Vote YES for the women trying to escape domestic violence
Travelling abroad for an abortion isn't possible for many women with abusive partners, writes Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist, Aoife Drury.
Domestic violence is recognised by national and international bodies as one of the most pervasive and destructive forms of violence.
In 2016, there were 16,946 disclosures of domestic violence against women* noted during 19,115 contacts with Women's Aid Direct Services in Ireland. This is a substantial number for such a small country.
In regards to accessing abortions violence may contribute, both indirectly and directly, to unwanted pregnancies. Abortion-seeking women are more likely to have experienced partner violence than the general population. A recent English study found more than 1 in 3 abortion-seeking women had experienced domestic violence.
As we know Irish women don’t have the same ability to access abortions like our British counterparts. Having the Eighth Amendment in place means women must travel abroad to receive adequate reproductive health care.
For anyone living with a violent partner this journey could be incredibly risky and even potentially life threatening to do.
Fearful for their lives
This isn’t particularly surprising as abused women might have more unintended pregnancies (sexual assault, coercion, lack of power to negotiate sexual relations and inability to insist on contraception) and because pregnancy often is the catalyst for abusers escalating the amount of violence.
In circumstances of domestic violence a termination may be the preferred option of the pregnant woman directly as a result of the violence she experiences. This is something I have witnessed on many occasions, first hand in London; women experiencing domestic violence and becoming fearful for their lives. I don’t doubt for a second that it happens all over Ireland too.
Given this, access to and affordability of termination procedures can be entwined with a woman’s ability to escape domestic violence and reduce the likelihood of any child being abused.
Issues that are so often present in violent relationships, including surveillance, manipulation, and financial or other control, further restrict a woman’s capacity to access a termination specifically when having to travel to Britain. Even if she is doing so to attempt greater safety for herself and any existing children.
Therefore in Ireland, as a parent in a domestic violence context, a woman’s ability to be safe from that perpetrator’s violence against her and/or her children is significantly compromised when unable to gain access for an abortion.
Pro-choice and anti-choice groups may disagree about the legal status of the fetus.
But there must be common ground that violence against pregnant women is intolerable.
Having your choice supported when you have been in an abusive controlling relationship is extremely important. While the Eighth Amendment remains in place, women who become pregnant by their perpetrators are forced to continue the pregnancy unless they can travel (sometimes in secret) to Britain to access a legal abortion or are willing to break the law by illegally importing the abortion pill.
If women choose to access abortion in the context of domestic violence, it needs to be available.
*Including trans-man and non-binary individuals