the right to an abortion. When the government finally produced the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, it was so clearly unfit for purpose that the Abortion Rights Campaign doubted it would enable a suicidal teenage rape victim to access a termination at all.

Those campaigners were right.

In 2014, a suicidal teenage victim of rape and torture was forced to carry her pregnancy to viability and deliver by C-section.

In May 2018, after 35 years of harm and hypocrisy, the Irish people delivered an unequivocal mandate – 66% of voters said it was time to repeal the eighth amendment. The rationale behind this result is not opaque, as some would have us believe. Neither is it a reflection of lesser-of-two-evils logic – where middle-ground voters accepted universal access to abortion up to 12 weeks because they understood it as the only way to protect victims of rape or incest.

Rather, exit polls show that 62% of people cited a woman’s right to choose as the motivation for their votes, and 55% cited women’s health. These were the electorate’s two main priorities. There is no ambiguity about what the people want.

With this mandate, you would think that Irish activists could stop playing Cassandra; could be done, finally, with issuing chilling prophesies that their country seems cursed to ignore.

Yet, as the regulation of termination of pregnancy bill emerges from the circus of the Dáil debates, it is apparent that our representatives are still not listening. A mandatory three-day waiting period; unnecessary criminalisation; casting the patient’s views of risks to her health or of the probable gestational date as clinically irrelevant; creating an unworkably high bar for access to abortion where the health of the pregnant person is at risk; and regulations that seem designed primarily to create barriers to safe, legal care – this is not what the Irish people voted for.

The three-day wait is a political concession that has no basis in best medical practice or clinical evidence. Its only purpose is to make access to care more difficult. And, as always, the most vulnerable will be the most affected – people with disabilities, single parents, people suffering partner abuse, people in precarious employment, people on low incomes, people who live in remote areas, and asylum seekers in Direct Provision facilities will all find it much harder to attend multiple appointments.

Add the stipulation that the doctor who originally examined the patient must be the one to carry out the procedure, and we run into senseless bureaucracy and scheduling issues. This requirement fails to acknowledge the team-based nature of medical care and, of course, it presents more obstacles to patients.

If you don’t stop to think through the actual ramifications of these unnecessary regulations, they might seem minor. What’s a three-day wait period? What difference does it make if the doctor who originally examined you must carry out the termination? But abortion is time-sensitive. For someone at 10 weeks of pregnancy, with childcare and work commitments, these stalling tactics are the difference between accessing safe, legal care at home and begging money for the boat to Liverpool.

The purveyors of red tape know this. They know that their hoop-jumping exercises will effectively prevent many vulnerable women, trans and non-binary folk accessing the care they need and should be legally entitled to.

Lawyers for Choice have expertly analysed the legislation and found myriad potential human right abuses. If our representatives fail to listen, I will surely soon be writing another column about another tragedy, another frustrated screed about how, once again, Ireland’s pro-choice advocates were right.

 Emer O’Toole is associate professor of Irish performance studies at Concordia University in Canada